Brooklyn Heights

Landmarks agency says: Tweak this Remsen Street hotel design

Vacant Brooklyn Heights Office Building Will Get a New Lease on Life

January 15, 2019 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle

A Romanesque Revival office building that was saved from demolition several years ago is slated for a makeover as a hotel.

But first, architecture firm HOK needs to revise the project’s design, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission decided on Tuesday.

At a hearing at the preservation agency’s Manhattan headquarters, several commissioners applauded — with a few reservations — the restoration and expansion plan for the decrepit 1880s building at 186 Remsen St. in Brooklyn Heights.

The six-story brownstone, granite and terra-cotta building, which has been vacant for many years, will be turned into a hotel with 37 guest rooms, restaurant space on upstairs floors and food and beverage service in its lobby.

HOK’s design calls for the historically accurate reconstruction of the building’s top two floors, which were destroyed by a fire in 1950.

A modern addition will be constructed on top of the historic building, bringing its height to 14 stories. The six-story addition will be set back 52 feet from the street wall.

It’s All In the Details

The new construction will have a glass facade partly covered with vertical fins made of pale-colored, patterned terra-cotta.

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Instead of having the commissioners vote on the proposed design yesterday, Landmarks Chairwoman Sarah Carroll said her colleagues disagree about a plan from HOK to install the modern terra-cotta on the ground-floor entrance of the 19th-century portion of 186 Remsen St.

Some commissioners thought the terra-cotta should be used more boldly on the ground floor. Others thought it shouldn’t be used at all.

HOK needs to make a return appearance before the commission to hash out the issue.

Carroll also told HOK to come up with a way to make a perforated metal screen that would enclose the mechanical equipment at the top of the addition less visible down in the streets.

In testimony during the hearing, representatives from the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce expressed support for 186 Remsen St.’s renovation and redesign plan.

Jesse Denno of the Historic Districts Council called it “extremely well thought out” — but said the modern terra-cotta shouldn’t be used on the ground-floor entry.

A Parfitt Brothers Design

A few historical details about 186 Remsen St.:

The Parfitt Brothers, an important 19th-century architecture firm, designed the Franklin Building, which is what preservationists call 186 Remsen St. because Franklin Trust was its initial tenant.

Its original owner was entrepreneur and philanthropist A.A. Low, who became wealthy by trading with China. He invested in Brooklyn Heights real estate and lived in a mansion at 3 Pierrepont Place.

The Remsen Street property is a good location for a hotel. It is right next door to St. Francis College and across the street from Brooklyn Borough Hall.

The redevelopment site is located within the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District.

In early 2011, while the historic district designation process was underway, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing specifically about 186 Remsen St. because of fears that it was going to be torn down.

Consequently, the landlord agreed to put demolition plans on hold.

The owner at the time was 44 Court Street LLC, which was headed by real estate mogul Larry Wohl of Joseph P. Day Realty Corp.

City Finance Department records show that in 2015, the building’s ownership was transferred to 186 Remsen Street LLC, in which Wohl is also involved.

The firm that’s doing the hotel development is Upventures LLC, whose founder is Tony Greenberg. He is a former Joseph P. Day Realty Corp. property manager and leasing agent.

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