Brooklyn Heights

Landmarks Preservation Commission okays fix-up work at Vincent Viola’s former Jehovah’s Witnesses building in Brooklyn Heights

There will be 101 apartments at 124 Columbia Heights

August 8, 2017 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The building at left is 124 Columbia Heights. Photo courtesy of Jehovah's Witnesses
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The makeover of a prime former Watchtower property into a secular building took a step forward Tuesday.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) unanimously approved fix-up work at 124 Columbia Heights — a former dorm for workers at the world headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witnesses that new owner Vincent Viola plans to turn into an apartment building.

The LPC vote took place at the preservation agency’s Lower Manhattan headquarters.

Viola, the billionaire owner of the Florida Panthers hockey team and co-owner of the 2017 Kentucky Derby’s winning horse, Always Dreaming, was President Donald Trump’s first nominee for Secretary of the Army.

Viola plans to transform 124 Columbia Heights into a 101-unit apartment building, city Buildings Department filings show. There are currently 237 dwelling units in the vacant property.  

Last year, Vincent Viola bought the building through an LLC for $105 million, city Finance Department records show. His wife Teresa Viola is the president of the LLC.

Landmarked 124 Columbia Heights has frontage on Brooklyn Heights’ famed Promenade and stellar views of the Statue of Liberty, the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge. As an architectural reference to the religious organization that constructed it, the 10-story, 152,000-square-foot-building has a small tower on its roof that looks like a watchtower.


A parking garage with an elevator for the cars

Several planned changes to the building’s exterior are related to the need to provide off-street parking spaces for this residential development.

The building currently does not have a parking garage, Thomas Hut of HS2 Architecture said at a public hearing that was held before the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s vote. Hut is the architect of record for 124 Columbia Heights’ makeover project.

So a parking garage for 124 Columbia Heights’ tenants will be constructed inside the building. It will have an elevator to move their cars — and there will be a bulkhead on the building’s roof for this elevator.

An opening for a garage door will be carved into the building’s facade and a curb cut will be made in the sidewalk.

Another planned change to the building is the replacement of its existing windows with new aluminum ones.

This change blossomed from an initial plan to remove the building’s window air conditioners, Hut said.

Former home of the Watchtower’s radio station

Viola had the opportunity to purchase 124 Columbia Heights because the Jehovah’s Witnesses are in the process of  liquidating their once-vast holdings in Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO.

That’s because they recently moved their world headquarters from Brooklyn Heights, where they had a major presence for more than a century, to upstate Warwick, New York.

The property the Watchtower sold to Viola, 124 Columbia Heights, consists of a neo-Federal building constructed around 1930, a Moderne-style building constructed in 1949 and a remnant of a building from the late 19th or early 20th century.

In 1909, the Jehovah’s Witnesses started assembling the site where they built 124 Columbia Heights by buying a brownstone where Abolitionist minister Henry Ward Beecher had lived.

Though 124 Columbia Heights served primarily as a residence for Watchtower headquarters staffers, it was also the home of the Jehovah’s Witnesses former radio station, WBBR, for most of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.  

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