City landmarks 5 Gowanus buildings, but advocates push for more
The city Landmarks Preservation Commission designated five Gowanus buildings as individual landmarks on Tuesday, and advocates hope there are more to come.
They believe additional sites near the toxic Gowanus Canal should also be landmarked to ensure their survival as reminders of the neighborhood’s industrial past before proposed rezoning gets underway.
“Today’s designation vote is a crucial step in the process of preserving Gowanus’s important history and we are thankful to the Landmarks Commission for taking this action,” Simeon Bankoff, the Historic Districts Council’s Executive Director, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “There is still much more to be done.”
The Historic Districts Council has been working with Gowanus activists on landmarking initiatives since 2011.
“We’ve seen the neighborhood change immensely over the past eight years and with the proposed rezoning, that change is only going to accelerate,” Bankoff said.
“Some of us have advocated for landmarking for more than a decade, and our coalition has worked together for several years now in response to the city’s proposed rezoning,” said Linda Mariano of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus. “It is our hope that many more historic buildings in Gowanus will be landmarked, as they are certainly worthy.”
She said the five newly landmarked buildings “represent and illustrate the Gowanus corridor’s authentic industrial past.”
Mariano is a co-founder of the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition, of which the Historic Districts Council is a member. The coalition, which includes Gowanus residents, neighborhood groups, local businesses and citywide organizations, led the neighborhood’s preservation fight the past couple years.
Commission Chairperson Sarah Carroll thanked the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition for its work before Tuesday’s vote.
City landmark designation is especially significant in neighborhoods with big development potential. It prevents property owners from demolishing buildings or altering their exteriors without the LPC’s permission.
Prior to Tuesday’s designations, there were only two city landmarks in Gowanus — the tiny 1870s Coignet Building, which is surrounded by a huge Whole Foods, and the 1880s Carroll Street Bridge, which is the only wooden vehicular span in New York City.
These are the five Gowanus buildings commissioners voted unanimously to designate:
The Old American Can Factory
The building at 232 3rd St., which is a studio facility for artists, artisans, filmmakers and publishers. Half the property is going to be developed into office space and artists’ work-live units — and is not included in the landmark designation.
The American Round Arch-style property, originally called the Somers Brothers Tinware Factory, was constructed in 1884.
The portion of the property that was not landmarked is historically significant and merits designation, Bankoff argued at a Sept. 24 hearing. The Somers Brothers constructed this building in 1891 to house a new business, the Somerton Tinplate Works, which was a pioneer in tinplate manufacturing in New York State.
An LPC researcher said on Tuesday that this portion of the property had been altered after a fire, which is why it was not being included in the landmark designation.
The Batcave at 153 Second St., which got its nickname during years as a derelict hangout for squatters, graffiti artists and clandestine partiers.
The building’s formal name is the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company Central Power Station Engine House. The Romanesque-Classical Revival building was constructed between 1901 and 1904.
An annex is being added to the building, which is being turned into Powerhouse Arts, a facility for wood, metal, ceramics, textile and print fabrication and production.
The Montauk Paint Manufacturing Company Building
The building at 170 Second Ave was constructed in 1908. Its architectural design is American Round Arch-style.
This property is also called the Norge Sailmakers Building because of a 1940s tenant that made sails for yachts.
Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel Pumping Station and Gate House
The designation includes two brick buildings at 201 Douglass St. whose construction was completed in 1911. Their architectural style is neo-Classical with Secessionist details. The designation does not include other buildings on the site.
The pumping station brings fresh water into the 1.8-mile Gowanus Canal, which is a federal Superfund cleanup site because of the lethal pollutants it contains.
The ASPCA building
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Brooklyn Office, Shelter and Garage at 233 Butler St. was designed by prominent architectural firm Renwick, Aspinwall & Tucker.
What was left off?
At the Sept. 24 hearing, advocates named several Gowanus properties they think the Landmarks Preservation Commission should consider designating in the near future:
- The control tower that sits beside the Union Street Bridge
- The R.G. Dun & Company Building at 239-257 Butler St.
- The T.H. Roulston complex on 9th Street
- The Ice House and Brewing Complex at 421 Bond St.
Preservationists suffered two defeats before the vote in their efforts to use landmarking to save historic properties along the Gowanus Canal.
One is the Gowanus Station at 234 Butler St., a century-old Beaux-Arts building the city acquired through eminent domain last year. It is going to be torn down and replaced with a new sewage facility.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said earlier this year that after demolition, portions of the Gowanus Station’s facade will be incorporated into the new facility “to the extent practicable.”
The other defeat was the demolition of the S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse at 595 Smith St. in Red Hook. The Gowanus Landmarking Coalition considered it a priority building because of its location on the banks of the Gowanus Canal. It was the most prominently visible 19th-century industrial building on the waterway.
Preservationists couldn’t convince the LPC to put the four-story brick storehouse, constructed in 1886, onto its calendar for landmarking consideration. In June 2018, a two-alarm fire that FDNY said was “deliberately set” damaged the Bowne Building’s roof and part of the south portion of the property. Nevertheless, its owner, the Chetrit Group, obtained a demolition permit in February 2019.
The city Buildings Department halted demolition various times. But by Labor Day, the historic S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse was almost entirely torn down.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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