Brooklyn and Bronx Historic Sites Win Citywide Popularity Contest

 Brooklyn and Bronx Historic Sites Win Citywide Popularity Contest

Winner! Congregation Beth Elohim Will Get New Windows. (congregationbethelohim.org)

In a competition for preservation cash, four historic sites have proved themselves most beloved—at least among the social media savvy—netting the most popular votes in a battle that spanned five boroughs and 40 historic sites.

Two of the winners—the Brooklyn Public Library and Congregation Beth Elohim—are in Park Slope, which is quite a coup, especially coming on the heels of the much-expanded historic district, for the neighborhood that everyone loves to hate.

The Brooklyn Public Library fetched the most votes (9 percent), winning $250,000 to restore the main entrance doors. Right behind was Congregation Beth Elohim (8 percent), which will also get $250,000 for new stained glass windows.

But the Bronx also made a strong showing. The New York Botanical Garden (7 percent) will be awarded $250,000 to restore its rock garden and the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum, also in the Bronx, will receive $155,000 to help restore its gardens.

“The gardens are quite lovely, but also quite time-worn,” Bartow-Pell executive director Ellen M. Bruzelius told The Observer. “They’ve lost their definition and crispness.”

Ms. Bruzelius said that the funds would be used to regrade the original hills of the formal walled terrace garden (built in 1916) that had been slowly stamped down by visitors’ feet, replace long-lost flower beds, install irrigation, and fix the horse chestnut alée that leads to the 18th-century Pell family cemetery.

So how did her small museum (two full-time staff, four part-time) win the hearts of the city’s history buffs?

“We reached out to everyone we knew,” said Ms. Bruzelius, who ticked off the techniques: facebook campaign, daily emails, printing flyers, standing at train stations.

Besides the grant, she noted, they’d also tripled their Facebook likes.

The other 36 sites in Queens, Manhattan and Staten Island apparently failed to capture the public’s imagination in quite the same way, but not to worry, another $2.1 million will be doled out in June based not on popular votes but on an advisory committee’s decision and preservation leaders.

The competition was sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express; it asked the public to vote online daily on what historic site was most important to them for a little over three weeks.

“It has been exciting to watch this program bring people together to show their pride in the places that matter to them,” wrote Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Partners in Preservation highlights how everyday citizens’ preservation efforts are critical to saving places that are important to us all.”

“These four sites did a stellar job getting out the vote and their communities to support these important preservation projects,” said Timothy J. McClimon, president of the American Express Foundation.

And, of course, besides cash, awareness and exposure is the other point of the exercise. Who knew that Astoria Pool, which is hoping to repair its high dive, hosted the performances of a group of neighborhood boys in the 1940s, who went by the name the Aquazanies and performed choreographed swimming routines with music, backdrops props and sometimes dogs?

kvelsey@observer.com