DUMBO gets historic

The Brooklyn Paper
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DUMBO became Brooklyn’s 19th historic district on Tuesday — a designation that gives the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission veto power on any major alternations to buildings or new construction in the former manufacturing stronghold that is rapidly becoming a residential enclave.

“DUMBO was essential to Brooklyn’s rise as a major manufacturing center, and was home to some of America’s most important industrial firms that produced everything from ale and paper boxes to soap and steel wool,” said Commission Chairman Robert Tierney.

The designation — which gives the Commission broad oversight over alterations of existing buildings, but also a final say over the design of new buildings — was effective as of Tuesday’s unanimous vote.

In the announcement, the city refers to the neighborhood as the “DUMBO Historic District,” despite the name’s late 20th-century origins.

Indeed, it was real-estate developer David Walentas who bought up whole chunks of what was then “Gairville” in the 1980s, and rebranded it “Down Under Brooklyn Bridge Overpass” with dreams of transforming it into Brooklyn’s SoHo.

Tucker Reed, executive director of the DUMBO Improvement District, said he hoped the designation indicated that the city would pay more attention to the neighborhood.

“We hope this finally means the city will start investing resources in fixing public infrastructure in DUMBO, like our historic Belgian block streets,” said Reed.

The historic district is bounded by John Street to the north, York Street to the south, Main Street to the west and Bridge Street to the east, and includes 91 buildings.

Almost all of the industrial buildings in the historic district date from between 1880 and 1920, the period during which manufacturing in Brooklyn came of age. Now, DUMBO is better known as home to the $1 million, one-bedroom condo, and, of course, its enduring views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges.

Whether or not the historic district designation will prevent future buildings like the oft-maligned, monolithic Beacon Tower to rise in DUMBO remains to be seen.

“Would the Commission in all its wisdom approve a project like the Beacon?” asked Reed. “It’s unclear. But the designation does provide for another level of oversight for projects like that.”

Updated 4:34 pm, July 9, 2018
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