Designated bank lobby will be converted to retail space, while new tower will accommodate residential use. On April 19, 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to approve work impacting the individually designated Dime Savings Bank, as well as its lobby, an interior Landmark. The site lies at 9 Dekalb Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn, on an irregularly shaped block bounded by Dekalb and Flatbush Avenues and Fulton Street. The proposed tower will displace the Williamsburgh Savings Bank as the borough’s tallest building. The work entails the demolition of a portion of the 1930s addition, the creation of a new entrance on Flatbush Avenue, and alterations to the lobby to adapt it to retail use. The new tower will be partially sited within the landmarked lot. The plan includes extensive restoration work to the bank building.
The projects developers are JDS Development and the Chetrit Group. Using the landmark’s air rights, the new tower will be as-of-right. The new development will contain retail use at the ground floor, with some office space, with retail use occupying the upper levels of the tower.
The neo-Classical bank was initially constructed in 1906 by the firm of Mowbray and Uffinger, and enlarged and altered in 1932 by Halsey, McCormack & Helmer.
Consultant Bill Higgins, of Higgins Quasebath, stated that project would entail the demolition or visual erasure of some non-original additions to the banks, including a mid-century garage, a heavily altered structure from the 1920s, and a 1942 addition. He said the portion of the bank facade that would abut the new tower was of “the lowest architectural quality.” Higgins said all of the defining characteristics of the landmark would be preserved, and the bank would be more visible from Flatbush Avenue than it is currently. Higgins assured commissioners that the project would retain the bank’s “prominence in the downtown streetscape.”
The proposal for the new development was presented by SHoP Architects Partner Gregg Pasquarelli. Pasquarelli said a tower of similar floor area could have been designed without impinging on the landmarked site, but they wanted to avoid a “slab building” that would visually obstruct the bank to a much greater extent, and to design something that would positively interact with the bank building. Taking its cue from the form of the bank building, the 1066-foot tower would be interlocking hexagons in series of spiraling setbacks. The tower was also designed to keep the bank’s dome visible to the extent possible, and allow light and air into the landmarked interior.
Pasquarelli said the relationship between the landmark and the new development embodied the “low fabric and soaring tower” typology common to Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn.
The materials of the tower were also inspired by the landmark, with marble and with inset brass at the base, changing to darkened metal at the upper stories, and textured gray glass. The design of the five-story base would pattern itself after the landmark’s neo-Classical facades in a contemporary idiom, with fluted columns extending up the facade. Patterned pilasters would give the building “heft,” according to Pasquarelli.
An extension to the bank would be built facing Flatbush Avenue, to create a new handicapped-accessible retail entrance. The existing bank entrance would be restored to its original condition.
Richard Pieper, of Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, presented some of the planned restoration work on the exterior and in the banking hall. Fractured marble on the exterior would be stabilized, and replaced or repaired. The cornice will be secured, and possibly may need disassembly to install a support system. The dome’s interior will also require structural evaluation. To accommodate the planned retail use, some teller counters would be removed. Other historic furnishings would be retained and preserved. Pasquarelli stated that where linoleum or carpeting had been installed on the interior, it would be replaced with monochromatic marble flooring.
In response to commissioner questions, Michael Stern of JDS stated that the developers had not yet selected a retail tenant for the lobby.
Kelly Carroll, of the Historic Districts Council, testified against the planned removal of banking counters from the lobby, calling them “designated, significant features” that “should not be treated as interruptions.”
Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan stated that Brooklyn Community Board 2 had issued a resolution supportive of the proposal.
Commissioner Fred Bland endorsed the proposal as “enlightened urbanism at its finest.” However, Bland suggested that the applicants keep the teller counters where they are until a tenant for the space has been identified, to determine whether removal is a necessity. Commissioner Michael Goldblum also praised the concept and its design, finding it a model of how a new development can co-exist with a historic landmark. Commissioner Diana Chapin found the “elegant and beautiful” tower respectful to the bank building, though also expressed concern about the removal of teller counters. Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron recommended further study of the relationship of the tower’s base to the landmark.
Chair Srinivasan noted than the applicants had chosen to do something different and better than what could have built without seeking Landmarks’ approval, and the proposed development did not diminish the visual impact of the landmark. She also commended the “loving, caring” restoration work proposed, and the sensitive design of the new development.
Commissioners voted to issue a modified certificate of appropriateness, approving everything proposed except the removal of teller counters. If the applicants still wish to remove the banking counters after identifying retail occupants, they will need to file a separate application.
LPC: Dime Savings Bank, 9 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn (18-2034) (April 18, 2016) (Architects: SHoP Architects, Jan Hird Pokorny Associates).
By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law)