Brooklyn Heights

Design of proposed Montague Street tower draws criticism

Landmarks Preservation Commission to architect: Go bolder

March 6, 2019 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The second building from the left is 200 Montague St., a Modern-style landmark. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Architects of a proposed residential tower at 200 Montague St. will have to head back to the drawing board and create a bolder design before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission greenlights their request to demolish a landmarked Modern-style Brooklyn Heights bank.

Commissioners called the 20-story tower designed by Beyer Blinder Belle “timid” and “self-effacing” at the agency’s meeting on Tuesday, as community members, architects and commissioners tried to reach a consensus on whether the building should be demolished. Commission Chairperson Sarah Carroll told architect Richard Metsky to revise his design for 200 Montague St. and make it “more of a statement building” that’s “more individual and distinctive.”

Landlord Midtown Equities wants to tear down the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District building and construct a 20-story residential tower with 121 market-rate rental apartments, as the Brooklyn Eagle previously reported. Community Board 2’s executive committee expressed unanimous support for the plan at their February 25 meeting.

This design for 200 Montague St., which is the second tower from the left, drew criticism from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Rendering by Beyer Blinder Belle via the Landmarks Preservation Commission
This design for 200 Montague St., which is the second tower from the left, drew criticism from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Renderings by Beyer Blinder Belle via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

At Tuesday’s hearing, Metsky said he designed the proposed tower to “fill the gap” on Montague Street that exists because the current building at 200 Montague St., which is only four stories tall, stands between a 36-story office tower at 16 Court St. and a 10-story office building at 188 Montague St.

Commissioners said Metsky should design something bolder — because buildings in the historic district are brash and attention-getting, not gap-fillers.

A Montague Street bank with drive-in service

Prolific architect Philip Birnbaum designed 200 Montague St., which was constructed in 1959 and 1960 to house Lafayette National Bank.

Originally 200 Montague St. was two stories tall and had a different facade. It had a driveway along one side of the building — so customers could do suburban-style drive-in banking.

Later, two floors were added to the building. In 2006, then-owner HSBC Bank put a new curtain wall on the exterior.

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Three commissioners said on Tuesday that the addition of the curtain wall so drastically altered Birnbaum’s design that they feel it’s OK to demolish the building.

“I don’t see what’s left to preserve,” said Commissioner Kim Vauss.

Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron disagreed.

The building’s original black granite frame is still visible, she said. Its distinctive proportions are there. She opposes 200 Montague St.’s demolition.

This is the retail space in 200 Montague St.’s initial design.
This is the retail space in 200 Montague St.’s initial design.

‘Modernist intruder’

The four people who testified at Tuesday’s hearing said 200 Montague St. should not be demolished.

The demolition of a designated landmark “should only be permitted in special circumstances,” said John Arbuckle of Docomomo US New York/Tri-State.

“The integrity of a historic district should not be sacrificed merely to satisfy an investor’s desire to increase the profitability of a historic site,” Arbuckle added.

Judy Stanton of the Brooklyn Heights Association said, “This building needs to be treated as something other than disposable.”

Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City said 200 Montague St. brought a historically significant dose of Modernism to a neighborhood full of old-fashioned office towers.

“Although the district is characterized by earlier 20th-century skyscrapers, this modernist intruder speaks to us of a dramatic moment in the city’s history, the conflict between ‘renewal’ and preservation,” Gough said.

Jesse Denno of the Historic Districts Council said, “This building speaks to the district’s commercial development in the post-war urban renewal years, and must be retained in some form.”

In late February, Community Board 2’s executive committee voted to support 200 Montague St.’s proposed tower design.

City Finance Department records show that Midtown Equities bought the property for $25 million in 2007 — several years before the 2011 establishment of the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District.

Follow Brooklyn Eagle reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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