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Gowanus Station building’s facade will be saved in new Superfund facility

The EPA brokered an agreement mandating the city preserve historic elements of the Butler Street building

The Gowanus Station Building at 234 Butler Street
Nathan Kensinger

Historic features will be dismantled from the Gowanus Station building and reintegrated into a new sewage management facility set to replace the early 20th century industrial building, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In a draft memorandum of agreement with the New York State Historic Preservation Office, the EPA has vowed to preserve pieces of the Beaux-Arts building into a new water-filtering headhouse that will rise on the 234 Butler Street land. The city took control of the 106-year-old building—and two other neighboring properties—in September in order to raze the structures and bury an eight-million gallon sewage tank beneath the facility, one of two required as part of the EPA-led Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup.

Federal officials initially proposed leaving part of the building’s facade intact, but after additional input from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the EPA modified its proposal to allow the city agency to dismantle the building and reconstruct certain elements into the new facility. An official with the EPA called the deal a way to ensure “both the Canal and its history are protected.”

“This agreement represents a good faith effort to balance the community’s input with our obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act and Superfund goal of revitalizing one of the nation’s most seriously contaminated waterbodies,” EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez said in a statement.

Some neighborhood advocates railed against the city’s plans to acquire and demolish the building—decrying it as a historic loss and for booting long-time businesses. The city’s Landmark Preservation Commission turned down locals’ efforts to protect the building because its members claimed the brick structure lacked architectural merit after undergoing numerous alternations since it was built in 1913.

Instead, the commission gave DEP the green-light to demolish the building that once supplied the city with water as part of plans to place a 1.8 million gallon subterranean sewage tank—the city may actually switch to a tunnel in lieu of the tank, pending EPA approval. DEP planned to raze the structure and save a handful of decorative features, according to an agency spokesperson.

Under the new agreement EPA struck with the state, the city will be directed to carefully dismantle the Gowanus Station building’s exterior. DEP will then preserve parts of the building that can be salvaged including its well-known terra cotta pediment that reads “City of New York Water Supply-Distribution Gowanus Station,” stone window sills, and bricks for reuse in the construction of the headhouse’s facade.

But some area preservationist are disappointed with the deal and say it does not go far enough to preserve a piece of the Brooklyn neighborhood’s history.

“EPA failed to make the right decision,” the Gowanus Landmark Coalition said in a statement. “It is highly unfortunate that the city, state, and federal governments could not accommodate a classic Gowanus building—one that the community wanted kept in place.”

The New York State Historic Preservation Office did not immediately return a request for comment on the agreement. The last step to finalize the deal is for the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. to review and sign-off on the proposal in the coming weeks.