Landmarks holds hearing on Brooklyn warehouse

Massive concrete building attributed to Cass Gilbert. On July 26, 2005, Landmarks held a public hearing on the proposed designation of the Austin, Nichols & Co. Warehouse, a six-story unadorned, reinforced concrete warehouse attributed by some to Cass Gilbert. Built on the East River in 1913 for the largest grocery wholesaler of the period, the 500,000-square-foot warehouse was the first collaboration between Gilbert and the Turner Construction Company, and was followed by their collaboration on Gilbert’s well-known Brooklyn Army Base.

At the hearing, experts and elected officials spoke in opposition on behalf of one of the owners, Lewis Kestenbaum. One expert testified that Gilbert did not design the warehouse, but rather a budget conscious owner and a low bid for reinforced concrete determined the materials and design. The expert stated that to the original owner the warehouse was “just an investment, not architecture,” and to designate it would demean a real example of Gilbert’s work, the Brooklyn Army Base. Council Member David Yassky, in whose district the warehouse is located, stated that without a comprehensive City strategy on designation of industrial buildings, random designations, such as this, would interfere with the City’s efforts to rezone industrial areas and permit the planned redevelopment.

Supporters of the designation included the Modern Architecture Working Group, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Cass Gilbert Society. They argued that Gilbert’s innovative reinforced concrete work was an influence for American and European modern architecture, making the warehouse worthy of designation. A professor of architecture from Columbia University added that architects often compromise their initial vision to meet client requests. MAS testified that the warehouse was identified as a significant resource in the Williamsburg rezoning process and landmark protection now would follow proper City planning procedure.

No date was set for a vote on its designation.

LPC: Austin, Nichols & Co. Warehouse, 184 Kent Avenue (LP-2163) (July 26, 2005) (Paul D. Selver, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, for Kestenbaum).

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