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NYC historic neighborhoods: Why Greenwich Village, Park Slope, more districts are so special

In a city that is constantly changing, historic districts keep the memory of New York City’s past alive.

Tasked with achieving such a goal is the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which handles the lengthy and thorough process of designating historic districts and landmarks throughout the five boroughs.

While we’re all pretty familiar with historic landmarks – the Woolworth Building, Central Park and the Empire State Building lobby to name a few – you may not know that the city also designates specific streets and sometimes entire neighborhoods as historic districts.

So what does it take to become a historic district?

According to the LPC, they are “areas of the city that possess architectural and historical significance and a distinct ‘sense of place.’”

In total, New York City boasts 139 historic districts and district extensions (when a historic district is expanded).

We couldn’t possibly highlight all of them, so here is a look at some of the most iconic and interesting historic districts representing all five boroughs.

Greenwich Village

According to the LPC, Greenwich Village is the
Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

According to the LPC, Greenwich Village is the most quintessential New York City neighborhood of them all. "This supremacy comes from the quality of its architecture, the nature of the artistic life within its boundaries, and the feeling of history that permeates its streets," the LPC said in its designation report.

Both residents and tourists alike fall in love with the quaintness of the neighborhood, from its tree-lined streets to the unique architecture of the homes. "Walking through The Village at any time of day or night and in almost any direction, one is struck by the fact that one is in a part of the City which is very different from any other, remarkable for its old-world charm and outstanding as a great historic area of New York," the LPC said in the report.

Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill

Just west of Harlem, you'll find a neighborhood
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Just west of Harlem, you'll find a neighborhood known not just for its historically unique architecture but also for its cultural impact on the city. Although the neighborhood was predominantly white and upper middle class from the 1800s until about World War I, the Landmarks Preservation Commission says part of the designation of Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill as a historic district was due to its central role in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s.

During the 1920s, the area was known as Sugar Hill because "it was perceived as a place where life was 'sweet,'" according to the LPC designation report.

Park Slope

In the early 19th century, Brooklyn was known
Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

In the early 19th century, Brooklyn was known as "a city of homes and churches," and according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, no neighborhood better exemplifies this than Park Slope. "...the Park Slope Historic District is one of the most beautifully situated residential neighborhoods in the city..." the LPC said in its designation report.

Known for its wide, tree-lined streets, Park Slope offers a cross section of several important architecture trends, according to the LPC, including French Second Empire, neo-Greek, late Italianate, Queen Anne, Victorian Gothic and significant examples of Romanesque Revival houses.

Ditmas Park

Known for its mix of early bungalow-style houses
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Stephen Lovekin

Known for its mix of early bungalow-style houses and Colonial Revival and neo-Tudor architecture, Ditmas Park is described by the Landmarks Preservation Commission as one of the city's major turn-of-the-century neighborhoods.

Ditmas Park is also home to Flatbush-Tompkins Congregational Church, one of the city's "finest" new Georgian churches, the LPC says in its designation report.

Jackson Heights

Pretty much anyone who has rented in New
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Pretty much anyone who has rented in New York City is familiar with the terms "garden apartment" and "garden home," but did you know Jackson Heights was one of the earliest neighborhoods to introduce such homes?

Even more unique is that nearly the entire neighborhood was conceived, planned, built and managed by a single real estate firm, the Queensboro Corporation, in the early 1900s.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission said in its designation report that Jackson Heights "comprises the most cohesive part of an innovative development which was mostly built between the early 1910s and the early 1950s, and which reflects important changes in urban design and planning that took place in the first three decades of the twentieth century."

Addisleigh Park

Located in the far reaches of eastern Queens,
Photo Credit: Landmarks Preservation Commission

Located in the far reaches of eastern Queens, Addisleigh Park was once a predominantly white community and racially restrictive neighborhood in the 1930s and 40s, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, with laws that banned the sale of property to African Americans. Throughout the 1940s, the laws were contested in several state Supreme Court cases.

In 1948, the United States Supreme Court ruled that racially restrictive covenants such as those in Addisleigh Park were a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and as more African Americans moved in, the demographic make-up of the area shifted, according to the LPC.

By the early 1950s, such luminaries as Jackie Robinson and Ella Fitzgerald called Addisleigh Park home. "What Addisleigh Park represented to these and other African Americans was a safe community in which to raise their children, where they could reap the rewards of suburban living within the boundaries of New York City," the LPC said in its designation report.

Fieldston

There are a few areas of New York
Photo Credit: streeteasy.com

There are a few areas of New York City that offer a more suburban feel than the rest, but none do it quite like this Bronx neighborhood.

Far unlike Manhattan's grid system, Fieldston is known for its winding streets that follow the land's natural topography and features individual homes that sit on plots of land varied in size from an acre to less than a quarter-acre.

Fieldston "is a rare, largely intact example of a romantic planned sub- urban community that has evolved over time," the LPC said in its designation report. "The district is characterized by an eclectic variety of residential styles, including picturesque revival style houses as well as formal modernist houses, set amidst a varied topography of winding tree-lined streets and dramatic rock outcroppings.

Longwood

Longwood, which was originally part of Morrisania, contains
Photo Credit: Google Maps

Longwood, which was originally part of Morrisania, contains "some of the best examples of the turn-of-the-century architecture that transformed the Bronx into an urban extension of Manhattan following the linking of the two boroughs by the I.R.T. subway system," the LPC said in its designation report.

The homes in Longwood were almost exclusively designed by architect Warren C. Dickerson between 1897 and 1900, which gives the neighborhood a distinct cohesiveness. Yet, according to the LPC, the homes vary on details like roof lines to successfully avoid monotony in the neighborhood.

St. George

Described as Staten Island's
Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Described as Staten Island's "most fashionable" 19th century neighborhood, St. George was actually one of the city's earliest planned suburban developments, the Landmarks Preservation Commission says.

Similar to Fieldston, the Queen Anne- and Shingle-style homes in St. George accentuate the hilly topography. "It is these houses which give the proposed district its predominant architectural character," the LPC said in its designation report.

As an added bonus, the neighborhood is also close to the Staten Island Ferry, providing an easy (and free) commute to Manhattan.

St. Paul’s Avenue – Stapleton Heights

The Landmarks Preservation Commission said in its designation
Photo Credit: Google Maps

The Landmarks Preservation Commission said in its designation report that St. Paul's Avenue is "a significant reminder of the architectural and historic development of Staten Island and an excellent example of an early-nineteenth century to early 20th century suburban residential community."

The neighborhood's freestanding wood-framed homes are also becoming an increasing rarity in a city that seems more focused on building supertall structures like the Central Park Tower.

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