Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Historic Downtown BK Highrises Gain Unanimous Landmarks Approval

Preservationists scored a major victory Tuesday as the Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved the "Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District," a series of 21 historic highrises in Downtown Brooklyn, on the border of Brooklyn Heights.

Clustered along Court Street and the corners of Joralemon, Remsen and Montague Streets around the already landmarked Borough Hall, the handsome handful of Romanesque Revival and Beaux-Arts buildings were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Still, a number of property owners and developers—those obviously charged with maintaining the buildings' facades and inclined to demolish them instead of investing the money to restore their grandeur (see the Chelsea and Bowery nabes for a perfect example)—were vehemently opposed, claiming it would drive up costs and impede retail redevelopment. Mike Slattery, SVP of the Real Estate Board of
A shameful new red box in the Bowery.
New York, speaking for property owners, had the audacity to claim of the majestic highrises: "They have little architectural and historic significance and distinction."

The landmarks designation has been in the works for five years, after nearby St. Francis College demolished its elegant 19th-century McGarry Library. “It has been a longstanding regret we did not get a district sooner,” said Brooklyn Heights Assn. president Judy Stanton. “(This) is necessary to protect those buildings from being torn down—it does not prevent redevelopment.”

Commission Chairman Robert B. Tierney noted that “The cluster of tall office buildings that form the district had a central role in Brooklyn’s development and illustrate an important chapter of New York City’s history. These skyscrapers of their day gave Brooklyn not only a commercial heart, but also a new skyline.”

Brownstoner reports that the spate of landmarked buildings includes the Franklin Building at 186 Remsen Street, completed in 1887; the 13-story Temple Bar Building at 44 Court Street; and a 22-story limestone, granite and brick Colonial Revival style building at 32 Court Street. It also encompasses the 35-story Montague-Court Building and the Municipal Building; as well as three buildings of at least 30 stories along Court Street, once the borough's definitive skyscraper row.

In addition, the 32-story coop at 75 Livingston Street (right) is now landmarked, whose board was among those opposing Landmarks designation, saying it would drive up prices there. Considering that the building already comprises a majority of multi-million-dollar units and sky-high maintenance in the $3,000s, it sounds like they accomplished that long before Landmarks came calling.

The City Planning Commission and the City Council must grant final approval within the next 120 days.