A century-old block in Bay Ridge is under review to become a designated historic district, thanks to efforts of the block association and the Historic Districts Council (HDC).
Doctors’ Row, a historic section of the 400 block of Bay Ridge Parkway between Fourth and Fifth Avenues known for its elegant limestone rowhouses, is currently being reviewed for Historic District Status by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). If granted, Doctors’ Row would see its structures protected from demolition, a key to keeping intact one of the neighborhood’s most distinctive blocks.
“Historic District Status will preserve the facades of the buildings and the aesthetic beauty of the buildings and streetscape. In most cases it prevents demolition of buildings and things like the faces and stucco being ripped off, ironwork being removed and original doors being removed,” explained Kelly Carroll, director of advocacy and community outreach for HDC.
“We see a lot of this happening in Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, where architectural features are shaved off and inappropriate features are applied. These rows derive beauty from their continuity so if one house is destroyed it really obscures the whole look and feel of a place,” she continued.
According to the HDC, the distinctive, Neo-Renaissance rowhouses of Doctors’ Row were constructed around 1899 by a single company, the Bay Ridge Development Company, giving the homes a homogenous look. The homes’ uniformity stands out, as many blocks in Bay Ridge vary greatly in their architectural style, because they were not constructed by the same company.
Besides their signature look, the homes of Doctors’ Row also represent an exciting time in Bay Ridge’s history — Bay Ridge’s evolution from a suburban neighborhood to an urban one, complete with transportation advancements, such as the Third, Fourth and Fifth Avenues trolley lines.
Interestingly enough, early real estate ads for Doctors Row touted the block’s proximity to the Fourth Avenue subway line in order to make the homes more enticing, despite the fact that the line did not open until 1916. According to the HDC, this makes many of the homes on Bay Ridge Parkway representative of early transit-related speculative development in Bay Ridge.
“This has been an elegant, well-kept block ever since I can remember,” said Bay Ridge Parkway 400 Block Association member Linda Assini, a resident of Doctors’ Row who credits the block association’s relentless efforts with kickstarting the effort to obtain Historic District Status for the block.
Assini has owned her home since the 1980s, but rented it out while she lived on Long Island. When she returned to the block, she found that its beauty had begun to fade.
“I moved back a few years ago and was taken aback at how the block was starting to lose its luster and elegance,” recalled Assini. “It was not as well kept. There was a lot of trash. The trees were needy and the houses were beat up. Our architectural heritage was being torn up. People were coming and willy-nilly removing cornices and irreplaceable stonework just because.”
It was this realization that eventually led Assini and the block association to contact LPC in an attempt to get the block Historic District Status. With the help of the HDC, the block association submitted a request for evaluation of the block to the LPC in early August, 2017. On August 21, the commission responded to the request with a letter stating that it had “reviewed the material” and “determined that [Doctors’ Row] may merit designation, but requires further study within the contexts of the commission’s priority.”
“The block association has been unified behind this push. What I like about our block association is that we also welcome people who rent on the street. We want them in the association,” said Assini. “Everyone takes an equal role.”
Local Councilmember Vincent Gentile has also stood behind the block receiving historic status.
“[It] will benefit both local residents commuting to their homes and tourists exploring Brooklyn’s history,” said Gentile. “[The street] maintains a distinct ‘sense of place’ and a coherent streetscape identifiable by the naked eye. It’s about time the commission recognized Bay Ridge’s special nature.”