Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Compare and Contrast


One of my favorite work-related bike rides takes me down Bedford from Crown Heights through Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and Flatbush, past all the cute little houses that swim in a sea of foliage this time of year. A remarkably residential street in this part of town, Bedford briefly becomes part of a bustling city again at Church Avenue, a block from the historic center of Flatbush. It's on this corner that I always pass the building in the second photo, below, which always had a schoolhouse feel to me but isn't part of the Erasmus Hall complex that looms in the background.

Normally I don't blog Bedford, as Forgotten-NY has done such a thorough job, but even this notably comprehensive blog was stumped by the decaying brick structure. The best guess offered on that link is "The building on the SW corner of Church and Bedford has always mystified me -- it's been abandoned for many years, yet it looks like it was built around 1900 and may have been a building of some importance. Does it date to the era of Flatbush Village, or [was it] perhaps a school of some kind?"

PShark wasn't much more help--they too identified the building as a school, but claim it was built as late as 1930, which just seems wrong for the architecture. Finally, after several futile searches, I hit the mother lode, this neat one-page summary from a 2007 Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing.

Built in 1878 as Flatbush District School #1, the structure was a companion structure to the Flatbush Town Hall of 1874-5, which sits a block down and is beautifully preserved as part of the DOE complex that takes up much of this block (first photo). The pair were designed by John Y. Cuyler, a descended of original Flatbush Dutchmen who also acted as Prospect Park's first superintendent and chief engineer. The building became Brooklyn PS 90 in 1894, and presumably got another number in 1898, though it continued to serve as a public school until 1951. It was operation as a Jewish private school into the 1990s, but today, it's in bad shape.

One thing I think PShark has right is that the building has still not received any historic designation, and remains city-owned, despite the efforts of a local Caribbean organization to buy and restore it (see the hearing report above). This puts me in the same mindset that the NYTimes was earlier this year when it blasted the slow-moving, opaque decision-making of the LPC--why haven't they preserved this building? The rest of old Flatbush Village looks great, including the Town Hall, and the city has apparently had private offers to restore it, so I'm stumped. I know there's no money around right now to clean it up, but leaving it to crumble away for so long seems a rather needless waste of what could be a lovely addition to an already well-preserved and historic neighborhood.

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