To Demo Or Not? Landmarks Debates Fate Of Brooklyn Heights Cinema

Developers and preservation advocates are playing tug of war as the Landmarks Preservation Committee debates whether to allow Brooklyn Heights Cinema owner Kenn Lowy to hold onto the landmarked 1895 building—or whether to replace it with a planned five-story condo. reports that six votes are outstanding with the Landmarks Commission to approve or deny a proposal to demo the structure. At a November 27 meeting, design revisions for the new building were bandied, which Commissioner Michael Goldblum felt were “too reminiscent of the industrial Art Deco architecture, an inappropriate style for the district.”

Landmarks has not scheduled its next meeting, leaving the fate of the building hanging in the air. Meanwhile, Jane McGroarty of the Brooklyn Heights Association deems 70 Henry Street—one of the last buildings from the 1800s left standing in the area—”one of the handsomest commercial buildings in the district.” Likewise, Council Member Stephen Levin wrote to the Landmarks Commission, “70 Henry Street is a contributing building within the historic district on two levels: It is both architecturally and culturally significant to our neighborhood.”

DNAInfo reports: “To some movie-goers, the building’s muraled ceilings, stained star-patterned carpeted floors, dual entrance stairways and 150-seat sloping theaters hold historical value. The ornate cornice-covered facade and and boxy construction have survived centuries of nearby demolition which claimed most of the other buildings that were made in the same era.”

But according to Randy Gerner, architect of the proposed new building, 70 Henry has been renovated so many times over the last 75 years, including a commission-approved makeover in 1971, it has lost its historic claim. He also says the building, in its current state, is deteriorating.

Lowy says that Caruana has guaranteed the cinema would have a place on the ground floor of the new condo once it reopens, albeit with a rent hike and less space. He’s been told to expect an 18-month displacement, but is grateful to be included in plans for the new building: “I am an eternal optimist. I know we will continue to screen films whether in this building or one that is yet to be built.” (Photo: (remster_9/Flickr)

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  • HenryLoL

    THIS PLACE IS A DUMP. A Dump. I cannot believe all the back and forth on this. Obviously, nobody that wants to keep it needs to live near it. It’s a hole. Knock it down. Build something nice. What is the big deal? It is a brick rectangle that is falling apart. It’s not a wonderful building that just happens to need some work. It needs to come down.

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    What part of the building is truly original to 1895? One pipe in the basement? We all know the Commission approved retrofitting back in 1971 for the theater so the inside has no original detail and the outside has been renovated so many times over the years that I doubt there are any original bricks as part of its facade. In fact, when there were bricklayers working on the outside, I asked if there were any original bricks and was told no. In short, this building no longer represents a landmark with respect to its original structure. The only relationship to its original form is the lot size and height which I must admit appeals to me personally but is that enough to slow the hand of progress. I don’t think so in all fairness.

  • A Neighbor

    Hey, guys, with all due respect, architectural historians have weighed in on this. At least read their filings before relying on statements from a bricklayer and the developer.

  • Sally

    I live near it. I love it.

  • Sally

    Is there any way we can take acton to support Kenn. I want to.

  • Knight

    If Edison invented the lightbulb today, some BHB readers would want to take action to support the candle industry. It’s not a matter of keeping the current building or putting up condos. If the current building is going to stay as-is, it needs work. Who is going to invest in that? Lowy? Caruana? I doesn’t sound like either has that desire. So if it stays as-is, it will likely become an increasing eyesore.

  • Debby

    I see it everyday from my window and I am searching for the historical,aesthetic details. All I see is an ugly little building. That in no way contributes anything to the neighborhood,although it nice to have a relic from the 70’s.

  • Cattatui

    Yeah, a broken down little theater that doesn’t even get *good* art house movies. I’m all for preserving history, but this is a real stretch. It’s got some charm, but I live nearby and almost never use the theater despite desperation for an alternative to Court Street’s nightmare. A renovated building with a theater could work. Or someone could open a picture-house in Dumbo – which actually sounds like a great idea now as I type.

  • A Neighbor

    It is actually from the 1800’s rather than the 70’s. if you look at the drawings that were submitted to Landmarks, you will have a better idea of what the building used to look like. The spaces between the raised columns on the facade have been bricked in. Originally, they were shop windows.

    Several alternatives were discussed before Landmarks. Should the building be preserved and restored? Should the building be preserved as a base with condos added on top? Could it be torn down to be replaced by a modern building which used design elements from the original or its neighbours? As noted above, there was criticism of the proposed building, drawings also submitted, because it was industrial-looking, in a neighbourhood which, unlike Dumbo or Soho, say, is not industrial in character.

  • Jorale-man

    I don’t know about the architectural merits of the building but from a movie-goer’s experience I always enjoy my visits there. I like that It has a quieter, less hectic feel than the multiplexes and is a one of a kind neighborhood institution. I can almost picture a younger Woody Allen chatting with Diane Keaton in the lobby before a Fellini or Bergman film.

  • David on Middagh

    At street level, the building’s brickwork and proportions are so much more elegant than the random modern construction. The neighborhood will lose some character if that exterior can’t be preserved.

  • Fast_walker

    Can they just keep the signs and request that the developer keeps the ground floor for the movie theater? Possibly with cleaner cushions on the ground floor and maybe even some sort of a wine bar in the lobby. I like the visists, but really what I enjoy is the semi-alternative movie selection, not the building itself.

  • Fritz

    I usually support development. But I really want the cinema to continue as it is, at this location.

  • Knight

    That’s great, Fritz. But if everything continues as it is at this location, no one will have to knock down the theater … it will fall down on its own.

  • Mia_Pia

    Caruana has been in support of keeping the movie house the whole time. The problem is the theater as it stands is not an economical use of the property. The movie house can not survive unless there is a redevelopment of the site. The new plans will be much better for the neighborhood. The Community Board voted unanimously to approve this project, the staff of the Landmarks Committee did recommend passing the project to the commission as a whole, including the chairman. The Brooklyn Heights Association is the only force holding back the progress. If this project is not passed I fear there will be no more movie house and the building will be subject to cheap retail stores.

  • Senator Howell Tankerbell

    I find the Cinema to be an integral part of a charming (if you can turn your eyes away from the neighboring high rises) little stretch of Henry Street. I would love to see it remain.

  • Hicks on Hicks

    Tear it down. The building has limited aesthetic or historical value and the movie theater has not been a viable business for years, plus the building’s owner wants to do so. Those opposed to replacement are just as likely be opposed for historical/aesthetic reasons as they are opposed for reasons of NIMBYism or bitter socialists who resent free market capitalism and personal property rights.

  • Kenn lowy

    Knight: no, the building won’t fall down on it’s own.

    Cattatui: A short list of indy-art house films we have played in the past few months:
    Beasts of the Southern Wild
    The Late Quartet
    The Sessions
    The Other Son
    Ruby Sparks
    All films that the neighborhood has supported.

  • William Spier

    I agree with Karl. The building is no longer a 19th century fixture. The issue is keeping scale in height and bulk for that corner. Once you get above 4 stories inappropriate bulk emerges. The current architects original plan was appropriately rejected. I hope his next proposal does not end up looking like it belongs in Rikers’s Island as the new contruction at 20 Henery does,

  • yoohoo

    Where on earth is the architectural significance of 70 Henry Street? The building’s initial design is immaterial as it no longer exists. It’s a foreign body in the street scape and this corner needs a building that is contextual in height and massing with the rest of the buildings on the west side of Henry Street. The Cadman towers are outside the historic district.

  • Tommy

    KNOCK DOWN THAT EYE SORE! It will be replaced by a beautiful building that matches perfectly with the neighborhood. There is no historical value in the dingy building. The theater will only survive if the new building goes up.

  • ColumbiaBrights

    Yet another condo will serve a dozen or so families at best, the cinema serves potentially hundreds. Keep it.

  • Jorale-man

    I must say, the animosity that appears on this site towards this lovely theater always strikes me as a bit suspect. Perhaps there’s some animosity towards the owner for some perceived slight? Or dissatisfaction about the film offerings? In any case, it’s not very neighborly given that Ken Lowly appears to read this blog and is a devoted BH business owner.

  • Andrew Porter

    Bring back the barbershop and hardware store that were there when I moved in!

    I like how it’s been there for “centuries”: 5 years in the 1800s, 12 years in the 2000s, 100 years in the 20th century. It *is* an ugly little box, and not economically viable as a stand-alone theatre.

    The only people who will be adversely affected by the new building are the people in the next building on Orange, who will lose the views from their east-facing windows.

  • Clover_Hill_Billy

    Call me crazy but I like the old movie theatre. My wife and I go there at least once a month to see a movie. I also like the fact that the low-rise building allows me to see some open sky and sunlight while I walk down Henry. It’s a shame this will be replaced by yet another generic big box apartment building.

  • Justice For All

    You can assume most of the negative pile on commentary here is from associates of the developer. The cinema is a fundamental part of the neighborhood and any agreement to include it in a new building is a ruse – longer term, they’ll force it out once they have the building they want.

    if they’re going that route they must offer the cinema the same rental cost in perpetuity – if they don’t, then they never intended to honor the deal.

  • sharoz

    the cinema and what Kenn Lowey is doing for the neighborhood through programming are nothing short of magic… there’s precious little left of the texture that makes New York City, well… New York City and this place is a part of it. though I split time between Manhattan and Venice, I make sure to spend time on Henry Street and stop in at least 6 or 7 times a year for a film or show or two… This is the sister, if not cousin theater to the Film Forum and the Quad as far as I’m concerned and for that reason alone and it’s proximity to transportation it should have special status… I’m not counting bricks here… and happy to know that whatever happens Brooklyn Heights will always have a cinema on Henry St and Kenn will guide it’s way somehow…

  • citizendave

    There are indeed too few neighborhood theaters left in this country. Brooklyn Heights Cinema is a treasure.

  • sjmitchell

    I wish I lived closer to the Brooklyn Heights Cinema and could go more often. Great movies, art exhibits, music and special offerings. The Brooklyn Heights Cinema run by Kenn Lowy is something unique and worth preserving.

  • Stephen Witt

    I love this theater. I often go to both movies and events there. We need it to stay in the neighborhood!