Former Dairy Building Designated an Individual Landmark

Empire State Dairy Company complex. Image Credit LPC.

Owners asked for exclusion of portion of site due to need for environmental remediation; Landmarks decided to designate property as originally proposed. Landmarks voted to designate as an individual City landmark six buildings constituting the former Empire State Dairy Company complex on December 5, 2017. The complex dates to the early 20th century and occupies an entire blockfront at 2840 Atlantic Avenue. The commission added the property to its calendar in March of 2016, after Landmarks had identified the buildings as significant historic resources in a survey of the area taken to complement the rezoning of East New York.

Construction of the complex began in 1905, reflecting technological advances and the industrialization of the milk processing and distribution business, as well as increased governmental safety requirements. The buildings in the first phase of the complex’s development were designed by Brooklyn architect Theodore Engelhardt, also the primary architect behind Greenpoint’s Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, in a Renaissance-Romanesque Revival style. An annex, built in 1915 to accommodate modernization of plant, was designed by Austrian-born Otto Strack in in a Classicist style incorporating details inspired by the Viennese Secession movement.

Two polychromatic tile mosaics depicting pastoral scenes adorn the annex. The mosaics were made by the American Encaustic Tile Company, and thought to be their largest decorative works.

Landmarks held two hearings on the property’s potential designation, at the request of LSC Development, who had plans to redevelop the complex.  The developer’s attorney, Valerie Campbell, stated that subsequent to its dairy use, a factory for plastics and floor tile had occupied the buildings and causing environmental contamination exacerbated by a leaking oil tank that had infiltrated soil and groundwater. Remediating environmental conditions would certainly involve excavation, and the cost of underpinning, stabilizing and preserving the buildings would make redevelopment prohibitively expensive. Engineers estimated stabilization costs at $4 million, in addition to the $2 million estimated for environmental remediation.

Campbell said that the Engelhart buildings had been significantly altered over the course of their history, and that the developers were willing to preserve the Strack building and its decorative tiles. She requested that Landmarks, if they proceeded to designation, to limit the landmark’s footprint to the Strack building.

Designation was widely embraced by community members, preservationists, and historians.

At the meeting on designation, Counsel Mark Silberman advised commissioners that the property’s owners had applied to the State’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, and that remediation of the site would entail extensive excavation and soil removal, and potentially partial demolitions of some parts of the complex. Rather than excising a portion of the site or postponing action on landmarking, Landmarks staff determined to recommend designation of the site as whole, to ensure Landmarks oversight of any replacement buildings, should it be necessary. He cautioned that work on the site would entail a complex web of regulations, on multiple governmental levels.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan stated that the complex was important to preserve as the most architecturally significant industrial buildings in East New York. The necessity of environmental remediation at the site was an “unfortunate situation,” but Landmarks would be able oversee any work on the “unified ensemble,” and protect the oldest and most significant portions.  Commissioners voted unanimously to designate the property.

LPC: Empire State Dairy Company Buildings, 2840 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn (LP-2575) (Dec. 5, 2017).

 By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).

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