Brooklyn Heights Blog » Landmark Preservation Dispatches from America's first suburb Tue, 24 Apr 2018 03:18:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is The Brooklyn Heights Historic District a Mistake? Heights Resident Sandy Ikeda Thinks So Mon, 31 Jul 2017 03:24:02 +0000

Sandy Ikeda is a professor of economics at SUNY Purchase, and a resident of Brooklyn Heights. He’s also a very personable and bright guy, as your correspondent can attest, having gone on two Jane’s Walks through the Heights that he led, one several years ago and one this April. On each occasion he showed extensive knowledge of the neighborhood, including information that I, a resident of thirty years, didn’t know.

IMG_8039For example, I learned that the townhouse on Clinton Street in the photo above served, in the time just after the conclusion of World War II, as a halfway house for Japanese-Americans who had been interned in camps during the war.

IMG_8040Then there’s this plaque on the townhouse at the corner of Clinton and Livingston, that identifies it as having been the clubhouse of the Brooklyn Excelsiors, baseball champions in 1850, and one of whose pitchers may have invented the curve ball. The Excelsiors were lineal ancestors of the Brooklyn Dodgers, my first love in baseball, even though I lived nowhere near Brooklyn at the time.

Despite his knowledge of, and obvious love for, Brooklyn Heights, Sandy has argued here that the designation of Brooklyn Heights as a landmarked historic district was a mistake. He says he and others have benefited from it; they “enjoy the quiet and charm of a place nearly frozen in time – we basically live in a museum with restaurants.” The problem, he says, is that the restrictions imposed by landmarking have constrained how owners may use or dispose of their property and, for a more far-reaching effect, have limited the supply of housing over the whole local market, making it less affordable for all.

These were “Jane’s Walks,” and Sandy is an admirer of Jane Jacobs, whose The Death and Life of Great American Cities and The Economy of Cities examined the question, “What makes cities work?” She championed the idea of the “neighborhood,” an area incorporating a mix of uses: residential, commercial, and public (schools, libraries, police and fire, parks) and a mix of old and new buildings housing people of diverse economic means. She opposed attempts to impose order or rationality through “urban renewal” schemes that were popular in the 1950s and ’60s. Neighborhoods, she thought, should be allowed to develop organically.

Jacobs also fought against the construction of highways through urban neighborhoods, which destroyed large parts of them and created divisions where none had existed before. Sandy noted with approval the efforts by Brooklyn Heights residents to keep Robert Moses from routing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway through Brooklyn Heights, an effort that caused Moses to re-route the highway to the edge of the bluff atop which the Heights sits, and to create the Promenade above it. Like Jacobs, Sandy saw Moses’ original plan to route the highway through the Heights as a heavy handed government intrusion into a neighborhood; one that would alter its character for the worse.

How, then, did landmark designation, which was brought about by local residents (though no doubt some were opposed) violate Jacobs’ principles? She believed neighborhoods should develop organically, but also (according to this brief bio) was “[a] firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighborhoods develop.” I didn’t put this question directly to Sandy during our Jane’s walk, but I think his answer would have been twofold: first, by tying their own hands with regard to the disposition of their properties, owners at the time of landmarking were also tying the hands of future generations of owners who had no voice in the matter; and second, that the wishes of the neighborhood’s residents in this respect were outweighed by the city’s need for greater density (which Jacobs also advocated) and the affordable housing this would make possible.

I haven’t found any indication that Jacobs took a position, pro or con, concerning the landmarking of Brooklyn Heights, which occurred a few years before she left New York for Toronto. I have learned, though, that Brooklyn Heights was her first home in New York City. She and her sister Betty lived on a block of Orange Street that, some time after they moved out, was demolished to make way for Moses’ Cadman Plaza housing development.

As Sandy and I walked along the Promenade, I asked him if, had Brooklyn Heights developed “organically,” we would be seeing a phalanx of high rises to our right instead of the backs of townhouses and their gardens. His first response was, “Yes,” but then he quickly added, “Well, you can’t really tell.” That’s true; real estate markets have their ups and downs, as do cities as preferred places to live. It’s also possible that the owners of townhouses along Columbia Heights might have made a pact not to sell to any developer. How enforceable that would be, and how long it could be effective, are relevant questions. It’s not unknown, though, for property owners to refuse a deal that would be lucrative in the short run in order to preserve a pleasant ambiance and the prospect of long term appreciation in value. This is just what happened when the owners at 75 Henry Street, part of the Cadman Plaza high rise complex, voted to say “no” to a developer’s offer that would have resulted in the construction of a new high rise on the location of the Pineapple Walk shops.


For better or worse, New York, and Brooklyn in particular, is now considered very desirable. My guess is that the Heights, without landmarking, would today have the phalanx facing the water and many, though not all (some still survive in Midtown East), stretches of attractive row houses (as in the photo above) demolished and replaced by tall buildings, casting many shadows over the neighborhood. The Columbia Heights phalanx would make the Promenade a less attractive place to visit. I think the Heights would still be largely a “residential monoculture,” as that seems, in economic terms, the “highest and best use” as determined by market demand. We’d still have restaurants, probably more of them, and perhaps more high end retail.

What Jane Jacobs may not have foreseen when she wrote her first two great books was that her beloved West Village would be overrun by, well, people like me: people who could afford $350 a month (in 1973) for a one bedroom in a gut rehabbed tenement; people with jobs in law firms (like me), ad agencies, or banks, but who harbored artistic pretensions and were looking for authenticity, instead of the sterility of the Upper East Side or, heaven forbid, the suburbs. This began a trend of gentrification that led to what my friend David Coles describes here. Much of the West Village, like the Heights, became a landmarked district. It also became devoid of what Jacobs praised: a mixture of uses and of people of differing economic circumstances.

The Heights went through a similar process of gentrification, well described with respect to Brooklyn generally by Suleiman Osman in his The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn. The early gentrifiers were in the vanguard of those seeking designation of the Heights as a historic district. Today it is a much less economically diverse community than it was in the 1960s and before, and commercial rents have risen considerably, forcing out some locally beloved stores, the latest being Housing Works. I believe, though, that these changes would have happened with or without landmarking. Any new high rises built in the Heights, because of its proximity to water and its pre-existing charm. would have commanded very high rentals or asking prices. Their combined effect would have been to make the neighborhood less attractive, but not enough to make it affordable for those of moderate means.

Jane Jacobs may not have foreseen gentrification, nor the ability of private developers to disrupt neighborhoods by (sometimes surreptitiously) acquiring assemblages of land and purchasing air rights in order to put up massive structures. I asked Sandy if he believed that private, as well as government, entities could impose on neighborhoods in ways that frustrated Jacobs’ notion of organic development. He unhesitatingly replied, “Yes.”

The question is, was the landmarking of the Heights worth it on a cost versus benefit basis? I would say it was. To Sandy’s first objection, that it puts a burden on property owners in the district, I would say: should the burden become too great for a majority of them, they may petition the city to remove it. To the objection that it constrains the supply of available housing, I would say that the constraint, in the case of the Heights, is minor. My further answer would go to less economic than, dare I say, historic and romantic considerations. I think it’s important to save some neighborhoods, like the Heights and the West Village, as reminders, imperfect as they may be, of what the city once was like, and of the history that played out in them; not only, as in the case of the Heights, that Washington’s army camped here in August of 1776 and that he planned his troops’ escape from Long Island here, or that many great artists, writers, and political figures have made homes here, but also in the more impressionistic words of Truman Capote in his A House on the Heights:

These houses bespeak an age of able servants and solid fireside ease, invoke specters of bearded seafaring father and bonneted stay-at-home wives: devoted parents to great broods of future bankers and fashionable brides.

Landmarking couldn’t save residential or commercial diversity in the Heights or the West Village, but lack of landmarking wouldn’t have, either. Indeed, it would likely, in my opinion, have made things worse.

Photos: C. Scales for BHB.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society Sat, 06 May 2017 03:46:41 +0000

On Monday evening, May 8 at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present “100 Clark Street: A Case Study in Navigating Building Codes, Gravity, and Landmark Preservation,” a panel discussion about the difficulties faced by owner Margaret Streicker Porres and architect (and former Brooklyn Heights Association president) Tom van den Bout (his professional partner, Brenda Nelson, is also his partner in life and wife) in “saving [a] landmarked, 150-year old building [photo] from certain demolishment.” Their discussion will be led by Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS or BHA members; more information and purchase tickets here.

On Tuesday evening,May 9 at 7:00, BHS will present “Talking Privilege with Hari Kondabolu and Jordan Carlos,” two actors and stand-up comedians who will “bring their observations [on race, gender, and social class] to BHS in this unmoderated, one-on-one conversation.” Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members; more information and purchase tickets here.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society: Remembering Jane Jacobs; Appreciating Immigrant New York Tue, 14 Mar 2017 18:08:25 +0000

This Thursday evening, March 16, at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present “The Legacy of Jane Jacobs,” a panel discussion moderated by New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante and featuring Matt Tyrnauer, director and co-producer of the documentary Citizen Jane; Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line; and Samuel Zipp, Associate professor of American and Urban Studies at Brown University and co-editor of Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs. Jacobs’ pioneering work on urban preservation, initially focused on her home neighborhood, Greenwich Village, inspired the movement that led to the designation of Brooklyn Heights as New York City’s first Historic District. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members; buy tickets here.

On Monday evening, March 20, at 6:30, BHS presents Tyler Anbinder, Professor of History at George Washington University, to discuss his book City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York, which

shares the sweeping story of how newcomers have continually helped to define and redefine this city and country over the past few centuries, and shows how together, we have created a beautifully dynamic, deeply complex community.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing. Admission is $5, or free for BHS members and one guest. Reserve tickets here.

Photo: Human Transit

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Benefit Folk Concert and Square Dance Saturday Evening to Benefit St. Ann’s Church Restoration Wed, 08 Mar 2017 03:49:20 +0000

This Saturday evening, March 11, starting at 7:30 the Brooklyn Folk Festival will present a benefit for the restoration of the beautiful St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, at Clinton and Montague streets (photo), at which the event will be held. On the program are Eli Smith, playing American folk and banjo tunes; Eva Salina and Peter Stan doing Serbian accordion and singing; and a chance to swing your partner and do-si-do with Dave Harvey and the NYC Barn Dance.

Tickets for the event are $20 per person; $50 gets you into the event plus the final day (Sunday, April 30) of the 2017 Brooklyn Folk Festival, and $100 gets you all that as well as the first two days (Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29) of the Festival (Festival schedule here). You may buy tickets here.

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Two Montague Street Buildings Designated Landmarks Wed, 25 Jan 2017 04:26:15 +0000

The Eagle reports that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted unanimously to designate two buildings on Montague Street’s “Bank Row” between Clinton and Court streets as city landmarks. We noted their nomination for landmark status last August. The buildings–181-183 Montague, the People’s Trust Company Building, now occupied by Citibank; and 185 Montague, the National Title Guaranty Company Building, now occupied by offices and Chipotle–are in contrasting styles, Neoclassical and Art Deco, respectively. They are both excellent representatives of their types. The Eagle piece notes that the Brooklyn Heights Association has campaigned for their designation for over a decade, and quotes Brooklyn Heights preservation pioneer Otis Pratt Pearsall as saying, “It’s a wonderful moment.”

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Catching Up With Kenn Lowy: The Last Owner of Brooklyn Heights Cinemas Tue, 27 Dec 2016 17:12:31 +0000

Brooklyn Heights Cinemas, at the end of its 42-year run, was the oldest independently-owned cinema in all of New York City. When the cinema shut off its projectors for good in 2014, the neighborhood collectively mourned the loss of yet another community sanctuary. A place where neighbors and visitors gathered for shared experiences. A place where you walked in and the owner and employees knew your name and what you liked without asking. If you were a regular customer, you probably miss the last owner, Kenn Lowy, as much as the cinema itself. When the neighborhood thinks of the old cinema, we think of Kenn, although he only owned it for its last three years. In the interview below, Kenn tells his story of his one-man mission to save the cinema, a labor of love that was life-altering in both good and bad ways.

BHB: How did you become the last owner of Brooklyn Heights Cinemas?

KL: I had been going to the cinema off and on since I was 17 years old. My family had moved from Philadelphia to Cobble Hill in the late 70’s and that was the only cinema around. I lived for a time in Brooklyn Heights, Vinegar Hill, and Park Slope, and then I moved away for a few years. And when I moved back 20 years ago, it became my cinema again. I used to go there all the time. Then, in late 2010, there was an article in one of the local papers about the owner being indicted for wire fraud. There had been several times before when the cinema almost went out of business. I wondered what was going to happen to the cinema. So I went and saw Amy, the Manager there. She knew me as someone who saw almost every movie they played. I asked her what was going to happen and she half-jokingly said, “Do you want to buy the place?” Like an idiot, I said, “Yeah, maybe.” She said, “I don’t know if he wants to sell it or not, but I’ll ask.” Literally, a week later, I was sitting down with the owner and we started talking about how I could buy the place. That’s what led to it. It would have gone under unless someone bought it. The cinema had been losing money for years. The owner had other cinemas, one that was making money and another one that was going nowhere. It took about six months of negotiating. I had no money, so I cashed in my IRA’s and maxed out my credit cards. And that’s how I bought the place.

BHB: What led you to take such a risk?

KL: {Laughs} I thought at the time that I could make it work. I didn’t think they were getting the best movies. They were getting good ones, but not the ones enough people wanted to see to make it viable. But I wanted to keep it as an independent cinema. I thought I could make it work. I never thought I would make money from it. But as long as I could break even, I was going to be happy, just to keep it going. Personally, it was an important place to me. It had been my local movie theater, like for many in Brooklyn Heights. This was our hometown movie theater.

BHB: At the time, were you making a living with a day job?

KL: Yes. I was a computer consultant, mostly Apple computer stuff. I had been doing that pretty much most of my life. Until my early 30’s, I was a journalist and a musician. I’m still a musician, but that’s how I used to make a living. Then the music industry changed and journalism changed, where I really couldn’t make a full time living at it. That’s when I got into computers and I’ve been doing that for the last 25 years.

BHB: When you bought the cinema, did you think, “If I break even I’ll be okay because I could support myself with the computer consulting?”

KL: No, when I said “break even,” I meant to be able to support myself, where maybe I wouldn’t be saving a lot, but I wouldn’t be losing money. I tried doing the consulting half the time and the cinema the other half, but that just wasn’t working. The first couple of months, I was at the cinema on the weekends and just hanging out. But after that, I was pretty much there full-time, along with my manager and the projectionist. After a few months, I wanted to be more hands-on and not being there didn’t make much sense.

Kenn Lowy in his

Kenn Lowy in his Brooklyn Heights Cinema (Photos by: Claudia Christen)

BHB: During the three years when you owned the cinema, did you see the numbers or the character of the audience change at all?

KL: The numbers definitely went up, which was desperately needed. We were getting people from other parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan. What I was able to do was get a lot of exclusives for Brooklyn. So we had a lot of movies for which we were the only theater in Brooklyn playing them. Sometimes it really paid off because they were big films, and sometimes nobody wanted to see them anyway.

BHB: How did you pull off getting so many exclusives?

KL: Some of it was luck and most of it was because of my buyer, Steve Florin, who was really looking out for us and wanted the cinema to do well. It shouldn’t have mattered to him personally, since he would get paid the same either way. But he really wanted to help and made some great deals. Sometimes, there were so many films out, there wasn’t room at BAM or Cobble Hill to play them all. So they would come to us and ask, “Hey, would you want to play this?” Every once in a while, it was a film where it was like, “Are you kidding me? Of course I want to play this.” And then certain distributors would just come back to us and ask if we would take other films.

BHB: Can you name some of the films that sold the most seats at the cinema?

KL: Oh sure, I can think of a couple that really stand out, and it was interesting because they were films that were either exclusives or close to it. One was The Descendants and the way we got it was interesting. It was playing at BAM and then Cobble Hill, and after New Year’s, the other theaters started playing other films. And it was still doing well, and then it got nominated for the Oscars and then the Golden Globes, and we were still playing it. It did so well and we played it for so long, that regular customers started coming in and asking, “When are you getting a new film?” And I would tell them, “It’s doing so well, I can’t let it go!” They were very understanding.

The other film was The Artist, a black and white film. I saw it at the NY Film Festival and I really wanted it. I told my buyer and he said, “I’m not sure how well it’s going to do.” But we got it and it was the same thing – got nominated for the Oscars, and then the Golden Globes. We played that for a long time too.

The third one was Margin Call, the film about the Lehman Brothers collapse. We were the only theater in Brooklyn that had it. And I had never even heard of it. So my buyer called and said, “I’ve got this movie and it’s going to do well.” I looked it up and saw the trailer and thought, “Yeah, we should show it.” About a month later, we were the only theater in NYC showing it. So people from all over the city were coming to see it.

BHB: What films did the worst?

KL: One was a foreign film from Czechoslovakia. I can’t remember the name. Usually you have to guarantee a two-week run, but we had to stop showing it after one week. It was a shame, because it was a good film, but no one wanted to see it. Even the distributor called me and said, “Listen, we’ll let you out of this.”

And then there were a couple of small, local films that I played because it was the right thing to do and I wanted to support them. One was Battle for Brooklyn about the Atlantic Yards. We played that for about a week. And we played it every Wednesday night for months and the producers did a Q and A at every showing. The film didn’t do badly, but I mention it as an example of what we tried to do as a local theater. And I really liked the filmmakers.

The absolute worst one was Jack and Jill with Adam Sandler. What happened was that we were showing a film and it wasn’t doing well. And we had a week lapse before the next film was going to be released. So I had to find something and my buyer said, “I’ll get you the Adam Sandler film for a week. It’s a terrible film, but it will make money for you.” I looked at the trailer online and it was abysmal, but I said, “Fine, it’s just a week.” Well, it did so badly, even the distributor didn’t believe it was doing that badly. So they sent someone to check on a Sunday, and that person was the only one there in the whole theater for the last two shows. My projectionist went and sat down next to her and said, “Listen, you don’t have to sit here.” After about 10 minutes, she said, “I can’t take it anymore,” and left.

BHB: When you bought the theater in 2011, did you have any idea that the building owner was planning on selling the building?

KL: No, but the owner, Tom Caruana, was very honest with me about his intention to develop the building. He gave me a 2-year lease and told me that he might give me an extension, but that he would probably develop it. So he did tell me that I might only have 2 years. He never intended to sell the building. The reason he sold it was because he couldn’t develop it. He was actually a really good guy. The original development plan didn’t have the theater in it, but there was a huge uproar, and I called him up and he said, “We changed it, the theater is in.” He had changed his mind immediately. He was a really big fan and really appreciated the support the cinema had in Brooklyn Heights and he wanted to keep it going. The rent he would have gotten was really low for the space, and he didn’t have to put us in the plan. He made me almost like a partner in the plans. When he went to Landmarks, he asked me to come and speak up on it and I said, “absolutely.” His architect asked me, “Would this work, would that work?” And he was in contact with my architect as well. Tom was a really good guy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Brooklyn Heights Association killed that plan. And they’ll say, “oh no, we don’t have that kind of power,” but they definitely did.

BHB: Do you know Tom’s background? How long he owned the building and why at that point he wanted to develop it?

KL: My understanding is that Tom inherited the building from his grandfather. What happened was that there was a 21-year lease on the theater and an automatic renewal for another 21 years. So he couldn’t do anything with it until the additional 21-year lease expired. His plan was to develop it, never to sell it. He did his due diligence. He went to Landmarks and told them what he wanted to do, worked with the staff, and showed them the plans. But by the time he went there, the staff had already told the Commissioners whether they think the plan should be approved or not. The staff told the Commissioners, “This is a good plan, it should be approved.” But the Brooklyn Heights Association was like, “oh no, we can’t do anything to that building, because the building has this brick wall with historical relevance.” And Steve Levin, who’s actually a friend of mine, I don’t mean to say anything bad about him, but he also said, “Oh yes, this is very important, we need to preserve this wall.” The first Commissioner who spoke was a Brooklyn Heights resident who came to the theater all the time. He said it is important that the building be preserved, and then it was all downhill from there. Landmarks was very insistent on preserving that brick wall and the columns. It was all about that wall. I spoke to Judy Stanton, who probably came to see every film we showed, and she said, “We love the cinema, but this is not about the cinema. This is about the building.”

Tom then went to Landmarks a second time about a year later, and the same thing happened. Landmarks rejected the plan. And we were all just shocked. I thought it was a done deal. Tom was going to preserve the bricks, and did everything Landmarks wanted, but it wasn’t the way Landmarks wanted it done. I went back to the cinema and talked to Amy, my manager, and I said, “You know, if I were Tom, I would just sell the building.”

BHB: What was different about Tom’s second plan from the development that was approved and being built right now?

KL: Actually, it was very similar. The only difference was that the first floor was going to be a cinema. The original plan had the cinema in the basement. But the Commissioners didn’t like the idea of a cinema in the basement and even asked, “Are there cinemas in basements?” And I really had to bite my tongue, but I did say, “You know there are no windows in cinemas, so there are a lot of cinemas in basements. Like, for example, the Paris Theater.” They still didn’t like the idea. Then the plan moved the cinema to the first floor, and they still didn’t like that.

BHB: What is your understanding of why they rejected the second plan. Was it still the issue with the columns and brick wall?

KL: Yes, that was it, but I don’t remember exactly what the problem was. I remember thinking it was completely absurd. And I also told Tom, “Listen, there’s an election coming up. Bill de Blasio will be elected and new Commissioners will be in place.” But at that point, I think Tom had enough. He just wanted to be done with it.

BHB: So, how did the new owners finally get a plan approved by Landmarks?

KL: I think there were two things. First, they had more experience doing things with Landmarks and went in with more information. Second, they had the advantage of working with new Commissioners after the election.

BHB: Was the cinema ever in the plan with the new owners?

KL: No. I spoke with them and discussed market rent and there was no way it could happen. The market rent is $12,000 a month for the new space and my lease was $5,500 a month. If Tom had kept the building, the building was already paid for. He just needed to pay for the development and he could have afforded to give me a huge break. The new owner who bought the building for seven million dollars couldn’t afford to do that.

BHB: If you could do it all over again, would you buy the cinema?

KL: That’s really an interesting question that I don’t think anyone ever asked me before. It’s difficult to say, because I absolutely loved owning the cinema and I really miss it. But it absolutely destroyed my life. I will be in debt for the rest of my life.

BHB: But the three years that you owned it were fulfilling?

KL: It really was. The first two years were great. The first year, we broke even. The second year, we made money. But the last 9 months, we lost so much money. The movies just didn’t catch on. It was that particularly brutal winter. People didn’t want to go outside. By the end, I was worried about how I was going to pay the bills all the time. The Weinstein Group took me to court and they’re the slimiest people I ever dealt with. They wanted to force me into bankruptcy. I made good-faith efforts to pay as much as I could. The other distributors wrote off the debts, but the Weinstein Group wouldn’t. Their lawyer told my lawyer that only if I filed for bankruptcy, they would write it off.

BHB: There was a lot of talk about you finding another space for the cinema. What happened?

KL: I looked for a long time. But there just was nothing out there. The landlords wanted so much money. There was one landlord who had a space in Cobble Hill and I was told that he really wanted to do business with someone local and would give me a break. I went to talk to the landlord and when he told me the number, it was laughable. It wasn’t a break at all.

BHB: There were also reports that you would reopen at the old ReBar space in Dumbo.

KL: That was another one. I went and talked to the landlord and he wanted $11,000 a month for 2,500 sq. ft. I said to him, “You know it’s a really small space. If I sold out every show and every person bought a large popcorn and soda, I still wouldn’t come close to making the rent.” I told the owner, “You’ll never get that kind of rent for this space.” The owner said, “I think I can.” I said, “The only business that could make that kind of money in this space is a meth lab.” That’s the problem. The landlords in NYC are lunatics. What’s happened to NY is sickening, and it’s only going in one direction. And people say, “Well, there will be a mid-course correction.” But it’s too late, way too late.

BHB: So where are you now and what do you see in your near future?

KL: I’m spending half of my time in NYC, and half of my time in Europe, where I can make some money. Basically, trying to get back to where I was before. Getting back to, “would I do it over again?” I wouldn’t be in debt, but I wouldn’t have had that experience. Anyone who’s been in debt will tell you it’s completely draining.

BHB: What would you say to your most loyal customers?

KL: That’s easy. I would say, “I’m very sorry I couldn’t keep it going,” and thank them for the years of support. That is one of things that I miss more than anything else, the interactions with the customers. We had so many regular customers. I looked forward to seeing them. They should know my manager Amy and I really valued them and we miss seeing them.


Calls for comments to the current President of the Brooklyn Heights Association and attorney for the Weinstein Group were not returned.

Judy Stanton, former Executive Director of the BHA, provided the following statement:

“The BHA was working via the LPC (Landmarks Preservation Commission) process to preserve 70 Henry, and we opposed proposals that involved demolition of the building. The BHA supported the cinema. In our view, it was possible to retain the cinema within the original walls of the building. A nearby example of that type of preservation approach is the incorporation of the St. Ann’s Warehouse theatre within the old walls of the Tobacco Warehouse. “

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Electeds, Preservationists Celebrate Brooklyn Heights Historic District at Plaque Re-Dedication Ceremony Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:37:38 +0000

Fifty years ago, Brooklyn Heights was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. This distinction and the advocacy of many dedicated  preservationists, lead to the passing of New York City’s Landmarks Law in April 1965 and in November of 1965, Brooklyn Heights was designated New York’s first Historic District.  And so to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service and the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, a plaque-the original long since disappeared-was re-dedicated at the Brooklyn Heights Society this past Friday, October 21st.

BHS Plaque Dediation Speakers

Beginning 2nd from left, Jo Anne Simon, Nydia Velazquez, (back row) Joshua Laird, (front row) Meenakshi Srinivasan, (back row) Francis Morrone, Deborah Schwartz, Nancy Pearsall, Otis Pearsall and Peter Bray.

The steady rain forced the ceremony inside but did not dampen the mood. In fact, the pride was palpable.  BHS President Deborah Schwartz presided over the dedication with remarks by Congresswoman Velazquez, Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Meenakshi Srinivasan, Commissionner of National Parks of New York Harbor Joshua Laird, NYC Councilman Steve Levin, Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Peter Bray and renowned Brooklyn Heights preservationists Otis and Nancy Pearsall.

During her introduction, Deborah Schwartz reflected that the occasion celebrated “the rich history and exquisite architecture of [Brooklyn Heights] and the community of people who have worked so hard to maintain its integrity.”  She also cited the “extraordinary and legendary people” who have called Brooklyn Heights their home including Henry Ward Beecher, Truman Capote and Arthur Miller among our many notable residents. (Truman Capote’s Brooklyn: The Lost Photographs of David Attie is currently on exhibit at BHS).

Congresswoman Velazquez, who is credited with securing $450,000 in federal grant monies to restore the “Bishops Crooks” lamp posts to Brooklyn Heights, shared “Not only is Brooklyn Heights an important part of New York’s history, but when it was named a ‘Historic District’ fifty years ago, it helped pave the way for the protection of other culturally significant sites around the country.”

Legendary Brooklyn Heights Preservationist, Otis Pearsall and history buff (who knew?) Councilman Steve Leven

Legendary Brooklyn Heights Preservationist, Otis Pearsall and history buff (who knew?) Councilman Steve Levin.

Later in the program, Peter Bray, spoke to the “inextricable link between our “architectural and cultural history,” explaining that “historic preservation embodies what we value as a society” and in effect keeps history alive in both our own minds and the public consciousness.  He praised ongoing efforts of the Landmarks Preservation Committee and Community Board 2 to include 181 (The CitiBank Temple) and 185 Montague Street, a 15-story office building with a beautiful Art Deco facade, into the historic business district of Brooklyn Heights.

Joshua Laird, provided a brief but in depth history of the evolution of preservation-the establishment of our National Parks (1917), the National Registry of Historic Places (1931) and NYC’s Landmark law (1965)-sharing “we are bound by our past and blind to our future without some appreciation of where we have come from.” The National Register of Historic Places now has over 90,000 properties, of which 900 sites are in New York City with 172 in Brooklyn.  The most recent addition: The Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the LGBTQ Civil Rights movement.

After thanking all the key stakeholders, Steve Levin reflected on the role of history in modern politics. He cited the recent post-Presidential debate discussions on the peaceful transition of power. Evoking the image of George Washington crossing the East River at Fulton Ferry Landing,  he said, “We are nothing without our history…[Brooklyn Heights] is so rich with this nation’s history…going back to the revolutionary war. And it is so tied into who we are as a country.”

Plaque Dedication

Left to Right: Peter Bray, Nydia Velazquez, Joshua Laird, Otis Pearsall, Deborah Schwartz, Jo Anne Simon and Steve Levin.

Otis Pearsall bestowed gratitude upon The National Park Service, The Brooklyn Historical Society, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Councilmember Steve Levin he regaled the crowd with a detailed recounting of the original dedication ceremony. He beamed with pride that the community now has an “exact replica, (securely fastened!) to the front of the Brooklyn Historical Society.”

Though wet, the brief unveiling ceremony and subsequent photo-op went off without a hitch. Those who chose to brave the rain were treated to a short but detail oriented walking tour of Pierrepont Street with Architectural Historian, NYU Professor and world-renowned tour guide, Francis Morrone.

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70 Henry St. (Former Home to Brooklyn Heights Cinemas) Construction Update Sat, 08 Oct 2016 02:17:28 +0000

Construction at 70 Henry St., former home to our beloved Brooklyn Heights Cinemas, is coming along nicely. Here’s a peek into the guts of the plot of land that is soon to be the site of a five-story, mixed-use development.


This morning, the congenial site supervisor named Mike from Jonico Construction, was keeping watch over the work. The target date for completion is 15 months from now, Mike said. In the photo above, you can see the columns, “probably there since before Lincoln was assassinated,” that are being preserved per Landmarks Preservation Committee’s insistence. The building will house five condo units, including one maisonette townhouse on the Orange St. side. The smallest condo unit will be 1,200 sq. ft. with four bedrooms. On the ground floor facing Henry St. will be a 1,000 sq. ft. commercial space.

What’s going in that commercial space? Let’s dispel the lingering rumor here for good. It won’t be a movie theater. According to Mike, it will be a retail space, but not a restaurant, since the space is not mechanically fit for one. When asked if he’s heard any leads on what types of businesses are interested, Mike said he hadn’t heard. But he figured the neighborhood could use a women’s and/or children’s retail shop of some kind. He’s a smart one, that Mike, we did just lose Heights Kids afterall.

While the neighborhood awaits the completion of this building, let’s have one last nostalgic look at what was once there.


From Google Maps 2009

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How Do You Like Living in a Historic District? Take the Survey Mon, 29 Aug 2016 19:31:46 +0000

As most, if not all, regular readers of this blog know, Brooklyn Heights was New York City’s first designated historic district. This means there are strict controls on what can be built here and how existing buildings can be modified. Without these rules, it seems likely to me that all the townhouses along the west side of Columbia Heights by now would have been demolished and replaced by a phalanx of high-rises. Some regulations seem to me a bit persnickety. Why is it that the owner of a nineteenth century townhouse that had its stoop removed a century ago can’t have a new stoop installed unless she has access to the design of the original stoop and can duplicate it exactly? If the design has been lost, I’d rather see a reasonable facsimile of a nineteenth century stoop there than none at all.

Some object to historic districts generally because they adversely affect the availability of affordable housing by limiting allowable density, thereby reducing the supply side of the supply/demand equation. Others object on the grounds that they infringe on the rights of property owners, or prevent what they consider the proper operation of real estate markets.

We’ve received notice from Community Board 2 and from the Brooklyn Heights Association that researchers at Columbia University are conducting an online survey “to better understand how different New Yorkers value the social, environmental, and economic aims of historic district preservation.”

The researchers are looking to reach a broad cross-section of the city’s population so anyone may participate in the survey. In particular, they are hoping to reach the growing number of stakeholders within and beyond the traditional core of preservation. They believe that the residents and business people within Brooklyn Community District 2 could be critical participants and would be very grateful if you take the survey.

We’re told the survey takes about five minutes to complete (I did it in four). Access it here

Photo: Claude Scales

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Times Covers 100 Clark St. Restoration Tue, 16 Aug 2016 02:45:35 +0000

Yesterday’s New York Times piece is a fascinating read on the painstaking architectural endeavor behind the reconstruction of 100 Clark St., and the owner’s commitment to restore, as closely as possible, the building to its original glory.

Margaret Streicker Porres, the owner of the realty company that bought the building in 2010 for $1.2M, hired Tom van den Bout, an architect and Brooklyn Heights resident, for the reconstruction. Incidentally, on that infamous day in 2008 when the top two floors of the building were demolished by the City, a “distraught local resident” called Mr. van den Bout. When he arrived, the workers were halfway done and one wall was missing. “It was surreal; it was like looking at the side of a dollhouse,” Mr. van den Bout told the Times. “There were people’s dining room tables all set up with books on them. It was very, very strange.”

Mr. van den Bout and his team are using the only two existing photographs, one dug up from the archives at the New York Public Library, that are clear enough to see all of the magnificent details of the original building. The architects even “counted bricks to calculate proportions and studied the set of the stoop, which went missing long ago, to match the original.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Streicker Porres told the Times, “’Frankly, it never crossed my mind to try and put a modern glass structure there. It seems so obvious that the appropriate reintervention was to attempt a 21st-century re-creation. It’s melding three centuries, through use of a historic skin and a modern exterior.”

The Times reports that there is also a financial benefit to restoring the building to mirror the original. The plan is to build out several apartments, including a triplex, and by using the existing footprint, a larger structure can be built than is allowed by zoning rules.

It’s safe to say that the entire neighborhood is looking forward to this job being completed, and that Mr. van den Bout and Ms. Streicker Porres may be strong contenders for the BHB Ten for 2016.

(Lead photo: Google Maps street view image)

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Two Montague Buildings Nominated for Landmarking Sat, 13 Aug 2016 17:52:09 +0000

Two buildings on Montague Street between Clinton and Court, 181-183 Montague and 185 Montague (left and right in the photo), have, the Eagle reports, been nominated for landmark status. Last November we reported that, during a discussion between preservationist Anthony Wood and architectural historian Francis Morrone at the Brooklyn Historical Society, it was mentioned that applications had been made to landmark these buildings. Now the matter is on the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s calendar and, according to the Eagle story, “[p]ublic hearings about the two properties will be held in the coming months.”

The two buildings are of different ages and styles. 181-183 Montague, designed by Mowbray & Uffinger and completed in 1903, is in the Neoclassical style, while 185 Montague, completed in 1930 and designed by Corbett, Harrison & MacMurray, a firm that was also involved in the design of Rockefeller Center, is a fine example of Art Deco. An addition to 181-183 Montague, which extends to Pierrepont Street, was completed in 1929 in the Art Deco style, designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, who began their work on the Empire State Building the following year.

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100 Clark St. Reconstruction Plan Approved by Landmarks – Finally! Sat, 06 Aug 2016 04:35:20 +0000

The long, unfortunate history of the eyesore of a brownstone at 100 Clark St. (aka 1 Monroe Pl.) dates back to May 2008, when BHB reported that the building had been condemned after years of neglect and disrepair. At the time, the three remaining, rent-stabilized tenants living in the 18-unit building were forced out and the building partially demolished. A full demolition was stopped by a lawsuit by then owners Penson Co. Since then, the building sat for almost a decade – sad, unoccupied, hazardous, and an ugly blight on the neighborhood.


100 Clark St. in May 2008

In 2010, the building was sold to Newcastle Realty Services for a song at $1.25M, but saddled with the tenants who retained occupancy rights, liens, and the landmarks approval process. The “confidential” offering memorandum from the realty company is here for all to read, that contains everything you would ever want to know about the deal. Since the sale, the neighborhood has been eagerly watching for signs of reconstruction to start, which reportedly was delayed not for a lack of funds, but by the “complexity” of the project, according to a Department of Buildings spokesperson.

Finally, an end might be in sight. The Eagle reports that last Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a reconstruction plan for the building. A prior plan had been approved in 2011, but the building permit expired when the owners failed to go forward with the construction. “The whole neighborhood welcomes such a moment when we can restore this house,” said Landmarks Commissioner Frederick Bland, who is also a Brooklyn Heights resident. Meanwhile, a spokeperson for the owners said the plan was to build rental units, not condos.

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Landmark Status Sought for Two Brooklyn Heights Buildings Mon, 30 Nov 2015 04:16:42 +0000

Last Monday I attended the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the designation of Brooklyn Heights as New York City’s first landmarked historic district, held at the Brooklyn Historical Society and co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Heights Association and by the New York Preservation Archive Project (“NYPAP”).


The evening’s program (read more about the proceedings in the Eagle) featured a lively discussion between NYPAP founder and ardent preservationist Anthony Wood, author of Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City’s Landmarks (left in photo above) and architectural historian Francis Morrone, during which it was mentioned that application has been made for landmark status for two significant buildings on the north side of Montague Street between Clinton and Court streets. This block is outside the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, but within Brooklyn Heights. In the photo at the top of this post, taken from the corner of Clinton and Montague, these are the second and third buildings in. The building on the corner, the former Brooklyn Trust Company Building (now a Chase Bank branch with apartments upstairs) is already landmarked.

183 Montague

The first of the landmark candidates (the second building in, with the classical portico; see photo above) is the former People’s Trust Building (Mowbray & Uffinger, 1903), at 183 Montague, which is now a Citibank branch. In his An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn, Morrone praises its

fine tetrastyle Corinthian portico, the fully modeled, fluted columns set on high bases. The columns rise to a richly decorated entablature below a dentilated cornice. At the top is a full-width, triangular pediment filled with figure sculpture and topped with acroteria.

(Yes, this passage had me inquiring of Google twice.) Morrone also mentions the building’s rear addition, which houses the bank’s tellers, with offices above, facing Pierrepont Street. It was designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon and completed, he notes, “in the year that they began work on the Empire State Building.” In contrast to the classical Montague side, it’s a fine example, both exterior and interior, of the Art Deco style.

Just over a year ago we noted that the developer Jonathan Rose Companies had acquired the rights to purchase 181 Montague and its Pierrepont Street extension. The deal was closed in March of this year. There are no firm indications so far of the developer’s plans for the site, but it will be interesting to see if it opposes the landmark application.


The other landmark candidate is the tall building just to the right of the Citibank building in the photo above. This is 185 Montague, originally the National Title Guaranty Building (Corbett, Harrison & MacMurray, 1930), now probably best known to Heights residents as the home of Chipotle. In his Architectural Guidebook Morrone observes:

This is one of the jazziest little Art Deco skyscrapers in town, its play of projecting piers and receding planes reminiscent of the punching horns of Count Basie’s orchestra. Floral and mechanical motifs are mixed in the exuberant traceried relief work. The firm of Corbett, Harrison & MacMurray began work on Rockefeller Center right after designing this building.

We know of no specific threat to this building. The one next door, 189 Montague, an undistinguished modern office building, is being taken down to be replaced by a residential building. Should 185 Montague be preserved, it seems likely to be converted to residential use, as is happening to many older office buildings.

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Brooklyn Historical Society Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Brooklyn Heights Historic District Wed, 18 Nov 2015 04:14:41 +0000

This coming Monday evening, November 23, the Brooklyn Historical Society, in conjunction with the Brooklyn Heights Association and the New York Preservation Archive Project will present a festive evening to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Brooklyn Heights’ designation as New York City’s first historic district. The program will feature noted architectural historian and Brooklyn resident Francis Morrone and pioneer preservationist, Columbia professor, and Preservation Archive Project founder Anthony C. Wood. Cocktails will be served. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $100, or $80 for BHS members; purchase tickets here.

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Last Minute Weekend Suggestions: Brooklyn Heights and Nearby Thu, 22 Oct 2015 03:59:37 +0000

Architectural historian Francis Morrone (photo), who has been documenting every building in Brooklyn Heights and is working on an update of Clay Lancaster’s classic Old Brooklyn Heights to include buildings of post-Civil War vintage, joined by preservationist Liz McEnaney, will lead a recreation of the walking tour of the Heights that Lancaster used to lead. The tour, which is co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Brooklyn Heights Association, will take place on Sunday afternoon, October 25, starting at 2:00. Tickets are $25, or $20 for BHS, Green-Wood, or BHA members; you may purchase them here. The starting location for the tour will be revealed on your purchase receipt. There’s more information here.

Bargemusic starts the weekend early with a concert tomorrow (Thursday, October 22) evening at 8:00 honoring composer Ned Rorem at 92. The program features works of Rorem along with others by Kurt Rhode, Hagen, and Platt, sung by the Brooklyn Art Song Society. On Friday evening, October 23 at 8:00, there will be a concert, “Jamu! Classical Jam and Kyo-Shin-An Arts”, featuring works by both Asian and Western composers, played on both Asian and Western instruments by a number of excellent musicians. On Saturday evening, October 24 at 8:00 and Sunday afternoon, October 25 at 4:00, the Shanghai Quartet along with clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein, will perform works by Mendelssohn, Janacek, and Mozart. Saturday afternoon at 4:00 there will be a free, family oriented “Music in Motion” concert, co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. Doors open at 3:45; first come, first seated. There’s more information and buy tickets for the evening and Sunday concerts here.

This weekend is your last chance to see the Heights Players production of Mame. Performances are at 8:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, at the Playhouse, 26 Willow Place (between Joralemon and State). There’s more information here and you can reserve tickets here.

Don’t forget the Pier Six Opening and Harvest Festival in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Saturday.

If you know of any other events in or near Brooklyn Heights this weekend that should be mentioned, please let us know in a comment.

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Survey Commissioned by Save The View Now Says Pierhouse Penthouse Encroaches on Promenade View Plane Tue, 20 Oct 2015 02:55:00 +0000

The Eagle reports that a survey commissioned by the advocacy group Save The View Now shows that the penthouse structure atop the southern portion (the shorter part) of the Pierhouse (photo by Andrew Porter) encroaches by almost twenty feet into the protected scenic view plane (SV-1) from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The results of the survey were delivered to the City’s Department of Buildings (DOB) by State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Council Member Stephen Levin. The Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation insists that there is no encroachment, noting that they submitted the building’s plans to DOB a year ago and that DOB found them in compliance with SV-1.

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BHA Names Peter L. Bray New Executive Director Fri, 31 Jul 2015 02:38:59 +0000

The Eagle reports that the Brooklyn Heights Association has named Park Slope resident Peter L. Bray its new executive director effective September 1. He will replace Judy Stanton, the BHA’s first executive director, who is retiring August 31 after many years’ service.

Mr. Bray previously served as executive director of the New York City Financial Network Action Consortium, an organization he founded to expand financial services to disadvantaged communities. He is a trustee of the Park Slope Civic Council and has played an important role in its successful efforts to expand the Park Slope Historic District. According to the Eagle story, this involved his

undertaking an extraordinary effort of planning, coalition-building and relentless advocacy that he will bring to his BHA role.

He has also, as the Eagle reports,

currently spearheading efforts on behalf of a coalition [including the BHA] of Brooklyn brownstone neighborhoods to modify a citywide rezoning proposal that threatens to undo years of efforts by civic organizations to preserve the livable and historic nature of communities in Brooklyn and throughout the city.

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Last Minute Weekend Suggestions: Brooklyn Heights and Nearby Fri, 08 May 2015 03:47:46 +0000

The big event this weekend is the Brooklyn Heights Association’s annual House Tour, which will be Saturday, May 9 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. There will be five historic houses on the tour, with gardens and balconies open weather permitting. General admission is $80, or $65 for BHA members. You may purchase tickets here.

Bargemusic’s weekend round of concerts begins Friday evening, May 8 with works by Beethoven, Clara Schumann, and Ravel performed by the Apollo Trio. On Saturday evening at 8:00 the Bax & Chung Piano Duo will play works by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Heather Schmidt, Ravel, and Piazzolla. On Sunday afternoon at 4:00 the Sassmannshaus-DeSilva Piano Trio will play works by Beethoven, J. Strauss, and Brahms. There’s more information and buy tickets here. Saturday afternoon at 4:00 there will be a free, family oriented “Music in Motion” concert, co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. Doors open at 3:45; first come, first seated.

On Sunday at 11:00 a.m. meet at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1 entrance near the foot of Old Fulton Street for a free guided park tour. Also on Sunday, from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Smorgasburg will be on the Pier 5 uplands, near the foot of Joralemon Street.

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Curbed Covers the Landmarking of Brooklyn Heights Thu, 19 Mar 2015 02:14:47 +0000

Curbed published a comprehensive guide to the landmarking of Brooklyn Heights today. As we start stocking up on Champale for the 50th Anniversary of our neighborhood’s landmark status on November 23, this piece will help you get amped up for the celebration.

While you’re at it, please take some time out to rediscover Martin L. Schneider and Karl Junkersfeld’s mini-doc on the landmarking of Brooklyn Heights.

Brooklyn Is My Neighborhood from The Brooklyn Bugle on Vimeo.

RELATED: Five Books About Brooklyn Heights You Should Be Reading Right Now

Curbed: Dissent from within the neighborhood was fast and furious—and, unlike many neighborhoods in which Moses operated, predominantly white and upper middle class. The Brooklyn Heights Association, founded in 1910, began a campaign against the highway. In September 1942, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, under the headline “Plan for Express Highway Is Shocking,” suggested what seemed to everyone the logical alternative: routing the BQE along Furman Street at the water’s edge. This idea was embraced by residents, especially those along Columbia Heights and Pierrepont Place, who advocated for a top deck cantilevered over the new highway to both shield them from noise and to replace their back gardens which would be destroyed during construction. Surprisingly, Moses—who believed that “When you operate in an overbuilt metropolis you have to hack your way with a meat ax”—embraced the new plan. In fact, to the chagrin of some in the Heights, he took the idea one step further, deciding that the cantilevered area over the highway should be turned into a public promenade, opening the views to the masses.

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Campaign to Save Brooklyn Heights’ Anchor on News 12 Brooklyn Fri, 13 Mar 2015 02:33:34 +0000

This evening News 12 Brooklyn had among its top Brooklyn stories a report about efforts to save the anchor now located in front of 76 Montague Street and move it to a nearby location, such as the area near the flagpole at the Montague Street entrance to the Promenade. According to the text accompanying the video:

Residents Brendan and Devan Spearo say they don’t want to see the anchor cast away into the trash, so they are leading a charge to move the anchor somewhere else nearby, like the promenade that overlooks the East River.

The Spearos are quoted as saying the owner of Friend of a Farmer, the restaurant that is moving into 76 Montague and needs the space now occupied by the anchor for outdoor seating, has been “very supportive.”

The news announcer makes one inaccurate statement: the anchor has not “been in the community for centuries.” It was placed in front of 76 Montague in 1981, when its owner, Wolf Spille, who had rescued it from a shipbreaker’s yard on Staten Island, opened his ship brokerage business there. The anchor, according to Mr. Spille, dates from sometime between 1830 and 1860, and once served on a sailing ship.

To support keeping the anchor in Brooklyn Heights, “like” this page on Facebook now!

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Housing Opponents Swarm Brooklyn Bridge Park Corp. Board Meeting, Channeling Spike Lee Fri, 27 Feb 2015 02:55:47 +0000

Opponents of the new residential buildings being constructed at the north and south ends of Brooklyn Bridge Park were out in full force at the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation’s (BBP) board meeting Thursday (2/26). The gathering of upwards of 70 remained mostly polite but — as has been the case in other recent BBP meetings — it did become emotional and forceful at times, with local residents and advocacy group members publicly shaming the BBP board members for a perceived lack of transparency and responsiveness to local concerns. Several attendees referenced Spike Lee’s seminal Brooklyn movie Do the Right Thing, and your humble BHB correspondent was on hand to catch the action.

The meeting, which took place at Borough Hall at 11 a.m., began simply enough, with the BBP board voting to approve several not-so-contentious measures on maritime maintenance.

But then City Councilmember and BBP board member Stephen Levin brought up the (non-binding) resolution recently passed by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council (CAC), which calls for the Board to halt to all construction of Pierhouse at the park’s north end and the further work on the planned Pier 6 residential towers at the south end until concerns are addressed about the park’s potential overfunding and the new structures’ impact on views, school overcrowding, flood zones, and other local infrastructure. Specifically, the CAC is calling for a new environmental impact study, a housing study, and — as it has since November of last year — full park financials to be published.


The full BBP board.

“I think as an elected representative and city council member I want to ensure we are being responsive to the public, and our partners in the public as part of the CAC, I think it’s appropriate we consider their resolution at this time,” Levin said, introducing a motion for the board to approve it.

However, deputy mayor and BBP board chair Alicia Glen moved quickly to shut him down, saying, “as you you know, we are not going to be entertaining a motion on this topic. The chair does determine the agenda for the meeting, and after consultation with management, we decided that these items, although they are included in the board packet… they would not be subject of a vote at this time.”

The meeting progressed onto the public comment portion, in which attendees were given two minutes maximum (and strictly warned in mid-speech with a paper sign and a dinging bell) to raise matters before the BBP board. Over 20 people took advantage of the opportunity, nearly all of them offering vocal opposition to aspects of the under-construction Pierhouse and planned Pier 6 residential developments, and the BBP’s handling of their complaints.


CAC co-chair Andrew Lastowecky at the podium.

CAC co-chair Andrew Lastowecky got the ball rolling, saying, “the overcrowding of schools is not a joke. People in this community have already had their children shipped to other neighborhoods for school.”

Public School 8 PTA co-presidents Kim Glickman and Ansley Samson came up to the podium later with data to support the point of school overcrowding, noting that this year’s pre-registration numbers saw 30 more kids than last year, meaning there would need to be six or more kindergarden classes. “We acknowledge that not all this is about Brooklyn Bridge Park, [but] a large chunk is,” Samson said, noting that with 1,025 residential units coming online between Pierhouse, Pier 6, One John in Dumboand the existing One Brooklyn Bridge Park translates to 300 more public school kids in a school with a capacity for 500. “We need a plan on the table to deal with this very significant overcrowding problem before we add to it by approving additional residential housing in this school zone.”

Calling for further environmental studies, Save Pier 6 founder Ren Richmond got applause for his closing line blasting one of the two planned towers: “There’s just no need to put a 31-story in the park entrance in a flood zone when there are no school seats and when the park truly doesn’t need the money.” The BBP says that Pier 6 housing is needed to fully fund the park’s continuing operational budget, while opponents say the BBP isn’t taking into account tax breaks. Noting that plans for Pier 6’s 15-story and 31-story towers include affordable housing, some local publications have suggested that local opposition is based primarily on classist NIMBYism.

Addressing the Pier 6 towers, 58-year resident and architect Joe Merz said “psychologically, they represent as well, a blockade in the sense that people live there. They own a part of the park. There’s no question about that…the psychological aspect of these buildings has never been considered.”


A member of advocacy group Build Up NYC speaks.

Also among other vocal critics were several members of local resident advocacy group Save the View Now, and members of worker advocacy outfit Build Up NYC. Both groups have repeatedly called for a halt to construction at the quickly rising Pierhouse on the park’s north end, and while the NYC Buildings Department has issued several stop work orders in recent months — the latest in January — they’ve all been lifted after subsequent changes and promises by the developers and the BBP. One Build Up NYC member also pointed out the BBPC still hasn’t released all the names of the 14 developers who bid on the Pier 6 contract.

Martin Hale, chairman of the nonprofit advocacy group People for Green Space and Pier 6 opponent, said that by not bringing up the CAC’s resolution, BBP board members “threaten to violate the public’s trust. This will be with your reputations forever. We simply ask that you, in the words of the great Spike Lee, ‘Do the Right Thing.’”


DUMBO Neighborhood Association rep and CAC member Doreen Gallo addresses the BBP.

But perhaps the most intense criticism came from outside Brooklyn Heights itself. Doreen Gallo, CAC member from the DUMBO Neighborhood Association, told the board: “You’ve pulled off one of the greatest scams of all time. You’ve sold our beloved bridge. You’ve destroyed the protected view-planes from the promenade and perhaps worse, you’ve destroyed the views of the great bridge from within the park itself…The people of Brooklyn deserve better.” She also called upon the board to “do the right thing” and stop Pier 6 development.

The meeting ended around 12:20 p.m. without any sign that the critics were changing board members’ minds on the previously approved residential development plans. That said, throughout the public comment period, the BBP board members remained silent and took notes, as per their policy of not responding directly in an effort to keep to the allotted time that Borough Hall was available.


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Renderings Suggest Brooklyn Heights Library Replacement Tower Taller Than Depicted Sat, 31 Jan 2015 13:38:24 +0000

Guest post by “Sensei B”

The rendering for the proposed building on the library site does not reflect the reality of what is being proposed. Let’s start with the rendering in the NY Times article.

At first glance one might be inclined to say, “Oh, that’s not so bad. No big deal.” But let’s look closer, shall we? The proposal is for a 38 story building. The building in the rendering is about 20 stories. Count the windows.

I know, I know. I often profess that I can only count to 10, but even I can count to 10 two times and realize that still does not equal 38.

But wait, there’s more!

One Pierrepont Plaza (the pointed building behind and to the left) is 19 stories tall (210.23′) (

I count 20 windows worth of stories in the proposed rendering. Only in Bizarro World would a 19 story building behind it appear to be taller.

I am not an architect, nor a professional renderer, but I took a stab at making a more realistic rendering of how the building height might actually appear.

For those who must know, I compared the number of pixels for floors 1-10 to the number of pixels for floors 10-20 to get a declining ratio of 86% for the perspective. I then measured up by the scaled number of pixels for floors 10-20 for floors 20-30, and then scaled that number by 80% for floors 30-38. Is that completely accurate? I don’t know, but, in short, I didn’t just paste the building on top of itself. For once, I even tried to give benefit of the doubt. And, yes, the perspective lines of the windows is hence all wonky. If you want an accurate rendering with pretty windows and all that, I suggest you ask the city and the developer to provide one.

For the most part, I think my hacked rendering stands up, especially if you look at a chart of comparable building heights.

16 Court Street: 35 floors
180 Montague Street: 33 floors
The St. George Tower: 30 floors

101 Clark Street: 30 floors

1 Pierrepont Plaza: 19 floors
Buildings in Brooklyn Heights Historical District are capped at 6 stories.
The existing library is 2 floors.

I have “stories” in the chart but the referenced website says “floors.” Is there a substantial difference? Anyone? Bueller?)
As you can see the chart puts my rendering in better perspective (no pun intended).

This will be the tallest building around by 3 stories (plus “mechanicals”),  yet this rendering makes it seem far SHORTER than a neighboring 19 story building.

Don’t be fooled by the original renderings. They are about as accurate as artist renderings of distant planets.

All of this is to aside from the other issues such as selling city property at the bottom of the market, trading a 60,000 sq ft library for a 20,000 sq ft library, overcrowding of schools, lack of parking, etc, etc, etc.

What bothers me above all is an obvious attempt to DECEIVE with disgustingly inaccurate renderings which minimize the shock value of the proposed development as to placate the public into acceptance.

P.S. Any rebuttals that it is not an attempt to deceive will merely exhibit the incompetence of those who provided such inaccurate renderings. Take your pick.

RELATED: David Kramer Talks About the Brooklyn Heights Library Project

Publisher’s note: The opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of BHB, its publisher or editorial staff.

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CBS New York and Other Network Outlets Cover Pierhouse Foes Save the View Now Fri, 09 Jan 2015 01:26:05 +0000

Two more local television stations reported today on Save the View Now, the grassroots group aiming to curb the height of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pierhouse.

 RELATED: WPIX Reports on Pierhouse

RELATED: All BHB Coverage of Save the View Now

CBS New York: The mayor’s pick for park president said the Pierhouse is just 3 feet higher than originally planned due to changes forced by Hurricane Sandy, and no more obstructive than a warehouse torn down on the site.

“There’s no bait and switch. The building that is under construction now is exactly the building that was approved,” said Regina Myer of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation. “This was all according to the plan for this beautiful park.”

But opponents have won an important ally as the Brooklyn Heights Association is putting its weight behind this fight over height, Aiello reported.

And from WNBC-TV:

And the struggle made the front page of this week’s Brooklyn Heights Press:

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Save the View Now Group to de Blasio: Toll Brothers’ Pierhouse is Stealing a View for the Masses Wed, 07 Jan 2015 17:38:30 +0000

A member of Save the View Now, the Brooklyn Heights based group focused on curbing what they say is the over built Pierhouse at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1, has fired off a dispatch to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Here’s the full text:

Dear Mr. Mayor,

I’m part of a coalition of outraged citizens protesting the height of the Pierhouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park. While the administration has been looking the other way, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation has allowed Toll Brothers to come in and built a luxury condo/hotel that steals the view of the Bridge from the Promenade, a view that is for the masses regardless of wealth. It is a view of the 8th wonder of the world, the Brooklyn Bridge. If New York is to remain a great city, this kind of unbridled development must be stopped, and the first duty of the city is to bring Toll Brothers into compliance with what they agreed to, an agreement they are ignoring. Such greedy development would never be allowed to happen in London, Rome or Paris; they have a sense of history and respect for accomplishments that your administration has failed to comprehend. In case you think I’m a solitary voice, check out this petition. Your responsible leadership is badly needed and elected officials who have allowed this to happen must be held responsible.


Ezra Barnes

The Pierhouse is expected to generate $250 million in revenue for Toll Brothers and its partners.

Save the View Now’s online petition stands at close to 3000 signatures. Will this get the mayor’s attention?

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Gawker Picks Up on the Pierhouse Controversy Fri, 02 Jan 2015 17:30:27 +0000

As the members of the newly formed Save the View group prepare for their first large meeting tomorrow (1/3), Gawker has written about the controversy.

RELATED: BHB’s coverage of the Pierhouse

Hamilton Nolan writes this today:

If you walk through Brooklyn Bridge Park now, you will see the hulking concrete shell of Pierhouse rising up. If you stand at the end of the promenade now, in order to gaze out at the beautiful view of the Brooklyn Bridge, you will see that that view is now partially blocked by the Pierhouse condo. No longer does the promenade offer a view of a park, an iconic skyline, and the Brooklyn Bridge; it now offers a view of a park, an iconic skyline, and part of a bridge obscured by an enormous glass fortress full of people far richer than those forced to stand outside in order to enjoy the view. In a very real way, the public’s park, the public’s air, and the public’s view have been packaged and sold off to millionaires. The public can no longer even stroll through a public park without being confronted by a gleaming glass Gorgon of multimillion-dollar apartments.

As for Save the View, Claude and I attended the first meeting of the group last Saturday. They are nothing if not prepared to meet this challenge head on and find a way to curb the height of the Pierhouse. Their next meeting is scheduled for Saturday (1/3):

Save The View Now group on Saturday Jan 3, 2015 at 1:00 PM at:
Brooklyn Heights Synagogue
131 Remsen Street,
Room 2 C

Photo via Carrie Hamilton

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Brooklyn Heights Man Mounts Campaign to Stop Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pierhouse Tue, 23 Dec 2014 03:40:37 +0000

Brooklyn Heights resident Steven Guterman is not happy about the Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pierhouse project blocking the view of the Brooklyn Bridge from many area vantage points. He’s decided to do something about it and recently penned this letter looking for help.

It’s been distributed in some Brooklyn Heights buildings, but this is the first time it has been published online.

Update: Mr. Guterman has launched an online petition.

Dear Neighbor,

The Pier House is taking over the iconic views of the historic Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan skyline in violation of the Special Scenic View District designation.

Working together is the only way to stop the Pier House from completely obstructing this scenic vista.

You may have read in the Brooklyn Eagle or other papers [and on BHB! – publisher], how the hotel portion of the Pier House is now well above the 100 foot limit agreed to during the planning stage. There is no transparency to the current plans for the condo portion of the structure, and therefore no way to know if Toll Brothers plans on also exceeding the agreed upon height limit for the condos to be “no higher than the Promenade”.

Strong action by the community demanding that construction is stopped pending a full review and ensuring agreement to the height restriction laid out in the Economic Impact Statement for the project in now essential.

We are looking for volunteers to help in this cause.

We need legal help to advise us on strategy, architectural expertise to determine where the violation have taken place and others to help spread the word and get signatures (via email) on a petition to Mayor de Blasio and others.

Time is of the essence so if you want to save the view email me at:

Steven Guterman

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What Changes are Planned for Truman Capote’s Old Digs at 70 Willow Street? Mon, 22 Dec 2014 16:19:56 +0000

Brownstoner notes that the owner of 70 Willow Street, best known for once being home to Truman Capote and his landlord Oliver Smith, will be asking the Landmarks Preservation Commission to allow some changes to the building.

Related: 10 Facts about 70 Willow Street

According to the agenda for the agency’s January 6 meeting, the changes are:

Application is to replace front doors and ironwork, remove sills, strip paint, alter the side and rear facades, excavate the rear yard, install a shed, pool, and paving.

The home was purchased in 2012 by Rockstar Games honcho Dan Houser for the record breaking price of $12.5 million.

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LPC Approves Building Plans for Empty Hicks Street Lot Wed, 26 Nov 2014 02:41:44 +0000 after being rejected previously:]]>

The Brooklyn Eagle reports that the LPC has approved plans for a development on Hicks Street after being rejected previously:

Brooklyn Eagle: The city Landmarks Preservation Commission gave him the go-ahead on Tuesday to build three townhouses on a Brooklyn Heights parking lot at 295-299 Hicks St.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a revised design for three brick rowhouses, each 16 feet wide, in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District.

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Area Man Gets Local Papers to Freak Out Over “Lack of Security” at Monroe Place Brownstone Wed, 26 Nov 2014 02:27:13 +0000

Both the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Brooklyn Paper covered the outrage of Monroe Place resident Jeffrey Smith over what he claimed was the lack of security at a brownstone currently under renovation. Jared Kushner bought 38 Monroe Place and several other properties here to convert into McMansionstones (hey think that will catch on?) recently. Smith told reporters that he’d filed two complaints windows and entrances left open there with the Department of Buildings but was not happy with their response.

And why is he freaking out? Perhaps the irony of the Brooklyn Paper photo of him actually trespassing on the property he’s complaining about being open to trespass? Not that at all. We’ll let his AWESOME comment to the Brooklyn Paper speak for itself, Jack:

Brooklyn Paper: “Unsecured buildings in this area are a classic prequel to you know what,” he said. “That’s surgical arson, daddy-o.”

You know just like Henry Hill:

Ok, maybe notsomuch and he might have a point:

Brooklyn Eagle: “It’s irresponsible,” Smith said on Saturday, pointing out the open garden floor window and unlocked basement hatch. “There are holes in the floor, meaning there are no fire breaks. It’s a bomb ready to go off.”

“Leaving a building like this has always been a prequel to serious fires in the Heights,” he said, mentioning a previous fire at 27 Monroe Place and a fire at the Hotel Margaret that occurred years ago. “It’s part of a syndrome of valuable properties being exposed to fire, when simple, off-the-shelf technology is available. The bottom line is this building needs alarm and fire suppression devices.”

The Eagle adds the the FDNY chose to do nothing because no trash was found in the building. NYPD responded to reports of “strangers” in the building but they were gone before PoPo rolled up.

The Brooklyn Paper updated its report at 3:20pm on Tuesday saying the building had been secured. They also changed their headline to: UPDATE: Bklyn Heights building secured, thanks to our article.

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Heights Preservationist and Former LPC Write Stern Op-Ed About Pierhouse Blocking Brooklyn Bridge Vista Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:28:53 +0000

Heights Preservationist Martin L. Schneider has written an op-ed for the NY Daily News along with former LPC commissioner Beverly Moss Spatt expressing their strong opposition and outrage over the height of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pierhouse condo.

RELATED: Height of BBP’s Pierhouse Hotel: What Exactly IS the Deal? | BHA Seeks Smaller Tower at Pier 6; Slams Pierhouse Addition

NYDN: That choice location was sold off to private developers as part of a long-term financing scheme for the park. But its sale came with a very important limitation any building built there had to respect the view of the bridge.

This height limitation, spelled out in the final environmental impact statement issued by the Empire State Development Corporation in December 2005, has now been ignored by the winning bidder.

In September, the new building’s superstructure was topped out. For us onlookers, the view was drastically compromised. The new additions to the top of the building block out the lower portion of the east tower, parts of the sweeping cable structure and roadway, and scenic views of Upper Manhattan including the Chrysler Building. We were shocked.

The truth is that many of us are disappointed that this time the view of the great bridge has failed to generate much of an outcry. With the topping-out flag flying on the obstructing building it might be too late. But, the fact is the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation could, if it chose to, take action to enforce the original understanding. After some delay, the Brooklyn Heights Association has quietly taken up the battle against those who seem to have no interest in the public’s right to heart-stirring, historically significant views which every day attract visitors from across the world.

Read the full Op-Ed here.

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