Owners Opposed Full Designation of Former Dairy Complex

Empire State Dairy Company Buildings. Image Credit: LPC.

Empire State Dairy Company Buildings. Image Credit: LPC.

Owners’ attorney said long-empty buildings required significant work to make them inhabitable, and site likely required environmental remediation. On July 19, 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the potential designation of the former Empire State Dairy Company. The complex, built as dairy distribution center composed of two buildings located at 2840 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood. Landmarks added the Dairy to its calendar at its meeting on March 8, 2016.

The older building in the complex was designed by Theobald Engelhart, and built in 1907. It is Romanesque Revival in style, with decorative terra cotta detailing, including a series of tympani above the second-floor windows and an ornamented bay facing Schenck Avenue. Engelhart was a well-known architect of industrial buildings in Brooklyn, and the primary designer of the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company.

The second building, completed in 1915, was designed by Vienna-trained Otto Strack in a Classicist style with Secessionist details. This building displays two polychromatic tile mosaics depicting pastoral scenes. The mosaics are thought to be the largest decorative installations made by the American Encaustic Tile Company. The Landmarks research department said that the building were architecturally significant survivors of Eats New York’s industrial past.

At the hearing, Kramer Levin attorney Valerie Campbell testified on behalf of the “contract in deed” for the property, and asked Landmarks to lay over the hearing until the owners had further examined structural and environmental issues concerning the buildings. She said the vacant buildings of the complex had been repurposed multiple times since their use as a dairy company, most recently as a factory for plastics and floor tile, and were in various states of structural decay. She said the structures would require substantial work of great expense to accommodate new tenants or for adaptive reuse. She added that the difficulties were compounded by the discovery of a leaking oil tank that had caused soil and groundwater contamination that would necessitate excavation and environmental remediation. Campbell stated that the buildings had undergone “significant and unsympathetic alterations,” and that designation would inhibit the site’s development potential. She said the owners had no intention of demolishing the Strack building, and would retain the mosaics.

Zulmilena Then, President of Preserving East New York, said the Dairy buildings were important to the City’s history and architecture, and commended Landmarks for recognizing them. She said that preserving the buildings was important to protecting the community’s identity, and further stated that East New York possessed other vulnerable buildings worthy of protection. Michael Padwee, a historian who maintains a blog devoted to decorative ceramics, testified that he had been working for the Dairy’s designation since 1999, and that the mosaic murals were the only known remaining examples of the Encaustic Tile Company’s work in the City. The Historic Districts Council’s Kelly Carroll called the Dairy “an unusually ornamented industrial building whose equal is not found anywhere.” Carroll also identified and exhorted Landmarks to consider more structures in East New York. The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Alex Herrera spoke in support of the Dairy’s designation as “part of East New York’s early 20th century industrial history,” and a member of the Friends of Terra Cotta also testified.

Landmarks Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan agreed to the owners’ request to continue the hearing at later date. She scheduled the continued hearing for September 13, 2016.

LPC: Empire State Dairy Company Buildings, 2840 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn (LP-2575) (July 19, 2016).

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

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