Owner of historic Heights Chipotle building fights landmarking

The rest is history: City may finally landmark two buildings left out of ‘Skyscraper’ historic district
Photo by Steven Schnibbe

Holy guacamole!

The city should not landmark the iconic 86-year-old Montague Street Art Deco building that currently houses the Brooklyn Heights Chipotle because having to preserve the historic facade will make it too hard for the landlord to redevelop the tower and charge top dollar to tenants who don’t appreciate its antique charm, a spokesman for the building’s owner argued at a Landmarks Preservation Commission public hearing on Tuesday.

“Tenants these days are not looking for the old-style building, they want a new modern look,” said David Malanga, who represents owner the Montague-Goldman Corporation after the hearing. “How am I supposed to collect the same amount of rent as the guy next to my if my building is from the 1920s and his is from the 2000s?”

Malanga was the only person who spoke against placing the historic designation on the National Guaranty Company Tower at 185 Montague St. which is being considered alongside the 110-year-old temple-like Peoples Trust Company bank building at 181 Montague St. next door.

Local civic leaders, preservationists, and architects all gave their enthusiastic thumbs up, but Malagna — who maintained that his company has no immediate plans to redevelop the 15-story skyscraper, known for its intricate detailing courtesy of famed architectural sculptor Rene Chambellan — waved their opinions off, saying they’ll have kicked the bucket by the time his boss does want to renovate.

“Half of those people who were in the room are going to be dead in 50 years,” he said.

Once a building is designated as a landmark, the owner can’t make any changes to its facade without the Commission’s okay.

Preservationists have been campaigning to landmark the pair or properties ever since the city left them out of the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District, which it created in 2011, and advised the commissioners to act now to protect the architecturally significant structures before they become victims of the area’s development boom.

“Given the intense development pressure in the vicinity of Brooklyn Heights we’ve brought to your attention the vulnerability of these two remarkable survivors that many in our community erroneously assume are already protected,” said preservationist Otis Pearsall, who led the campaign to designate Brooklyn Heights as the city’s first historic district back in the 1960s. “The moment for their designation and protection should be right now.”

Developer Jonathan Rose, who bought the People’s Trust Company building for $36.5 million in 2015, didn’t make an appearance at the hearing, though he is generally supportive of the special designation, according to Peter Bray, the head of local civic group the Brooklyn Heights Association.

Bray says he wasn’t surprised by Malanga’s objections since landmarked buildings can restrain owners, but is confident the commission will see how important the properties are and act to protect them.

“The LPC’s mission is to designate buildings that are out of outstanding architectural and historical significance and I think all of the other testimony today made very clear that these are extremely important structures and well deserve being landmarked,” he said.

The commissioners will decide the buildings’ fates when they vote on Jan. 17.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
History in the making: The owner of the Citibank building at 181 Montague St. is reportedly fine with the structure becoming a landmark.
Photo by Steven Schnibbe