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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  • rachel

    Kenn Lowy is not only running a great small cinema– and how many of those are left in NYC?– he is also using the space for at least one night of each month as a space for independent musicians and performers, and supporting all sorts of local artists through his efforts. we need more of this old-style City space in our lives, the kind that provides convenient, local, excellent art– not more condos and food shops.

  • Eliljestrand

    I have left the neighborhood but will always have fond memories of “my” theater. It seems that some want Brooklyn Heights to be buried under glass and steel. I prefer the small town feel and the Brooklyn Heights Cinema is part of that.

  • DIBS

    I like the theatre. Occasionally some good movies. As to the LPC , is there any ever logic in this process??? What details of any historic significance are left????

  • Jill Dinneen

    Great little movie theatre / arts center. The neighborhood would be diminished without it. And, jeez, where’s all the hostility coming from? Where else can you see Fritz Lang with live music? Are you not entertained?

  • andrew ullman

    This theater is a treasure, it needs to stay. I have enjoyed a few shows there and there is nothing like it. Never new about the provenance of the building which make it even more desirable as a venue.

  • Tony

    Instead of pulling down and reconstructing the entire building, few renovations can be done such that this building looks like a great blend of modern design and traditional architecture. Hope this idea suits well!:)

  • pssnyc

    Contrary to Cattatui’s remarks, the theater is great and should remain there. Not in DUMBO. The building I don’t really care about, if they replace it with something that fits into the neighborhood, but I hate the idea that keeping the theater in a new building, would result in a smaller (no reason), more expensive (no surprise there) theater. It is difficult for a small movie theater to afford first run movies (even “art” or foreign language) and I salute Ken for the remarkable job they do there. Where else can you go during the week and find one person literally running the show (selling tickets, concessions, cleaning up after sloppy moviegoers,etc)? Even if just to make ends meet. The Heights has a small time feel and every time we lose a “mom and pop” kind of place, we lose a piece of the neighborhood. Let the building go, so the owner can make some money (only fair). But keep the theater the same size it is now, even if it is in the basement.

  • Heightsman

    Well, somebody approved the monstrosity of an addition to the back of the Mason Mints condo. I guess if it wasn’t there, it can be as ugly as a Connecticut industrial park.