Kentile in exile: New spot pitched for iconic Gowanus sign

Endangered signage! Kentile Floors sign could disappear
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It likely won’t become part of the skyline again, but the Kentile Floors sign could be coming out of storage.

The beloved rooftop sign came down from its perch in Gowanus in July, but the letters could find a new home at the long-shuttered Under the Tracks playground, below the elevated F and G tracks between Second and Third avenues. The location is just one possibility, and a lot of hurdles have to be cleared before the letters go anywhere, but the disused park is a solid candidate, the sign’s caretaker said.

“We are trying to pinpoint spaces that make sense for them, and we think it would be great to bring them back to the community and put them there,” said Paul Basile, president of the Gowanus Alliance, a business association.

He explained the appeal of the playground this way:

“They still would be physically connected to the F and G lines, and if you want to see them, get off the train, visit us in Gowanus, and see our parks and stores.”

The playground has been closed since 2009, according to a transit spokesman, before work began on the Culver Viaduct, according to Community Board 6’s district manager. It had to be fenced off because the crumbling track support structure was sending chunks of concrete falling onto the play equipment, the district manager said. The lot is currently being used for the ongoing restoration work on the viaduct and Basile’s group has not yet reached out, the transit spokesman said.

The sign, a longtime fixture of the Brooklyn skyline, visible from the elevated tracks and from the Gowanus Expressway, was dismantled at the direction of Ely Cohen, owner of the building it sat atop, despite howls of protest from preservationists, neighbors, and local pols. The outcry prompted Cohen to preserve the letters as workers took them down, then hand them over to the Alliance.

The iconic typography has been hidden in a warehouse ever since, as the group has plotted its comeback. Work can’t officially begin until Cohen files paperwork to list them as a charitable donation, Basile said, but that should come soon.

The Gowanus Alliance will convene three committees to work on the sign’s restoration, including one to work on fund-raising, one to actually restore the letters, and one to nail down a final resting place, he said. The restoration will be a Gowanus affair, Basile added.

“Everything must be done in Gowanus, by a Gowanus professional or a resident of the neighborhood,” he said.

The letters are in rough shape, and will require some metal work to be brought back to life, but Basile said he is not interested in making the sign look good as new.

“The scars and dings and physical wear all tell a story,” he said. “We think that’s valuable in itself.”

One letter, the K, made an appearance at the Gowanus Alliance holiday party on Dec. 19, to the delight of attendees, Basile said. The 90-degree tilt of the top and bottom serifs on the right side of the letter caused alarm in our art department and comments section, but Basile assured us that the letters are made up of movable segments and will be rebuilt in their original shape when they have a permanent resting place.

The sign commemorates a long-closed asbestos-tile plant.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhuro‌witz@‌cnglo‌cal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Sign of the sign: The letter “K” from the Kentile Floors sign, which workers dismantled over the summer, made an appearance at a party for the Gowanus Alliance, which is trying to restore the letters and find them a new home.
Photo by Jason Speakman