Despite a push by preservation-minded Brooklynites, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has decided that Walt Whitman didn’t spend enough time at a wood-frame house near the Brooklyn Navy Yard, for it to merit designation as an individual landmark.
According to Brownstoner, preservationists learned this fall from the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project that Whitman’s home, at 99 Ryerson Street, was not designated a local landmark. Author Brad Vogel, one of the people behind the push for preservation, submitted a formal Request For Evaluation to the LPC in October in the hope of getting the home calendared. He was backed up by letters of support from the Brooklyn Heights Association, The Municipal Art Society, the Walt Whitman Initiative, and Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate of the United States, according to Brownstoner.
But Kate Lemos McHal, the LPC’s director of research, says that because of the short time Whitman spent at the house, as well as what the agency calls its “substantially altered” condition, the structure "does not rise to the level of a potential individual landmark."
According to the LPC, “In the 20th century, an additional story was added to the building and it has been resided, substantially altering its appearance since the brief period of association with the Whitman family.” The original Greek Revival style doorway, however, is still visible surrounding the front door.
LPC research reveals that Whitman’s mother bought the home on May 24, 1855, and sold it six months later. As Brownstoner notes, "While this confirms that he was living in the house when Leaves of Grass was published that July, it disputes the notion that he was living in the house when he submitted the work for copyright at the beginning of May."
The LPC told Vogel that "we remain open to further evaluation should additional information come to light." And Vogel has issued a direct response to the preservation agency, which lays out arguments as to why Whitman’s brief time at the house and its altered condition shouldn't keep it out of the running for landmark status. His plan is to continue fighting for the designation.
"The relatively brief period of Whitman’s association with the 99 Ryerson Street house actually heightens the significance of Whitman’s association with the property," he says in the letter, "Because the poetry in Leaves of Grass was influenced by and reflects the tumultuous, speculative, real estate maelstrom that Whitman and his family were very much a part of in 1850s Brooklyn."