West side of the 800 block on Manida Street.

Manida Street block approaches landmark status

For a century, the 800 block of Manida Street has been a glint of elegance on the industrial Hunts Point peninsula. But residents and homeowners have feared that an encroaching tide of development could swallow it up and ruin its unique charm. 

Now, the block may be headed for landmark status that would help keep its early 20th century architectural character intact.

At a virtual meeting of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission on May 12, participants overwhelmingly spoke out in support of the proposed landmarking, which would prohibit major alterations to any of the block’s 42 houses. 

The semi-detached, two-story brick houses with rounded bays, which were built in 1908 and 1909 in renaissance revival style, stand as an “intact example of early 20th century development,” said Jessica Baldwin, a researcher for the preservation commission. 

The 800 block, which extends from east to west between Garrison and Lafayette avenues, was built during a period when the neighborhood was being rapidly transformed from rural to industrial, and the city’s subway system was expanding.

“Manida Street stands out from its industrial and commercial surroundings due to its residential character, in combination with its historical and aesthetic consistency, all of which give it a strong sense of place,” as a “discreet enclave within Hunts Point,” said Baldwin.

Maria Torres, president of The Point CDC, has lived across the street from the nonprofit at 870 Manida Street, since buying the two-family building 25 years ago. Torres has headed the Manida Street Homeowners Association since the landmarking idea took root a decade ago.

“There’s always been talk about this block and how different it was from the rest of Hunts Point,” Torres told the commission, adding that homeowners and residents have acted out of a sense of urgency to preserve the block from development.

“Many who fought for their homes still live here, and are proud to live here. The fear is that if this does not happen, things will change very quickly.”

One Queens resident who participated on the virtual call, said his grandmother lived at 848 Manida until 1963, adding that he visited the block in the mid-1970s and found that little had changed.

“While Hunts Point Avenue just one block away showed the ravages of disinvestment and economic decline, Manida Street looked not much different than when my grandmother left a dozen years earlier,” said Daniel Karatzas. “We need more blocks like Manida Street.”

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the city’s Historic Districts Council applauded the commission for recognizing that “New York’s northernmost borough has long been underserved by many municipal resources, including landmark designations.” If the commission votes to approve, the Manida block would be the Bronx’s 13th landmark district. 

Bankoff said that recently “we’ve been helping organize community-based efforts throughout the borough, from Woodlawn in the north to Hunts Point in the south,” and added that the commission created the Bronx Borough Landmarks Preservation Committee to educate the public about the importance of historic preservation.

Mott Haven resident Samuel Brooks, who co-chairs that volunteer group and also serves as president of the Mott Haven Historical Districts Association, urged the commission to vote yes and to landmark other vulnerable Bronx neighborhoods with rich histories.

“Now that developers have turned their attention to our borough, we need to rapidly move and continue to identify amazing districts that we need to protect,” said Brooks. “We’ve identified several other districts that should be considered.

Just one participant in the virtual meeting voiced opposition to the plan. Queens-based developer Roy Rebeyev, who owns 821 Manida and co-owns 819, and is listed as a manager at ViceRoy Holdings LLC, a real estate firm based in Long Island, said that “not everyone is for this. I think I represent the up and coming generation. Nobody’s taken into consideration what this might do to the future generations.”

“There is a fear of gentrification,” he added. “This whole thing is geared towards that.”

The remotely held meeting was the first of its kind held by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council said that meeting virtually in future could allow the commission “to hold hearings closer to the areas being considered. That would be a good way to engage residents and local stakeholders in the landmark commission’s public process.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is scheduled to take a vote on landmarking the 800 Manida block in June.