From the Queens Chronicle:
Historic reservoir closer to register
by Isabella Bruni, Chronicle Contributor
Posted: Thursday, March 30, 2017 10:30 am
Behind the busy Jackie Robinson Parkway lies acres and acres of lush greenery and often forgotten beauty, worthy of recognition, of course, by the city, but also the state and nation, according to area activists.
After a two-decade-long fight for protection, it looks like the Ridgewood Reservoir is, finally, creeping toward recognition from the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Community Board 5 and Brooklyn’s Community Board 5 are backing the recognition for the reservoir, which sits on the Brooklyn-Queens border in Highland Park and was the city’s main water supply in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archeological resources, according to its website.
Queens CB 5 Parks Committee Chairman Steve Fiedler, who has been involved with preserving the site for 11 years, said placing it on the register would, “give the reservoir another layer of protection.”
The Ridgewood Reservoir meets much of the criteria to be considered for the list, which includes embodying documented historical, cultural and architectural qualities of local and national significance.
The main water supply for Brooklyn, and then all of the city, the reservoir system was completed in 1858 and included two basins. A third basin was constructed in 1891, which increased capacity by over 50 percent.
By 1959, the reservoir was no longer needed to store water for the system and basins one and two were drained, leaving basin three available as a backup supply for emergencies.
After the reservoir was decommissioned in 1989, control of it was transferred from the Department of Environmental Protection to the Parks Department in 2004.
“It is exceedingly rare for an example of mid-19th century engineering infrastructure to survive intact,” said Matt Malina, director and founder of nonprofit organization NYC H2O.
“Remarkably, the reservoir complex is pretty much as it was when the water first began flowing into it in 1858. It remained in service for over a century, and then the city simply abandoned it, allowing nature to take its course. Today it is an environmental marvel as well as a historic survivor,” he added.
NYC H2O offers educational programs about the city’s water and ecology and has been heavily involved in advocating for the Ridgewood Reservoir and its placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
“As a practical matter, an application is submitted to the NY State Office of Historic Preservation with support from the property owner. It is a site that visibly shows a critical part of the history of the consolidation of the City of New York at the end of the 19th century,” Malina said. “Its significance also derives from the ecological history of the area in regard to New York’s water supply and its current importance as a freshwater site close to Jamaica Bay, an important stop for birds on the Atlantic Flyway. Today its unused basins have evolved in different ways offering a significant case study in ecological succession.”
According to Malina, the board reviews 20 to 30 nominations quarterly and criteria for the state and national registers are the same. The review board includes a historian, an architect, archeologist, elected officials and other experts.
Advantages of being on the register include the property being more closely monitored in terms of what type of development is allowed and becoming eligible for state Environmental Protection Funds that can be used for improving the property.
Malina said it has been crucial to have the support of Community Boards 5 from Queens and Brooklyn and elected officials on the city, state and federal levels from both Brooklyn and Queens, as Highland Park lies on both boroughs.
Making the reservoir and Highland Park more accessible to people is next on the to-do list for park advocates.
“CB 5 Queens and CB5 Brooklyn have been advocating for the MTA to add a bus stop at the reservoir to improve community access,” Malina said. “Currently, the nearest transit stop is the Crescent Street station on the J train, which then requires a one mile walk uphill.”
Queens CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano raved about the beauty of the reservoir in a recent interview.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful place, there are more than 100 species of birds who migrate there during the course of the year and I’d imagine that takes place very soon. There are quite a number of different plants species from that ecosystem so to speak,” Giordano said. “It’s as if you were upstate in the Catskills ... You really get that feeling, that you’re not in New York City.”
“There’s not many places left like it, and we’re finally succeeding,” Fiedler said with a jolt of laughter. “It only took 11 years.”
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