Gowanus

Development planned at Gowanus arts facility up for landmarking

September 24, 2019 Lore Croghan
Five industrial properties in Gowanus — the neighborhood with the toxic but beloved canal — are candidates for city landmark designation. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Half of the historic Old American Can Factory in Gowanus is a candidate for landmarking designation. The other half is slated for development.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission’s carved out about half the Can Factory property and excluded it from consideration for landmarking.

The development-friendly decision came to light at a hearing on Tuesday about the former factory complex and four other Gowanus industrial properties that are candidates for city landmark designation.

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Preservationists at the hearing testified in favor of landmarking the entirety of the old factory.

The Old American Can Factory — or the Somers Brothers Tinware Factory, as it was originally called — provides studio space for more than 300 artists, artisans, filmmakers and publishers. It belongs to XO Projects, which renovated and manages the property.

In order for the art-studio facility to continue to thrive, it “must grow and expand its operations,” XO Projects President Nathan Elbogen testified at Tuesday’s hearing.

The company plans to build a mixed-use development with office space and work-live units for artists, he said.

The American Round Arch-style factory complex is located at 232 Third St. on the corner of Third Avenue, right across the street from Gowanus’ Whole Foods Market.


City Council member Brad Lander expressed his support for XO Projects’ development plan in a letter that his staffer Julia Ehrman read at Tuesday’s hearing.

He’s concerned about preserving the 300-plus arts, culture and creative jobs at the Old American Can Factory, he said in his letter.

“While landmarking will preserve the physical space, it will not ensure that these tenants can remain, or that others will have access to this space for light manufacturing and creative work over time,” Lander wrote. “That’s why I have expressed openness to the Can Factory owner’s proposal to develop the parts of their site that were not calendared [for landmarks designation consideration], in exchange for a commitment to preserve these uses…”

‘The power of adaptive reuse’

Preservation advocates sounded off about the commission’s decision to make only part of the Old American Can Factory a candidate for landmarking.

Only a portion of the Old American Can Factory is being considered for landmark designation. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Only a portion of the Old American Can Factory is being considered for landmark designation. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

On the southeastern side of the factory complex, which the commission excluded from landmarking consideration, “the Somers Brothers became the first company to manufacture tin plate in New York State in 1891,” Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff testified at the hearing.

“The Historic Districts Council supports the landmark designation of the Somers Brothers Tinware Factory, but urges the commission to recognize the contentious fact that arguably the most historically important portion of this factory complex is being cut out of the landmark site,” Bankoff said.

Its façade has been altered — but “given its extreme historical merit, this portion of the complex deserves to be considered for designation along with the rest of the site before it gets demolished for future development,” Bankoff added.

Another preservationist, Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City, said in her testimony that “this site should be preserved in its entirety.”

In his testimony on Tuesday, Brad Vogel of the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition praised the Old American Can Factory as “a shining example of the power of adaptive reuse” and said, “We hope all possible means are used to retain the rear portion of the complex, currently outside the designation” area.

Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel

Also, only part of the city-owned Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel Pumping Station and Gate House property is being considered for landmark designation. This portion of the site, which faces Douglass Street, includes two Colonial Revival-style brick buildings whose construction was completed in 1911.

The brick Gowanus Pumping Station buildings are being considered for landmarking but other structures on the property are not. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
The brick Gowanus Pumping Station buildings are being considered for landmarking, but other structures on the property are not. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Other buildings, which face Butler Street, are excluded from the proposed designation. Bankoff said in testimony that they shouldn’t be, because “landmark designation is the only regulation which would allow substantial design review of any new construction” at the site.

The pumping station at 201 Douglass St. is in use today following a renovation of the flushing tunnel that was completed in 2014. Each day, the tunnel system draws more than 250 million gallons of fresh water from Upper New York Bay into the 1.8-mile Gowanus Canal, which is so severely polluted that it’s a federal Superfund cleanup site.

A rep for the city Department of Environmental Protection said at Tuesday’s hearing that the agency supports the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel Pumping Station and Gate House’s landmark designation.

The Batcave

The third Gowanus landmarking candidate is the Batcave, as it was popularly known during its years as a derelict building with graffiti murals, underground parties and squatters.

The Batcave, which is the building to the right of the Gowanus Canal, is being considered for landmarking. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
The Batcave, which is the building to the right of the Gowanus Canal, is being considered for landmarking. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company Central Power Station Engine House, as it’s formally called, is a Romanesque-Classical Revival building at 153 Second St. It has frontage on Third Avenue and is visible from various locations on the Gowanus Canal.

Joshua Rechnitz bought the building and hired architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron to turn it into Powerhouse Arts, a site for wood, metal, ceramics, textile and print fabrication and production. An annex is being constructed on the north side of the property.

Powerhouse Arts board member Abby Hamlin testified at the hearing that the board strongly supports the building’s landmark designation.

Montauk Paint Manufacturing Company Building

The fourth Gowanus landmarking candidate is the Montauk Paint Manufacturing Company Building at 170 Second Ave. on the corner of 13th Street.

The Montauk Paint Manufacturing Building, aka the Norge Sailmakers Building, is a landmarking candidate. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
The Montauk Paint Manufacturing Building, aka the Norge Sailmakers Building, is a landmarking candidate. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

The brick American Round Arch-style building was constructed in 1908 when Brooklyn was one of America’s foremost paint-manufacturing locations.

Bankoff, the Historic Districts Council exec, thanked the Landmarks Preservation Commission for including this building as a designation candidate even though it’s outside the Gowanus rezoning area.

The property is also known as the Norge Sailmakers Building in honor of a tenant that made sails for yachts in the 1940s.

The Montauk Paint Manufacturing Company Building’s long-time owner is Neo-Bauhaus Design Factory Inc., whose president is Mardig Kachian, city Finance Department records indicate. The New York Times identifies him as a sculptor.

ASPCA office building

Frank Chaney, a lawyer for the owners of the fifth Gowanus landmarking candidate, testified that they “unreservedly support” its landmark designation.

Brooklyn’s former ASPCA headquarters is being considered for landmarking. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Brooklyn’s former ASPCA headquarters is being considered for landmarking. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

The property is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Brooklyn Office, Shelter and Garage at 233 Butler St.

Architecture firm Renwick, Aspinwall & Tucker designed the Neo-Romanesque brick building, which opened in 1913 and was enlarged in 1922.

The building belongs to MacArthur Holdings, whose company principals are brothers David, Philip and Howard Katz, its website says. Chaney pointed out Howard Katz at the hearing. Katz did not testify.

A record bar, sound room and vegan cafe called Public Records opened in the ASPCA Building this year.

Landmark these ones too, say advocates

Advocates are thankful the Landmarks Preservation Commission is working to designate historic Gowanus buildings before a proposed rezoning of the neighborhood is carried out.

Preservationists want the Ice House and Brewing Complex (shown here) and several other Gowanus properties to be considered for landmark designation. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
Preservationists want the Ice House and Brewing Complex (shown here) and several other Gowanus properties to be considered for landmark designation. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

Several of them said at the hearing that the commission’s efforts are a good start in honoring the neighborhood’s industrial history but asked the preservation agency to also consider several other Gowanus buildings for landmark designation.

Preservation advocate Vogel and Carroll Gardens resident David Congdon both said in testimony that the R.G. Dun & Company Building at 239-257 Butler St., the T.H. Roulston complex on 9th Street and the Union Street Bridge Control Tower should be landmarking candidates.

Kelly Carroll of the Historic Districts Council said the Ice House and Brewing Complex at 421 Bond St. should also be on the landmarking list.

Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus Co-Founder Linda Mariano testified that she has been trying for more than a decade to get the LPC to evaluate the corridor along the Gowanus Canal for possible designation as a landmarked district.

“Why not designate the buildings that are in jeopardy of demolition or other kinds of calamities, such as the real threat of rezoning?” Mariano said.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.


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