City landmarks five ancient Gowanus buildings ahead of neighborhood rezoning

Gowanus preservationist Linda Mariano was delighted that the city decided to landmark five old buildings in the neighborhood, including the former American Can Company building at the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Preservationists are rejoicing after the city granted landmark status to five historic Gowanus buildings on Tuesday, which will save them from potential demolition ahead of the neighborhood’s massive planned rezoning.

“As Gowanus changes we want to try to guide the change so that we don’t erase the history,” said the head of the citywide preservation advocacy group the Historic Districts Council Simeon Bankoff. “Our concern was that the city would rezone and then the development pressure on the area would be so intense that we wouldn’t even get these designations.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the five structures — each constructed between 1884 to 1913 — as official city landmarks following a grassroots campaign led by activists with the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition, which later gained the support of Councilman Brad Lander (D–Gowanus) and the five building owners.

The buildings include:

•The former American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-turned vinyl-spinning cafe and bar at 233 Butler St.

•The former Montauk Paint Manufacturing Company at 170 Second Ave.

•The Flushing Tunnel Pumping Station and Gate House at the head of the noxious Gowanus Canal at 196 Butler St.

•A former power station engine house for the now-defunct Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company on 153 Second St.

•The former American Can Company building on the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street.

Under landmarking laws — which in these cases affect only the buildings’ exterior — the owners will require a permit from the commission to make any future alterations to the facades, according to the agency’s spokeswoman Zodet Negrón.

Protecting these century-old edifices is a necessary step to preserving the nabe’s industrial manufacturing past, according to Bankoff.

“The Gowanus Canal was a major industrial and commercial artery that enabled so many other things to happen in Brooklyn,” the history buff said. “Without keeping some remnant of all the goods were shipped through and the developments that happened, then you’re only telling half the story.”

The five buildings are part of a list of 13 structures the preservationist coalition wants to see landmarked, including one building that a developer has already mostly demolished after a suspicious fire tore through it — making the landmarking even more urgent, according to one of the group’s founders.

“You’re not going to get these buildings back once they’re gone,” said longtime Gowanus resident Linda Mariano. “It is our hope that many more historic buildings in Gowanus will be landmarked, as they are certainly worthy.”

The developer of one of the newly landmarked buildings said that they support the designation and the commission’s work — despite the added administrative hurdles.

“The process becomes more bureaucratic now that [the commission]’s involved but I would say that it’s a small price to pay for the good that Landmarks does, and we’re willing to bear the administrative headaches,” said Howard Katz, a manager with the Manhattan-based developer Surtsey Realty Company LLC, which owns 233 Butler St.

Surtsey Realty recently wrapped up an exterior renovation of that building — which included a partial restoration of its facade — but consulted with the commission for that work, according to Katz.

“Coincidentally we just finished a major renovation of that building so for us the timing was perfect because the building has just been renovated,” he said.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@schnepsmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.

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