Gilbert-designed warehouse designated

Preservationists fear City Council will overturn Landmarks’ designation. Landmarks voted unanimously on September 20, 2005 to designate the Austin, Nichols & Co. Warehouse despite extensive opposition from its current owner, Council Member David Yassky and former City Council Member Kenneth Fisher, who appeared on the owner’s behalf. Constructed in 1913 along the East River in Brooklyn, the six-story reinforced concrete Austin Nichols building is attributed to Cass Gilbert, the architect of the Woolworth Building and U.S. Customs House, and considered his first warehouse design using concrete construction.

Experts for the current owner, appearing at Landmarks July 2005 hearing, argued that the original owner’s desire to build the warehouse “on the cheap” greatly diminished Gilbert’s impact on the final building design and Yassky added that a vote to designate would conflict with Council’s approved plans for the re-use of Brooklyn’s abandoned industrial waterfront. 2 City- Land 107 (Aug. 15, 2005). The owner, Lewis Kestenbaum, asked Landmarks to consider that he had received BSA approval to increase the building’s size, costing him over $1 million for project plans.

Proponents, including the Cass Gilbert Society, provided documentation of the warehouse’s significance within Gilbert’s body of work and argued that the 500,000-square-foot building could be adaptively re-used.

Voting on September 20th, Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz explained that after reviewing all the opposition testimony, she did not find the “arguments as compelling as the arguments in support.” Gratz voted to designate, noting that the Austin Nichols building showed the breadth of Gilbert’s work. Landmarks unanimously voted to approve.

The Historic Districts Council and other preservationists noted after the vote that the real battle will be at the City Council, which has the power to overturn the designation. HDC noted that Yassky’s strong opposition to the designation of the Williamsburg warehouse, which is within his district, could impact other Council members.

LPC: Austin, Nichols & Co. Warehouse, 184 Kent Avenue (LP-2163) (September 20, 2005) (Paul D. Selver, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, for Kestenbaum).

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