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City: Ward’s Bakery is not a landmark

The Brooklyn Paper
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The city derailed a longshot attempt to block the Atlantic Yards development last month, rejecting a proposal to landmark a 95-year-old building that’s slated for demolition to make way for the project.

Landmarks Preservation Commission staff ruled that the Ward’s Bakery building, at 800 Pacific St., does not meet the criteria for landmarking, said spokesperson Elisabeth de Bourbon on Oct. 12.

Opponents of developer Bruce Ratner’s massive Atlantic Yards project applied for landmark status in 2003 because designation would have prevented Ratner from demolishing the factory.

De Bourbon said the decision was based solely on assessments of the building’s historic, cultural and architectural significance. But opponents of Ratner’s $4.2-billion hotel, arena, residential and office space development said the landmark effort was doomed by the developer’s vast political connections, including the support of Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg.

“This appears to be a political decision by the Landmarks Commission,” said Daniel Goldstein, a spokesperson for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, which opposes Atlantic Yards.

“It is deeply frustrating that they have let politics enter their deliberation on a building that clearly deserves landmark status.”

City Councilmember Letitia James (D-Prospect Heights) had sent a letter supporting the landmarking — and was naturally disappointed by the result.

“There is a lot of politics that takes place at Landmarks,” said staff member, Kate Suisman, adding that designation “would definitely complicate things for Ratner.”

But Yards opponents weren’t the only concerned citizens demanding landmarking for the former bread bakery with a terra cotta façade and Greco-inspired ornamental arches. Preservationist groups, including the New York Preservation Alliance and the Prospect Heights Preservation Association, were also on board.

Built in 1911, the building’s most impressive physical feature is the tile work, which, if polished, would make the factory shine.

That’s how George S. Ward, the company’s president, wanted it. Ward personally led a team of architects on a European tour before letting them design the Brooklyn factory. A bakery publication at the time called the building “the snow-white temple of bread-making cleanliness.”

And here’s another bit of history: Ward’s brother, Robert, owned The Brooklyn Tip-Tops, a Federal League baseball team that was named after a brand of Ward’s bread that was created at the factory. The Tip-Tops played in Washington Park, located in nearby Gowanus, which the Brooklyn Dodgers left in 1912 for Ebbets Field.

And this is the factory that helped create a market for mass-produced bread. Thanks to new machinery and techniques, the factory turned out 250,000 loaves a day — a lot in those days. The factory employed hundreds of New Yorkers until it closed in 1995.

The National Register of Historic Places, a federal agency that catalogues historic buildings, accepted the bakery in 2003, but it was never added to the registry because such designation requires owner approval. Then-owner Shaya Boymelgreen didn’t sign off on the designation, and then sold the building to Ratner in 2005.

Still, few ever saw the attempt to landmark the structure as more than a longshot.

“Looking to the Landmarks Commission to try to save the day is like fighting World War II with a slingshot,” said Simeon Bankoff, director of the Historic District Council.

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