Alterations to the Former Gage & Tollner Restaurant Denied Legalization

Original interior of the Gage & Tollner Restaurant. Image Courtesy: Rosenbaum Design Group.

Original interior of the Gage & Tollner Restaurant. Image Courtesy: Rosenbaum Design Group.

The interior landmark, which had been converted to a fast-food chain with Landmarks’ oversight, was illegally converted to a retail store. On January 22, 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered and denied an application for the legalization of work already done to the former Gage & Tollner Restaurant, at 372 Fulton Street in Downtown Brooklyn. The interior landmark occupies the Gage & Tollner building, also an individual City landmark. The interior is significant for its “Gay Nineties” architecture and décor, featuring arched mirrors, ornate woodwork, a paneled bar, and brass light fixtures.

The Gage & Tollner Restaurant opened in 1892 and closed in 2004. The property was later used for a TGI Friday’s restaurant. In 2009, an application was approved by Landmarks for the conversion of the space to an Arby’s franchise. The site is currently a retail establishment that sells jewelry and shoes. However, the site was converted without Landmarks’ approval after Arby’s vacated the space. The tenants put in a lighting system that obscured the wainscoted walls, and removed a wall that had stood between the dining room and the kitchen, as well as one of the signature mirrors.

Rand Rosenbaum, of Rosenbaum Design Group, appeared on behalf of the owner, 374 Fulton Associates, at the meeting. Rosenbaum stated that the original fabric of the room had been protected in the renovation and was covered with stage walls that did not impact original details. He noted that three restaurants had failed at the location and the owners had decided to “go in another direction.” He noted that the wood inlay of the interior was intact, as were the brass chandeliers, and the removed mirrors could easily be replaced. He conceded that the current occupants traded in “schlock stuff,” but argued the location could easily be reconverted to a restaurant if it once again became commercially viable to operate one. Rosenbaum further stated that the original bar and sidebar had been retained, with their marble tops intact. Furthermore, a wall that separated the dining area from the kitchen had been removed.

Current interior of the landmark, now the Ladies and Gents discount jewelry store. Image Courtesy: 374 Fulton Associates.

Current interior of the landmark, occupied by the Ladies and Gents discount jewelry store. Image Courtesy: 374 Fulton Associates.

The Historic Districts Council’s Nadezhda Williams spoke in opposition to the application, stating that the landmark was one of the City’s few remaining Victorian interiors, and that the illegal work “covers up much of the important details and calls attention away from what remains visible.”

Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney stated that he saw “no way to legalize this” but nonetheless asked commissioners for their comments. Commissioner Michael Goldblum called the work “a failure of design” demonstrating “a complete lack of imagination.” He believed the historic interior, “a beautiful room with lots of mirrors,” could well have been used as a retail environment. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea said that the removed wall had to be restored as a condition of any legalization and further added that hiding original fabric behind new construction was “not necessarily a preservation strategy.” Commissioner Diana Chapin agreed, calling the unauthorized alterations to the landmarked interior “a travesty.” The Landmarks Commission voted unanimously to deny the legalization application. Tierney told the applicants to work with Landmarks staff to restore the landmark.

LPC: (Former) Gage & Tollner Restaurant, 372 Fulton Street, Brooklyn (13-8277) (Jan. 22, 2013) (Architect: Rosenbaum Design Group).

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