Eagle: Watchtower Officially Bugging Out of Brooklyn Heights

The Brooklyn Eagle reports today that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society has decided to move its headquarters out of Brooklyn Heights.  The current state of the real estate market will slow the group’s departure, the article says.

The group, while eventually complimented for saving some historic buildings like the Bossert and Standish Arms Hotels in Brooklyn Heights, was characterized by preservationists as part of the “gathering storm” of destruction in the 1950s.

Heights Hero Otis Pearsall told New York Magazine in 1987, “As the Witnesses buy up more and more there is a sense that a critical mass might be reached. When this happens there will be so many Witnesses that Brooklyn Heights will be a less attractive place for regular families to live.”

Now that the end of the Watchtower’s residence in Brooklyn Heights seems to be nearing, do you think this will open the door for more “regular families”? How do you think it will impact the quality of life here?

Brooklyn Eagle: “We have submitted a proposal to the Town of Warwick to build a complex there that we’re calling the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” Richard Devine told the Eagle Tuesday. “We have started the land use process there.”

Devine, who is in charge of real property for the religious organization, was confirming what was contained in a document forwarded anonymously to the Eagle last week.

That document included several pages from a public scoping session held Nov. 18 by the Town of Warwick Planning Board.

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  • nabeguy

    Does this mean they’re moving the printing plants as well? I see condos in someone’s future. Let’s start talking about school options now. Man, what a gym that’s going to be!!!

  • AEB

    Hope this doesn’t mean the extinction of the time and temp sign, visible from my apt and by now an indispensable look-see.

    Surely Jehovah doesn’t want me–or others–to be flummoxed by what-to-wear matters or to loose track of whether it’s day or night….

  • Teddy

    If only “regular families” could afford to move here now.

  • William Spier

    No one would say that the rehab work the Watchtower did over the last three decades is anything but first rate with careful attention to historic restoration always. You might say they set the standard. I’ve seen their work and that of commercial developers, and there is no comparison; just look at the rehab they did on 183 Columbia Heights nineteen years ago, it still looks like it was done recently. Before they bought the Standish, it was shabby and not maintained.

    The Watchtower folks spent their money here; they ate next to us at the local restaurants. They silently contributed to safety as well as did more than their share in keeping the neighborhood clean.

    The question, “How do you think it will impact the quality of life here?” cannot be answered by those who did not witness the Witnesses’ massive BH rehabilitation. BH is the “tony” neighborhood and when they leave, it will not change too much. One can only hope that those who buy in will have deep enough wallets to maintain what the Watchtower Bible and Tract admirably has all these years.

    By the way: the Watchtower families probably were regular families, if a regular family means wife, husband, and sometimes children. I did not notice irregularities. What is a regular family anyhow?

  • my2cents

    I agree with Teddy — I’d say the incredible prices of housing here is a bigger prevention of “regular” families moving in.

  • AEB

    Regular families–those whose income from all members is less than 100 thou–can’t afford to move into Brooklyn Heights.

    As a regular family of one (plus two non-wage-earning felines), I was fortunate indeed to find adequate space here three years ago in an apartment that’s rent stabilized. Purely luck of the draw. My situation, in every respect, was an is extraordinary.

  • AEB

    (That’s 100 thou a year…but you knew that, right?)

  • Arch Stanton

    @ William Spier,
    I agree, the rehabilitation work the Watchtower did on their buildings is impeccable…. hey it’s easy when you don’t have to pay a dime in taxes and your labor force is virtually free. No commercial developer nor most private owners could ever afford to do that level of work… Who could possibly compete?

    “The Watchtower folks spent their money here” Yes, but not much. They are for the most part a closed organization and avoid interaction with us “worldly people” except of course if it’s to try to bamboozle someone into buying their ridiculous beliefs…

    “They silently contributed to safety as well as did more than their share in keeping the neighborhood clean” What, How did they help keep the neighborhood safe? While they may not contribute to crime (as far as we know) it does not mean they help fight crime…. As far as cleaning; yes they do keep their properties clean but I am not aware of any program they have for cleaning anyone else’s or public or property…..

    “What is a regular family anyhow?” A family that does not belong to a cult and only here for their yearly “reprograming”…

  • epc

    It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

    Prices in Brooklyn Heights are high because the residential supply is vastly outstripped by the demand.

    Prices could drop (not crash, but maybe 10-15%) if the supply of housing suddenly increased by several hundred units in a short time. On the other hand, an influx of families with children will add more strain to PS8.

    Wonder if the city or state would step in to force “affordable housing” on some percentage of the units.

    Interesting coincidence to see this occur as the Brooklyn Bridge Park rolls out.

    Another data point will be the reconstruction of the BQE, which will negatively impact the Heights for up to ten years if/when it starts in 2012-2014.

    This whole process will take years to play out.

    The Eagle article primarily refers to the Heights residential space and the Squibb buildings on Columbia. Any sense of whether the other cluster of Watchtower buildings in DUMBO would also be emptied?

  • bornhere

    The departure of the Watchtower group can have quite an affect on the Heights landscape, and it raises oodles of questions. For starters, will on-street parking in the North Heights be more available; what will happen with the Towers Hotel? Also, the Eagle article mentions Watchtower ownership of 105 Willow. Does anyone know if that’s accurate?

  • fulton ferry res

    @epc The BQE cantilever reconstruction is not scheduled to begin until 2018-2020. It is stlll in the draft scoping stage. There will still be years of alternatives analysis, DEIS and EIS before we get to the start of construction, and that is if there are no unexpected delays. Keep in mind that the Kosciuszko Bridge project was delayed at least 2 years since the planning started.

    The biggest impact of a potential sale of 25 and 30 Columbia Hts is that the conversion to condos could follow the history of 360 Furman, with PILOT taxes used to finance Brooklyn Bridge Park. And one of those buildings could easily house a school, which would obviate the need for a school at Dock Street Dumbo, which of course was, and still is a bad idea.

  • Bartmann


    I hadn’t even considered the BQE promenade project, but it could be a mess for those who live here.

    I bought into the Heights in 2004, not at the absolute peak of the market but high enough so that I will have to be strategic about selling and I will have to carefully time my sale around a major roadway construction project.

    As for the quality of life changing because of the JW’s departure, I can’t imagine it changing much because this is the most expensive area in Brooklyn, so the high prices will mean that you will see more of the same: people 35+, high income whites, with a sprinkling of Asians, and African American. Jews will be well represented. Generally when people are working very hard there isn’t much room in their lives for religious extremism so there will be a healthy lay mix of religions.

    There may be fewer civil servants or lower-income earners who rely on subsidized housing: rent stabilization or rent control. So with more condos and coops it is possible that Brooklyn Heights may become even more upper-middle class.

    But I really don’t see the neighborhood changing radically.


  • BH-Guy

    This is awful news. Without the JW’s, how will we know when Armageddon is approaching? Every morning on my way to the subway I see them going about their business and I am comforted. They look no different than any other day, so the world is not about to end. Who will provide that morning comfort now?

  • CFB

    The time and temp sign was there before the JW’s moved in (when I was in school, it said SQUIBB for the Drug Company), and I expect it will remain when they leave.

  • carol

    I believe that the Witnesses have already moved the bulk of their printing upstate already. They bought a large heavy new press that couldn’t be supported in their Brookyln buildings. Plus upstate New York may be a better place to be when the world ends.
    FYI – “Regular” people were priced out of many NYC neighborhoods, not just the Heights, during the bubble.

  • William Spier

    @Arch Stanton,

    It all has seen as process, one that spans decades. I am not sure one knew if the person next to him/her at a Montague business establishment was from the Watchtower, the Courts, or BOE. Granted, they fed themselves and full timers received a monthly stipend of about a hundred bucks. I knew quite a few of the full timers and they also received support from home. I know some folks here who wear Manolo Blatniks, and they ain’t sold on Montague Street. Then there are the ubiquitous Fresh direct trucks….

    Over the years, the shear number of Witnesses on the streets at all hours did add to the safety of the neighborhood; I will not say more than that.

    These folks kept their extensive holding clean. they did not have to do others sanitation.

    As for cults: Brooklyn has some serious religio-centric communities; the Witnesses just happen to be here, and herelonger than you and I. I think all cults are self parasitic on their members, and a pain in the ass to the rest of us. But, they do have families that (on the surface) appear a bit more regular than some other associations in the City.

  • AEB

    From your mouth to Jehovah’s ears, CFB….

  • beth

    All I can say is that the 1987 quote makes me cringe with how xenophobic it sounds, and I am glad things haven’t devolved too much in the comments here in the same way …

  • nabeguy

    William, your Blahnik reference made me chuckle. Back in the 60’s, spotting a JW fresh off the plains was pretty easy. High-water blue pants, pressed white shirt, bad haircut. We used to joke that they bought their clothes wholesale off-the-rack from John’s Bargain Stores. They were so homogenous that we referred to them as “pod people”. That is, until the 90’s, when individual choice became the norm. We put it down to the “Michael Jackson” effect.
    Also have to make note of the stipend that you mention, which many of them supplement by freelancing in the area. My mother swore by her “plant manager” who took care of the little (and some big) things in her house. Whatever problem came up, he could make a call and get just the right expert in the organization to fix it. When I moved back to the house after she passed away, I used him as well…until I realized that their work was sub-par.
    I agree that the JW ethos of cleanliness being next to Godliness has been a boon to the neighborhood. But they have always served themselves first. Hopefully, the people who replace them will be as diligent in maintaing their properties, as well as relationships with their neighbors.
    BTW, that should be sheer in your post, not shear. Totally different connotation.

  • No One of Consequence

    Just google “Jehovah’s Witnesses Child Molestation” or click the link, http://tinyurl.com/y9j6g5l
    So much for “regular” unless your baseline for regular child molestation within organized religion is the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Nancy

    With all the real estate opening up, it will be great for property tax collection. Now if we could only get rid of brooklyn Law school, maybe our taxes could go down even more!

  • Bartmann


    It’s interesting you mention Brooklyn Law School because just the other day I was walking past one of their student housing buildings and there was trash all over. My general gripe with BLS is that their buildings are not maintained and look more like frat houses. On almost every street they occupy, BLS buildings are the eyesores of the block.


  • NorthHeights

    “No one would say that the rehab work the Watchtower did over the last three decades is anything but first rate with careful attention to historic restoration always.”

    True enough for the properties they kept, but doesn’t apply to the fine old homes on Columbia Heights and Willow Street they tore down in the 1960s, squeaking by before landmarking came in (to which they were adamantly opposed).

  • Just Me

    I know many residents feel that the Witnesses don’t contribute to the local economy because they are so tight within their own community, but I think you don’t realize how much their leaving will impact the area.

    Every time I have visited, we take on the town. And I mean locally we go to several restaurants within walking distance of the properties.

    70,000 people visit Brooklyn Heights annually to visit the facilities or their friends that live there.

    That’s tourism.
    That’s money that keeps the local restaurants going.

    But there are a lot of people on these boards that hate them in their neighborhood. I guess they would rather have neighbors that play loud music, party all the time or don’t take care of their properties.

    A whole new economy will be coming to Warwick and I am looking forward to visiting the new facilities there.

  • No One of Consequence

    Someone call the Wal-Mart of Warwick and tell them to stock up on the kool-aid.

  • Arch Stanton

    Just Me,
    To say that the people who replace the Jo-hos will only be “neighbors that play loud music, party all the time or don’t take care of their properties” is idiotic…. Also the the reality based, nouveau-heights residents will have plenty of money to spend at local restaurants…

    No One of Consequence,

  • Arch Stanton

    Just Me,
    Also, I’m sure you and your fellow Hovas will find Warwick more like home, with the Applebee’s and the Olive Garden…. Just like home , aye?

  • BH-Guy

    Just Me, ignore these JW-haters.

    Question for you though… How will a worldly type like me know when Armageddon is coming without the JW headquarters in the neighborhood? Do you guys have an email or text-alert system that I could subscribe to?

  • Arch Stanton

    BH-Guy & Just Me,

    Perhaps the control of the Clock could be retained when the old Squibb building is sold; it could then be converted to a “countdown clock”

  • Arch Stanton

    Just Me, better get on that clock project, right away… they might make you an Elder for it… (I won’t tell)