Brooklyn Boro

A Watchtower Brooklyn real-estate watch list

Eye on Real Estate: What's for sale and what isn't (yet) by the Jehovah's Witnesses

November 9, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The sign says “Watchtower,” but the Jehovah's Witnesses sold their former headquarters and are in the process of liquidating the rest of their Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO property portfolio. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
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The day will come when the Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer own real estate in Brooklyn Heights, which was their home base for a century.

The Watchtower began selling off its Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO property portfolio several years ago, as part of its meticulous preparations for relocating its world headquarters to upstate Warwick, NY.

That new headquarters officially opened on Sept. 1.

The sale process took another step forward in late October, when the religious organization put one of its residential buildings, 97 Columbia Heights, on the market.

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“The real estate sales are being cared for in-house (not using a broker). We are pleased with the level of interest that continues to be shown in our properties,” Watchtower spokesman Richard Devine told us via email.

“This is a credit to the desirability of living and working in and around the Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO neighborhoods,” he said.
The properties that are in play — and those that will be — are in prime locations in two of Brooklyn’s most sought-after neighborhoods. Of course you want to keep track of them. So here’s a Watchtower Brooklyn real-estate watchlist:  

Properties the Watchtower has not yet put up for sale

* Residential building 119 Columbia Heights is a rare example of Brutalist Architecture within the landmarked Brooklyn Heights Historic District.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses finished constructing the distinctive-looking brick building on the corner of Pineapple Street in 1970. Ulrich Franzen was the architect.

According to city Buildings Department records, it’s a five-story building with 43 residential units.

* Three-story, 11-unit residential building 80 Willow St. is on the corner of Pineapple Street in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District. It was built in the 1840s.

According to city Finance Department records, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have owned it since 1986. The initial purchase was made through a wholly-owned Watchtower entity.

* Brick carriage house 86 Willow St., in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, has two residential units, Buildings Department records show.

* It’s just a parking lot now, but 1 York St. in DUMBO is a prime site for development.

The property, which has frontage on Front Street, has belonged to the Watchtower since 1977, Finance Department records indicate.

Watchtower properties now for sale

* Residential building 97 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights, which the Jehovah’s Witnesses recently put on the market, is located on the site of the Romanesque Revival-style Hotel Margaret. The landmarked inn on the corner of Orange Street was destroyed by a five-alarm fire in February 1980 while developer Ian Bruce Eichner was converting it to co-op apartments.

After that, he engaged in a six-year-long legal battle about the height of the building he would be allowed to construct on the hotel site.

In 1986, after he began work on the new building, the Watchtower purchased the project from him.

* Neighboring 107 Columbia Heights is a 154,000-plus-square-foot, 161-unit residential building with a vast landscaped courtyard and rooftop and private terraces. It went onto the market last spring.

It is located within the Brooklyn Heights Historic District — and was constructed in 1959, a few years before the landmark designation was made.

The 11-story building, which is on the corner of Orange Street and also has frontage on Willow Street, has an amenity that’s unusual in Brooklyn Heights residential buildings: An auditorium.

* A former 1920s-vintage hotel called The Towers at 21 Clark St. is one of the most eye-pleasing buildings in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, though it’s a century younger than some of the nearby houses.

There are Venetian-style towers on the four corners of the 16-story property, which was known back in the day as “the Aristocrat of Brooklyn Hotels.”

The Watchtower purchased it in 1975 for $1,992,229.08, Finance Department records show, then remodeled it to serve as a residence and dining room.

The 313,768-square-foot building, which has frontage on Willow and Pineapple streets, was put up for sale last spring.

* The Jehovah’s Witnesses are marketing a development site at 74 Adams St. in DUMBO, where a vehicle-maintenance facility now stands. It also has frontage on Front Street, York Street and Fleet Alley.

The religious organization bought the property in 1975, Finance Department records indicate.

The Watchtower’s marketing website about 74 Adams St. says it’s a 144,913-square-foot development site where luxury residential development is allowed as-of-right, and the new building can also have commercial and retail space and a community facility if desired.

The site is located outside the boundaries of the DUMBO Historic District.

Watchtower properties that are no longer being marketed

* DUMBO parking lot 85 Jay St. has almost 1 million square feet of development rights.

The site occupies the block bounded by Jay, Front, Bridge and York streets.

The New York Post has reported that the Kushner Cos., together with investment partners, agreed to buy the property, and the purchase is expected to close at the end of this year.

The Watchtower spent several years assembling the site through the purchase of individual properties on the block and getting it zoned for residential construction.

* The Jehovah’s Witnesses have chosen a buyer for a development site at 69 Adams St., Devine, the religious organization’s spokesman, recently told the Brooklyn Eagle. The site is currently occupied by a four-story recreational facility with a tennis court on its roof and an 84-space parking garage. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had put the property, which is located outside the DUMBO Historic District, up for sale last spring.

Properties the Watchtower recently sold

* The Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters at 25-30 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights — a stunning office complex that had previously belonged to pharmaceutical giant E.R. Squibb & Sons — was purchased by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The Kushner Cos., of which he’s the CEO, made the $340 million buy with joint-venture partners CIM Group and LIVWRK. The deal closed in August.

The complex they acquired also includes three neighboring buildings, 50 and 58 Columbia Heights and 55 Furman St., which all predate the Brooklyn Bridge.

The last time we checked a few days ago, the iconic red-neon time-and-temperature sign atop the headquarters complex still spelled out the word “Watchtower.” Whose name will flash forth from it in the future?

* The Kushner Cos. also purchased the Watchtower’s DUMBO Bible-printing plants plus a hotel-turned-residential-facility on Adams, Pearl, Prospect and Sands streets with real estate firm RFR for $375 million in October 2013. The new owners now call the complex DUMBO Heights.

* The Watchtower sold Brooklyn Heights Historic District residential building 124 Columbia Heights in April for $105 million to Vincent Viola, the owner of the Florida Panthers hockey team.

The 10-story, 152,000-square-foot building overlooks the Promenade. It has tremendous views of the Statue of Liberty, the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge. 

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