East New York

Landmark Borden Dairy in East New York, preservationists plead

July 19, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Borden Dairy's smokestack rises high in East New York. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

Got milk?

There was a cow mooing in the middle of a city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearing on Tuesday.

It was a toy cow, actually, which Susan Tunick, president of the Friends of Terra Cotta, used as a noisemaker to indicate her support for landmarking the former Borden Dairy in East New York.

She held up a mask that looked like Elsie the Cow, Borden’s mascot.

Tunick was among a half-dozen preservationists who testified in favor of landmarks designation for two century-old dairy buildings. Prior to the hearing, she had distributed 1,000 postcards with a “Landmark the Dairy” message that supporters sent to LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan.

The buildings that are being considered for designation are 2840 Atlantic Ave. on the corner of Schenck Avenue, and 2858 Atlantic Ave. on the corner of Barbey Street. The LPC refers to them as the Empire State Dairy Company Buildings because that’s the business for which they were constructed before Borden moved in.

Awaiting results of an environmental and structural engineering study

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The first person to testify at the hearing at the LPC’s Lower Manhattan headquarters was Valerie Campbell, a special counsel at law firm Kramer Levin.

Her bio on Kramer Levin’s website says she previously served as the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s general counsel.

At the hearing, Campbell said she represented the property’s “vendee” — which means an entity that has bought real estate or has a contract to buy it.

She didn’t mention it, but the dairy complex, which includes five buildings and two parking lots, had been up for sale for an asking price of $12 million.

As of Tuesday morning, the vendee either hadn’t closed on the purchase, or it hadn’t been recorded in city Finance Department records. According to the records, the complex still belongs to 2840 Atlantic Ave. Realty Corp., which has been its owner since the early 1980s.

In her testimony, Campbell suggested that the one of the buildings — the one on the corner of Atlantic and Schenck avenues — be removed from consideration for landmarking.

She asked that the hearing be continued in September to give the vendee time to have an environmental and structural engineering study of the property completed.

LPC Chair Srinivasan complied with Campbell’s request about continuing the hearing in September — so commissioners did not vote on Tuesday about whether or not to landmark the dairy.

‘Fantastical bit of urban public art’

The most eye-catching feature of the dairy complex’s exterior is a pair of murals made by the American Encaustic Tiling Company of Zanesville, Ohio.

One depicts a milkmaid with sweet-faced cows. The other shows a man in lederhosen with a bull. Both are “rural Swiss scenes,” and are “a fantastical bit of urban public art located in the heart of urban East New York,” preservationist Andrew Dolkart said in written testimony that was read at the hearing.

While testifying in support of landmarking the dairy, Zulmilena Then, the founder of advocacy group Preserving East New York, wore a full-length poster depicting one of the tile murals. There was a hole cut into it for her head to poke through.

Numerous landmark-worthy buildings are in jeopardy in the neighborhood following a City Council vote last spring to rezone part of East New York to allow large-scale affordable housing development.

Very few buildings in East New York have been designated as city landmarks — which would afford them protection from demolition.

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