For the first four decades, Sunnyside Gardens was methodically preserved as part of its design. Just as its planners laid unsightly utility lines underground, they supplied deeds for new homes with 40-year restricted covenants, which forbade changes without the approval of trustees, many elected from the homeowners associations. These covenants kept garden space open and fostered an awareness of architectural qualities worth preserving. Two groups of mews courts with shared front gardens were protected by permanent easements. Houses enjoyed private yards in front and back, while most properties also included a portion of the adjoining garden court. View original plans for four blocks below.
Beginning in 1964-68, as 40-year covenants expired on individual properties, some homeowners overtook garden spaces by installing driveways or fencing off portions of the open courts to enlarge their private yards. Still, the great majority of neighbors adhered to the original ideal of open space, in two homeowners associations by renewing covenants and in others by tacit agreements to maintain the common courts. Responding to the loss of protective covenants, New York City amended its Zoning Resolution in 1974 to name Sunnyside Gardens a Special Planned Community Preservation District. This law addressed the need to limit the size of buildings and protect open space. Fencing of open commons, building enlargements, sheds, curb cuts and parking in yards were all effectively curtailed by requiring a Special Permit from the City Planning Commission.
Sunnyside Gardens, including Phipps Garden Apartments, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. In 1991, the neighborhood was named a National Planning Landmark. Beyond these honors, designation as a New York City Historic District in 2007 empowers the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to regulate the exteriors of buildings. The LPC’s Homeowner’s Guide for making changes is available here.
The Sunnyside Gardens Historic Preservation Award celebrates significant contributions in restoration and advocacy on behalf of the Historic District. The award was inspired by Celia Levine, who rebuilt her rear porch at 39-24 49th Street along original lines in the late 1980s. Award recipients to date are Dan Allen, Anna Bridge, Marlyn Molloy, and the Historic Districts Council.