New York City secured two new landmarked buildings on Tuesday morning. The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously and swiftly to designate the former Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarten at 236 President Street, and the adjacent red-brick apartment building at 238 President Street.
At a public hearing held in June this year, 21 people spoke in favor of landmarking the Carroll Gardens buildings. Prior to that, local residents had been rallying together for months to get the buildings landmarked, when the kindergarten building was faced with the threat of demolition. The proposal to landmark also had the backing of many local elected officials like City Council member Brad Lander and Congress member Nydia Velazquez.
The only opposition came from the owners of 236 President Street, which is a single family home at present. A representative for the owner argued that the exterior of the building had seen significant changes, and that the Landmarks Commission was largely recognizing the building for being Brooklyn’s first purpose-built kindergarten structure—as such, diminishing the need for an exterior designation (the former kindergarten is only an exterior landmark).
The LPC staff and commissioners remained unconvinced and saw merit in their designation. Former LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan recounted walking past the buildings at a hearing in April, and said the changes did not detract from the architectural beauty of the buildings.
“These two properties are distinguished by their architecture and share a great history of education and social reform in Brooklyn,” said LPC Vice Chair Frederick Bland, in a statement, shortly after Tuesday’s designation.
The buildings today are significant for their association with Elmira Christian, an advocate for early childhood education, who ensured the preservation of these buildings toward the turn of the 20th century. She purchased the then three-story home at 238 President Street and the adjoining lot in 1897. She commissioned the construction of the kindergarten on the empty lot and the addition of a fourth floor on the home. The latter she gave to the Brooklyn Church Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church as a training center for deaconesses, and the former served as the home of the kindergarten until 1908. After that, it served as an industrial school and then a church for new immigrant families.
The church sold both the buildings in the 1970s after which they have been used as an apartment building, and a single-family home respectively.