CARROLL GARDENS – Council Member Brad Lander and Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon were joined by Carroll Gardens residents and community groups Friday morning to call on the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to grant two historic properties on President Street individual landmark status.
236 President Street was built in 1897 to serve as the first public kindergarten in Brooklyn—the Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarten. It was later the home of the First Methodist Episcopal congregation—the first Spanish-speaking parish in the borough that was founded by Joan Baez’s grandfather.
Built in 1853 as a private residence and designed in the Anglo-Italian style, 238 President Street was the first building erected on the block between Court and Clinton Streets. Learn more about the two buildings’ histories here.
The Carroll Gardens Historic District was designated in 1973 and is one of the smallest in the city, consisting of only two blocks, according to Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council (HDC). Because of this, the President Street block where 236 and 238 are situated is not covered by preservation protections. Along with seeking to expedite the landmarking of the two President Street properties, the community would also like LPC to broaden the neighborhood’s historic district.
“The original Carroll Gardens Historic District was a very early historic district,” Bankoff told BKLYNER. “The Landmarks law was only passed in 1965 and the Carroll Gardens Historic District was one of the very early ones, so at the time, it was a new law. They didn’t want to overreach,” he explained.
In 1974, the two President Street properties—which had previously been connected—were split and sold separately to different parties who used the buildings as owner-occupied residences.
The original buyers of 236 passed away a few years ago and left the property to their children. 236 President was recently sold to a developer who plans to demolish the building and replace it with a six-story luxury condo.
“What we want the LPC to do right now is to calendar 236 and 238 President for designation as individual landmarks,” Lander explained. “If they do that now, we can save it, then we can have the conversation about what lots should be in the broader Carroll Gardens Historic District.” The Council Member stressed the need for LPC to expedite the process so that the two buildings can be protected before the developer closes on the sale of 236 and files an application to demolish the structure.
The original buyer of 238, Judge Michael Pesce, still resides in the building. He converted the property into co-ops in 1984.
Jim Protos, along with his wife Grace, worked with Lander in organizing the efforts to have the two buildings landmarked. His is one of three families currently living at 238 President. “I’ve been here 22 years. I’m the most recent addition to the building,” he told BKLYNER before the start of Friday’s press conference. The third family living at 238 has been in the building since 1984. They were the first family to purchase a unit after it became a co-op, Protos said.
Protos began circulating a petition in early February hoping to garner support in protecting the two buildings. “We put it to the community to express their voices about the development and we’ve received well over 2,000 signatures of support,” he said. “These two buildings are perhaps some of the most recognizable in the neighborhood. People stop here all the time and ask about the history.”
“When I drive down this block, I always look at these buildings and smile,” Assembly Member Simon said. “They give me great joy. I don’t want to be driving down this block and looking at a condo and saying, ‘What a disgrace. What a travesty.’ I want to continue to drive down the street and enjoy the view.”
Grace Protos read a statement by the folk singer and activist Joan Baez, whose Mexican-immigrant grandfather, the Reverend Alberto Baez, established Brooklyn’s first Spanish-speaking Methodist Episcopal congregation which was based at 236 President (from approximately 1950 to 1966).
“In addition to their architectural beauty, these two buildings are of unique social and historical significance, and they should be protected and celebrated,” Baez’s statement began. “Brooklyn’s past was illuminated by the waves of immigrants who came to America seeking a better life and that legacy is alive in the structures representing those who lived and worked there.”
“238, as I remember it, was magisterial, with marble fireplaces and mahogany bannisters,” her statement continues. “In every way, these buildings are historic landmarks and will hopefully be treated as such.”
HDC’s Bankoff lamented the possible loss of a part of Carroll Garden’s history, saying “We are on the cusp of losing it for what will invariably be a banal, character-destroying building that will not only destroy the history of it but will mar this whole block.”
Following the press conference, Bankoff told BKLYNER, “This  was the first building on the block. This building has survived since before the Civil War. I’d like to see them [both] survive for another hundred years.”
Click here to sign the petition to landmark 236 and 238 President Street.