East New York

East New York’s Empire State Dairy wins landmark designation

December 5, 2017 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The former Borden Dairy in East New York is Brooklyn's newest landmark. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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The old Borden Dairy in East New York is Brooklyn’s newest landmark.

On Tuesday, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to designate the century-old industrial complex at 2840 Atlantic Ave., which is also known as the Empire State Dairy Company Buildings, as a landmark.

This is a rare honor for East New York, a neighborhood with numerous buildings that preservationists consider worthy of landmark designation but few actual landmarks.

Landmarking is significant because it protects buildings from demolition — which is a potential threat in this recently rezoned neighborhood.

“It’s really important to preserve these buildings,” Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan said before the vote.

The property owner’s reps had argued in 2016 hearings that a portion of the prospective landmark should be demolished to make it easier to do environmental cleanup. But the commission rejected that argument and landmarked the entire Atlantic Avenue block-front between Schenck Avenue and Barbey Street.

The property’s owner has applied to the state Brownfield Cleanup Program.

Borden sold 2840 Atlantic Ave. in 1982, city Finance Department records show.

The property’s subsequent occupants used petroleum products, solvents and hydraulic fluids that probably contaminated it — and there was an oil-tank leak, the Center for New York City Law’s publication CityLand reported in 2016.    

Murals made of American majolica tiles

The dairy was designed by a prominent Brooklyn architect of yesteryear, Theobald Engelhardt, and Milwaukee architect Otto Strack.

Part of the complex is a combination of Renaissance and Romanesque-Revival styles and part of it is an Abstracted-Classicist design with Secessionist details.

The dairy’s facade is decorated with two distinctive murals made by the American Encaustic Tiling Company of Zanesville, Ohio.

The murals, which are composed of American majolica tiles, depict a milkmaid, a man in lederhosen and their bovine buddies amidst Alpine scenery.

A ‘tremendous victory,’ preservationists say

After the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s vote, supporters of the dairy’s designation spoke about its significance to the Brooklyn Eagle.

“This is the first step in correcting the narrative of East New York,” Farrah Lafontant of Preserving East New York said.

Zulmilena Then of Preserving East New York said, “We’re extremely happy Landmarks recognized there’s a need to protect the building.”

She vowed that her organization will keep working to get the East New York community engaged and involved in historic preservation in the neighborhood.

Susan Tunick, president of the Friends of Terra Cotta, called the old dairy’s designation “a tremendous victory for architectural ceramics.”

The new landmark, with its tile murals, will be a “great tool” for educating both East New York residents and tourists, she said.  

The former dairy complex belongs to an LLC with Christopher Barry as president, which bought it for $11.05 million in January, Finance Department records indicate.

The purchase includes adjacent buildings that are not part of the newly landmarked site.

Barry was a co-founder of a self-storage facilities operator called LifeStorage, which was sold last year to a larger company in that industry.


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