For the most part, the atmosphere was congenial at the Landmarks Preservation Commission yesterday morning, where the commissioners and about 20 members of the public gathered for a public hearing regarding the landmarking of five separate properties in Gowanus.
Those buildings include: the Gowanus Pumping Station and Gate House at 196 Butler Street; the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company Central Power Station Engine House at 153 2nd Street, better known as the Batcave; the Montauk Paint Manufacturing Company Building at 170 2nd Avenue; the ASPCA Rogers Memorial Building at 233 Butler Street; and the Somers Brothers Tinware Factory (later American Can Company) at 238-246 3rd Street.
Of the 16 people who provided testimony at the hearing, including representatives for the owners of four of the five properties, not one person spoke against designation. But many of those who spoke reiterated that there is more to look at in terms of possible landmarks in Gowanus.
“The list up for consideration today is a good start,” said local resident and preservationist Brad Vogel. But the recent arson and subsequent demolition of the historic S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse nearby in Red Hook, as well as the Gowanus Station, whose current fate, is “in limbo,” show more properties need landmark protection, Vogel said.
While only acknowledged in passing, lurking behind most of the comments from residents and building owners alike is the proposed rezoning of the neighborhood. A representative for the American Can Factory, for example, spoke in favor of the designation while also pleading that the commissioners take into account the fact they are planning on building a new mixed-use building on their property.
Linda Mariano, a founding member of the group Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (FROGG), also mentioned the rezoning. “LPC, I believe, has been a little negligent in response to requests for landmarking,” she said, referencing the long period it took for these five buildings to be calendared by the commission. She referred to the possible designation as “a little piece of cake” provided to local residents as “a favor to Brad Lander’s plan” to smooth the way for the rezoning.
Other residents and supporters from groups such as the Historic Districts Council and the Municipal Art Society also spoke in favor of landmarking additional buildings in Gowanus, including the T.H. Roulston Inc. buildings at 70-124 9th Street and the 4th Street Brewery and Icehouse Complex at 401-421 Bond Street. Mariano and others brought up the possibility of landmarking a district, which they referred to as the Gowanus Canal Corridor.
Everyone agreed that, while the possible designation of these five sites is a move in the right direction, it should only be the beginning. Katia Kelly, a local resident and blogger behind Pardon Me for Asking, summed up their position. The neighborhood’s industrial architecture, she said, “is as worthy of saving as pretty brownstones.”
[Photos by Susan De Vries]
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