Greenwood Heights

A step forward for Green-Wood Cemetery’s proposed visitors’ center

July 15, 2015 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Green-Wood Cemetery plans to turn the Weir Greenhouse into a visitors' center. The Landmarks Preservation Commission told the project architect to rework the design for a new building (shown at right and behind the greenhouse) that would be part of the center.

It’s a green light for Green-Wood’s demolition of part of the Weir Greenhouse.

The famed cemetery will send in the wrecking crew as part of a project to turn the greenhouse into a visitors’ center.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously late Tuesday afternoon to allow Green-Wood to demolish two ancillary buildings attached to the gorgeous octagonal-domed glass greenhouse structure. All three buildings make up a single city landmark.   

A visit the commissioners made to the greenhouse at 749-750 Fifth Ave. convinced them that the demolition of the ancillary brick and frame structures was “appropriate,” Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said.

Richard Moylan, the cemetery’s president, told the Brooklyn Eagle after the vote at the commission’s Lower Manhattan headquarters that he was “pleased” by the demolition approval.

“That was critical,” he said. “We needed that. Now maybe we can make up for lost time on the renovation [of the glass greenhouse].”

The Weir building is the city’s only surviving Victorian commercial greenhouse. It’s on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 25th Street in Greenwood Heights, across the street from the cemetery’s entrance gate. Though the famed graveyard draws 250,000 visitors per year, it does not currently have a visitors’ center.

Green-Wood, founded in 1838, is America’s oldest rural cemetery.

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Visitors’ center architect Page Ayres Cowley told commissioners the renovated greenhouse will have a copper-topped dome, green window frames and a red-brick base.

The cemetery purchased the greenhouse plus an adjacent, non-landmarked building, 751 Fifth Ave., in 2012 for a combined $1.625 million, city Finance Department records indicate.

A design for a new building gets the cold shoulder

This was the second time the cemetery sought the commission’s permission to tear down the greenhouse’s landmarked ancillary buildings.

The first time, in December 2013, the commission instructed the cemetery to find a way to renovate the glass greenhouse without destroying the attached buildings.

On Tuesday, commissioners didn’t give cemetery executives everything they wanted. At a public hearing before their vote, commissioners told the project architect to go back to the drawing board and rework a design for a new building that would be part of the visitors’ center.

The modern three-story building she had proposed would wrap around the historic greenhouse on both its Fifth Avenue and 25th Street sides. It would be constructed on land cleared by the demolition of the landmarked ancillary buildings plus adjacent, non-landmarked property.

Commissioner Frederick Bland called Cowley’s design a “hodge-podge of many, many different things” and  suggested “a simpler, less aggressive building.”

Reps for the Historic Districts Council and the Society for the Architecture of the City criticized the new building’s proposed design at the hearing.

According to architectural drawings, the proposed visitors’ center would have galleries, a gift shop, rooms for educational programs and meetings, an archives library and a catering kitchen. The third floor of the new building would have offices for cemetery executives and the accounting department.

Baked in Brooklyn plans to buy part of the site

Part of the non-landmarked property on which the new building would be constructed is now a lawn where sample gravestones from Brooklyn Monument Co. are displayed.

The head of the monument company, John Hakola, sold the lawn and his company’s headquarters building, which are located at 242 25th St., to the cemetery for $1.5 million this year. He moved the business to Middle Village, Queens, the Eagle previously reported.

The cemetery is selling Brooklyn Monument Co.’s headquarters building to Baked in Brooklyn, cemetery President Moylan told the Eagle Tuesday.

The popular bakery is located at 755 Fifth Ave., right near the greenhouse. 

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