Showstopper! Preservationists send Brooklyn Heights Cinema overhaul back to the drawing board again

Brooklyn Heights Cinema will be demolished — if landlord gets his way
File photo by Tom Callan

Maybe the third time will be the charm for the landlord of the beloved Brooklyn Heights Cinema.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is pushing for radical changes to building owner Tom Caruana’s plans for a five-story apartment-cinema combo after rejecting proposals for the ambitious project for a second time in late October over concerns that it would turn Henry Street into Lower Manhattan.

“The material and articulation of the proposed reads more like a new TriBeCa or SoHo loft than a Brooklyn Heights building,” said Historic Districts Council member Esther Williams in testimony that helped convince Landmarks commissioners to send the project back to the drawing board.

The snubbed design called for the one-story theater building to be torn down and a five-story complex — with a movie house on the ground floor — built in its place.

The 1895 structure that houses the beloved independent movie theater is not land-marked, but it falls within the Brooklyn Heights Historic District and preservationists do not want to see it demolished.

Caruana first sparked outcry in 2012 when he proposed building apartments on the spot, sans cinema. He scrapped the idea, but even the newest design would simply rebuild the theater instead of saving the existing structure, which fans of historic construction say misses the point of preservation.

“We would also like to see more effort put into keeping the exisiting building in place by using new steel supports within the shell,” Williams said. “It seems useless to have ‘saved’ the 19th-century structure and to then demolish and rebuild it.”

Theater operator Kenn Lowy, who is also a Community Board 2 member, testified in favor of the latest design. That panel approved both designs but district manager Robert Perris said no design is likely to pass muster with the landmarks commission without keeping much of the cinema as is.

“It does not seem that some of the commissioners are okay with tearing down the existing building,” Perris said. “That’s going to be a significant change to the final plan.”

Caruana has not revamped the plans yet, but when he does, he likely will need to get approval from the community board before testifying again in front of Landmarks.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.
Film buff: Brooklyn Heights Cinema owner Kevin Lowy backed his landlord's latest design, but preservationists did not.
Community Newspaper Group / Kate Briquelet