June 2009
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Archive for June, 2009

Prospect Heights: The Making of a Historic District

Last week, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the 850-building Prospect Heights Historic District, the largest district designated in two decades. MAS made a video about the process of creating the historic district, featuring Councilmember Letitia James, Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission Robert B. Tierney, historian Francis Morrone, and Gib Veconi of Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC), and showing how we worked with PHNDC to survey the historic buildings and promote the area for designation. The result was not just the designation, the act of engaging residents in the process brought the community together and provided a new sense of neighborhood identity.

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2009 Jane Jacobs Medal Recipients Announced

The Rockfeller Foundation announced today that the recipients of the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal are Richard Kahan and Damaris Reyes. The medal, which is administered by the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), was created in 2007 to honor the author and activist who died in April 2006. It is awarded annually to two New Yorkers whose work creates new ways of seeing and understanding the city.

Founder and CEO of the Urban Assembly, Richard Kahan is a former President of the New York State Urban Development Corporation and former Chairman of the Battery Park City Authority. Since 1999, the Urban Assembly has created, and now manages, 22 public secondary schools located, by design, in many of the lowest income neighborhoods in New York. Mr. Kahan will receive the 2009 Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership.

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MAS Applauds Prospect Heights Historic District Designation

191 sterling in prospect heights

Today, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Prospect Heights Historic District. At 850 buildings, it is the largest historic district designated in two decades.

“MAS applauds the Landmarks Preservation Commission for moving to protect this very special neighborhood,” said Lisa Kersavage, senior director of advocacy and policy for the Municipal Art Society. “This is an important act that will protect one of Brooklyn’s finest and well-preserved historic neighborhoods. Designation will protect the neighborhood from pressure from the Atlantic Yards project and other developments.”

Prospect Heights is rich in historic architecture, with blocks of beautiful Italianate and neo-Grec rowhouses, interspersed with churches, small commercial and apartment buildings.

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The Amato Opera, A Place that Matters

amato opera

The Amato Opera, which closed its doors on May 31st 2009, may have been called the “world’s smallest opera house,” but it was nominated to the Census of Places that Matter for having a huge impact on opera in New York. For over 60 years, the modest company located at 319 Bowery in the East Village provided inexpensive tickets to both opera-lovers and many first-time viewers. And more importantly, like CBGBs, another lost institution on the Bowery, the Amato Opera was a popular showcase where upcoming and amateur performers could earn their chops.

The opera company was founded in 1948 by husband and wife team, Sally and Tony Amato, just three years after they married. It opened with a performance of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville,” staged in the auditorium of Our Lady of Pompeii Church. By 1962 the company had moved to its third and final home on the Bowery. From the beginning, the Amatos had a hand in every aspect of each production – from Tony’s stage direction and lighting schemes, to Sally’s costume and set design. In addition to the familial atmosphere the couple created, with only 107 seats, the small theater offered matchless intimacy, all but eliminating the line between the audience and the performers.

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Heavy Rain, Neglect Cause Partial Collapse of One Admiral’s Row Building

admirals row front

The rain has done more than just ruin our weekend plans recently.  Late this week it led to the partial collapse of one of the Admiral’s Row buildings near the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Quarters C, seen in the right in this picture, was originally constructed prior to 1859 and is the second-oldest of all of the houses on the site.  It was altered with a mansard roof in the 1880s when Quarters H (pictured on the left) was built adjoining it.  MAS had known that Quarters C, unlike the vast majority of the other Admiral’s Row buildings, had major structural problems due to a fire, but we are disappointed that the National Guard, which owns the site, had not secured the buildings better to protect them from further damage from the elements. Thankfully, the New York City Fire Department determined that the remaining portion of Quarters C does not have to be demolished at this time.

MAS is calling on the National Guard to make necessary repairs to stabilize the nineteenth century structures as the process deciding the buildings’ future moves forward.  It was recently announced that the National Guard may only require the retention of Quarters A and the Timber Shed.  Nonetheless, MAS is still advocating to save more, and hopefully all, of the significant buildings on the site.  MAS believes that as the owner of the site, the National Guard needs to ensure that the abandoned buildings do not deteriorate any further.