They may be small, but these five areas have plenty of history
Since its creation in 1965, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated 139 historic districts. Every building—and in fact, all of the land—in those districts receives the same protection as an individually landmarked building. Many of these are large, encompassing thousands of buildings—for example, the Greenwich Village Historic District, designated in 1969, has a whopping 2,193 buildings.
Some, however, are tiny and contain just a few buildings. Here, now, are the smallest historic districts in each borough. Perhaps you’ll notice a theme running through most of it. It is purely coincidental! (And in case you’re wondering, district extensions are not included because, as the name suggests, they are simply extensions of previously designated areas.)
The Bronx: Perry Avenue Historic District
Designated in 2009, the Perry Avenue Historic District in Bedford Park contains only nine buildings, all located on the north side of Perry Avenue, between Bedford Park Boulevard and East 201st Street. The row of Queen Anne-style homes was constructed between 1910 and 1912, and all of the houses were designed by Charles S. Clark. (A similar row by Clark is part of the 160-building Longwood Historic District, designated in 1980.) Many were originally occupied by people who had emigrated from Germany as children or young adults.
As for the district at hand, Bedford Park underwent a dramatic transformation from the 1920s to the 1950s, in which large apartment buildings became the major element. “The houses of the Perry Avenue Historic District, however, remain remarkably intact,” the LPC said in its designation report. “…serving as a potent visual reminder of the origins of this Bronx neighborhood.”
Queens: Stockholm Street Historic District
Queens has 11 historic districts and none of them are quite that tiny. The smallest is the Stockholm Street Historic District in Ridgewood, which was designated in 2000. It includes 38 buildings between Woodward Avenue and Onderdonk Avenue. The designation report calls it “a one-block ensemble of brick row houses representing one of the most intact, harmonious, and architecturally-distinguished enclaves of working-class dwellings built in New York City during the early twentieth century.”
Thirty-five of the houses were built between 1907 and 1910, when the neighborhood was being developed by both German immigrants and their descendants. Despite beer production in neighboring Bushwick, Brooklyn dating to before the Civil War, the area actually remained pretty rural under after the consolidation of the five boroughs in 1898. As for the houses in the district, they feature “full-width wooden porches with columns, projecting bays, uninterrupted cornice lines, and bricks produced by the Kreischer Brick Manufacturing Company of Staten Island.” The design of the houses came from Louis Berger & Company and Joseph Weiss & Company actually built them.
Brooklyn: Eberhard Faber Pencil Company Historic District
Brooklyn has many historic districts, but the smallest one is a little odd. The Eberhard Faber Pencil Company Historic District in Greenpoint is a collection of nine structures from the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, some actually built by the company, others already there. They date from the 1860s to 1923-1924, some featuring the same logo that would be seen on the pencils themselves, plus little pencils along the cornice lines.
The district takes up most of the north side of Greenpoint Avenue between Franklin Street and West Street, the entire east side of West Street between Greenpoint Avenue and Kent Street, and then parts of both sides of Kent Avenue between West and Franklin streets. The modern company, originally known as the A.W. Faber Company was founded by Eberhard Faber in 1861, though the Faber family had been making lead pencils in Germany since at least 1761. Eberhard took his business to Brooklyn in 1872, following a fire at its Manhattan plant. The company stayed there until 1956. Recently, the buildings have benefited from adaptive reuse, for office space and even at least one bar.
Manhattan: Hardenbergh/Rhinelander Historic District
Designated in 1998, the Hardenbergh/Rhinelander Historic District is made up of seven neighboring buildings centered on the northwest corner of East 89th Street and Lexington Avenue. Six are considered rowhouses and stand three stories tall, while one is a four-story “French Flats” building. They were all built between 1888 and 1889 for the estate of real estate developer William C. Rhinelander, and with designs by Henry J. Hardenbergh.
The first of the Rhinelanders, Philip Jacob, a Huguenot of German descent, immigrated to New Rochelle way back in 1686. His son, William, got into the shipping business and, eventually, land acquisition. The family maintained ownership of the seven buildings for 60 years. Hardenbergh was born in New Brunswick, N.J. in 1847 and among his other accomplishments were the Dakota Apartments on the Upper West Side, a previous iteration of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and the gorgeous Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston. As for his buildings on the Upper East Side, they eventually left the Rhinelander family; one building, 1342 Lexington Avenue, was owned by Andy Warhol from 1960 to 1989.
Staten Island: St. George/New Brighton Historic District
Staten Island’s smallest historic district (and the island has only three of them) actually contains the most buildings on this list. Designated in 1994, the St. George/New Brighton Historic District includes 111 buildings on Richmond Terrace, Carroll Place, St. Mark’s Place, Phelps Place, Hamilton Avenue, and Westervelt Avenue. Mostly freestanding houses, the structures are largely from the 19th century.
The community was started by Manhattan real estate developer Thomas E. Davis in 1834, but the project was taken over by a consortium called the New Brighton Association in 1836, and the community was promoted as New Brighton. Steamboat ferry service was a selling point. Though there were dips in development, the Civil War actually saw a boom there.
Following the consolidation of the boroughs, the area became known as St. George, though not because of any saint named George, but for real estate developer George Law. In fact, when the district was designated, it was just called the St. George Historic District. About two months later, the name was changed to reflect the pre-consolidation history of the area. If you want to check the district out for yourself, it’s only a 15-minute walk from the Staten Island Ferry.