Looking up! City plans ‘Skyscraper district’ in Downtown

Number 16’s ‘Court’-ing bids
The Brooklyn Paper / Julie Rosenberg

A new historic district would protect the borough’s tallest architectural wonders in Downtown and Brooklyn Heights, the city announced this week.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission this week proposed the “Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District,” which encompasses 20 buildings — including Borough Hall and the Municipal Building — along Court Street from Montague Street to Livingston Street, extending half a block west into Brooklyn Heights and east into Downtown.

The plan would effectively protect the face of this handsome handful of early-1900s Romanesque Revival and Beaux-Arts buildings — and preserve the architectural history in the district, which is characterized mostly by tall commercial structures.

“The district contains many of the borough’s most architecturally distinguished business buildings,” the city noted in its proposal, whose timeline is not yet clear. “Designed in a range of styles, the structures in the study area represent the work of an impressive group of architects.”

The district, which sits directly adjacent to the swank and ancient Brooklyn Heights Historic District of brownstones, stakes its claim as the heart of commercial growth in Downtown. Shortly after the business boom surrounding Brooklyn Heights in the late 1800s, buildings in the district, such as the cloud-reaching Romanesque Chamber of Commerce Building at Livingston and Court streets and the Temple Bar Building on Court and Joralemon streets, began cropping up.

Of course, the “skyscraper” in the district’s name is a bit misleading. Several buildings, like the Municipal Building and Borough Hall, are far from tall in comparison to their surroundings. And after all, isn’t Manhattan, not Brooklyn, defined by its tall buildings?

Answers to these and other questions await the lengthy landmarking process.