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Gowanus buildings mulled for landmark status as rezoning looms

City officials will review five historic Gowanus sites for landmark status

Nathan Kensinger

City officials will consider five historic sites in Gowanus for landmark status as a rezoning set to dramatically reshape the neighborhood looms.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) calendared a cadre of sites for possible landmark status Tuesday, including the ruins of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Powerhouse, often referred to as The Batcave, the pumping house at the head of the Gowanus Canal, and three other structures that “really speak to the many layers of development history in the neighborhood,” according to LPC chairperson Sarah Carroll.

The push to preserve the buildings, whose halls have hosted decades, in some cases, more than a century of neighborhood history, comes after years of advocacy by local groups including the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition, Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, and the Park Slope Civic Council.

Preservationists have ramped up their advocacy as Gowanus faces a city-led neighborhood rezoning and a wave of residential development is anticipated for the area. One advocate praised the commission’s foresight in moving to potentially protect the structures.

“This is, to our knowledge, the first time the Commission is calendaring sites put forward by community advocates facing a city-initiated rezoning BEFORE the proposed rezoning occurs,” Brad Vogel, co-founder of the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition, told Curbed in a statement. Vogel stressed that additional sites in Gowanus and the surrounding neighborhoods must be looked at further for possible city protections.

Each brick building is a striking example of the neighborhood’s legacy of industrial development during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries and must be preserved, said the neighborhood’s City Council member Brad Lander.

“Gowanus is rich with industrial and architectural history,” said Lander. “So one of our goals in planning for its future must be to preserve, celebrate, and connect people to that history, even as we make room for new uses to meet our city’s needs.”

The following buildings will be reviewed for landmark status by LPC:

  • Somers Brothers Tinware Factory (later American Can Company) at 238-246 3rd Street: The former factory was erected 1884 by Somers Brothers and served as “a major manufacturer of decorated tinware boxes, in the American Round Arch style with Queen Anne and Neo-Grec details,” according to the LPC.
  • Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company Central Power Station Engine House at 153 Second Street: Built for the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company between 1901 and 1903, this Romanesque Revival power station engine house “played an important role in the development of mass transit in New York City,” LPC officials point out.
  • Montauk Paint Manufacturing Company Building at 170 Second Avenue: The structure was built in 1908 in the American Round Arch-style designed by George Heghlman.
  • Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel Pumping Station and Gate House at 196 Butler Street: This two-story Colonial Revival-style brick pumping station and one-story brick gate house were built between 1910 and 1911, and used to store equipment to clean the canal’s increasingly polluted waters.
  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Rogers Memorial Building at 233 Butler Street: This neo-Romanesque-style structure houses an animal shelter, offices, and a garage. It was designed by Renwick, Aspinwall & Tucker, built in 1913, and expanded in 1922 by the ASPCA.

The five sites being considered are among a list of fifteen structures that neighborhood activists sent to the LPC more than a year ago for landmark consideration. If designated, the five sites would join three existing area landmarks: Public Bath #7; the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company Building; and the Carroll Street Bridge.

In 2014, the New York State Preservation Office shelved plans to designate the Gowanus Canal area a state and national historic district after local property owners raised a chorus of concerns.

Since then, activists have continued their push for individual landmark designations and Lander pledges to push LPC to protect additional buildings such as the Roulston Grocery Warehouse at 9th Street and Second Avenue and the R.G. Dun & Company Building at Nevins and Butler streets.