Sunday, February 18, 2007

Second Bay Ridge Area to be placed on National Register of Historic Places

We attended a presentation to the residents by the State Historic Preservation Office earler this week. It was great to see their level of enthusiasm over preserving their homes.

From Courier-Life

02/15/2007
Historic status for Ovington
By Helen Klein

An elegant block of Bay Ridge brownstones is on its way to receiving well-deserved recognition.

In April, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s review board will consider an application to add Ovington Avenue, between Ridge Boulevard and Third Avenue, to the state and national registers of historic places.

With the state apparently looking favorably upon the designation, Ovington Avenue is likely to become the neighborhood’s second historic district, joining Senator Street between Third and Fourth Avenues, which was designated in 2003.

This is really good news, noted Victoria Hofmo, the founder of the Bay Ridge Conservancy, who said that the organization had begun going after historic district designation several years back because of the difficulties inherent in getting city landmark designation, which confers restrictions on changes to the exterior of a property.

In contrast, being listed on the state and national register does not, although it does provide eligibility for certain types of tax relief and preservation grants.

To jumpstart the state designation process, said Hofmo, the group had invited a representative to tour Bay Ridge.

At that time, she said, the state official had been “excited” by both the Senator Street block and the Ovington Avenue block, which is particularly interesting, said Hofmo, because of its row of “double width brownstones, which I’ve never seen anywhere else in the city.”

The double bow fronts, Hofmo noted, were designed to accommodate the way the street angles.

In addition, there is a row of 15 homes that are exemplars of the typical brownstone floor plan, with high stoops leading to a parlor floor and a street level garden floor below.

Architecturally, the brownstones boast a great deal of ornate detail on their fa├žades, including decorative panels under the windows and scrollwork, while the interiors are highlighted by a variety of decorative moldings. The row of homes was built by the Silliman Construction Company .between 1908 and 1910.

Jeanette Correa, the Ovington Avenue resident who wrote the application, said that, “People on the block are really happy” about the likely designation. “They’re thrilled. I don’t know of anyone who has objected. It’s a great thing for the block.”

Ovington Avenue is “an obvious candidate for historic preservation,” noted Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council. “The houses are simply beautiful. They have a great deal of integrity. It’s one of the very rare streets, like Senator Street, where you are surprised by it.

“It’s not what most people think of when they think of Bay Ridge, which makes it all the more important because it is part of Bay Ridge,” Bankoff went on. “I’m really happy the residents are doing this self-generated move toward preservation, and I hope the next step will be city landmarking.”

“We’re just hoping this will snowball onto other blocks,” remarked Hofmo. In particular, she said, many of the cul-de-sac blocks in the neighborhood are logical candidates for the state and national register. “What seems to fly,” she noted, “is when things are contiguous. That’s why I think the cul-de-sacs will fly.”

Besides its standout architecture, Ovington Avenue has historical associations with early residents of the area. The Ovington family owned a farm in the vicinity in the 1840s. Henry Alexander Ovington, who bought the property for use as a summer home, was the assistant chamberlain of New York City. Three of his sons owned Ovington Brothers, a china shop on Fulton Street whose name can still be found on vintage crockery. Another son, Earle, was the first air mail pilot employed by the U.S. Post Office.

However, the most famous member of the Ovington family was Mary White Ovington, a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and a moving spirit behind the Niagara Movement.

The history of the area is not limited to the annals of the Ovington family. Rather, the intersection of Third Avenue and Ovington Avenue was the site of a skirmish between colonial forces and British troops a few days prior to the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn.

Ovington Avenue was originally named Cedar Lane. It served as the gateway from the local concert hall, the Atheneum, to Ovington Village.

©Courier-Life Publications 2007