The Landmarks Preservation Commission sent the owners of 70 Henry Street, home of the Brooklyn Heights Cinema, back to the drawing board this week in their bid to build a mixed used structure on the site. The Brooklyn Eagle reports that Robert Tierney, chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said some “re-thinking” was needed in their plan and that owners and LPC work together on a new proposal.
As previously reported, the owner, architect and Brooklyn Heights Cinema owner Kenn Lowy are working together to insure the theater has a home in the new building.
Nine community members spoke at the meeting, five were against the proposal. Heights Hero Otis Pearsall noted that this is the first attempt to take down an existing commercial building in Brooklyn Heights since 1967. “We’re at a watershed moment,” he said. “Stop and weigh the inevitable irreversibility of your action.”
Pearsall was referring to the Norwegian Club which was located on the corner of Columbia Heights and Pineapple Street. It was demolished, making way for Ulrich Franzen’s Watchtower building, which ultimately won a “Certificate of Appropriateness” from the LPC.
To blunt opposition, the Watchtower agreed to use Franzen, who was hand picked by the BHA as the project’s architect. Franzen, who died in October, was able to scale down the project to meet LPC’s height requirements.
In some ways, Pearsall’s argument works for the other side as well. New York Magazine’s architecture critic, Peter Blake, wrote about Brooklyn Heights and its new addition in a March 9, 1970 article:
I have a sneaking suspicion that we sometimes try to invent a historic past for ourselves, retroactively, as it were, and that a lot of this landmarks jazz is a part of that compensatory effort. (Most of Brooklyn Heights, let’s face it, is about as historically precious as Cleveland.) So what has happened here, really, is this: becaue somebody decided to declare Brooklyn Heights a special place, a very good architect was sought to reinforce that specialness. The resulting building, in fact, enhances the Heights; and if we keep on playing this game long enough, Brooklyn Heights may, some day – say around the year 2000 – emerge as a truly “historic” district.
The salutary effect of the height-limitation amendment can be witnessed today by visiting the corner of Pineapple Street and Columbia Heights where the Watchtower Society erected a “community facility” designed by Ulrich Franzen, an award-winning architect, who managed to build a clearly 20th century structure which, most would agree, is, nevertheless, in keeping with the general character of the neighborhood, including its limited height.