In August, YIMBY reported on the Landmarks Preservation Commission calendaring two buildings in Brooklyn that sit between two existing historic districts. On Tuesday, the process of preserving 181 Montague Street and 185 Montague Street took a step forward, as the commission held public hearings on their designations.
Though they are separate buildings, they must be considered in their broader context. They are part of what is known as Bank Row, which sits between the city’s oldest historic district, the Brooklyn Heights Historic District, designated in 1965, and one of the city’s newer districts, the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District, designated in 2011.
They also sit immediately east of the Brooklyn Trust Company Bank Building at 177-179 Montague Street, designed by York & Sawyer and built between 1913 and 1916. It was designated an individual and interior landmark in 1996. So, this designation would basically complete the trio of landmarks.
181 Montague Street is the neoclassical former People’s Trust Company Building. It was designed by the firm of Mowbray & Uffinger and, according to LPC staff, captivated the press when it was built between 1903 and 1906. Its four 28-ton columns each came from the same piece of marble. The structure is now a Citibank and the calendared area does not cover an addition on Pierrepont Street constructed in 1929.
The Historic Districts Council’s Barbara Zay, not surprisingly, rose to deliver strong testimony in support of designation.
The Historic Districts Council wholeheartedly endorses the designation of the People’s Trust Company Building at 181 Montague Street. Not only was the building omitted from both the Brooklyn Heights Historic District and the Brooklyn Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District, but it directly abuts a celebrated Individual and Interior Landmark, the Brooklyn Trust Company Building. These two structures, side-by-side, could easily be mistaken as holding the same protected status, given their equally dignified presences at the corner of Montague and Clinton Streets. The People’s Trust Company Building pre-dates the Brooklyn Trust Company Building by roughly ten years, and likely played a role in York & Sawyer’s design process for that later addition to Bank Row. The People’s Trust Company Building represents a purer devotion to Classical design, both in its temple form and meticulous proportions, while the Brooklyn Trust Company Building interprets and adapts Classical design to architectural trends in the early 20th century and the needs of its client. These complementary buildings, together, stand as reminders of the once bustling Bank Row on this section of Montague Street, and given their design quality and integrity, both still read very clearly as banks and continue to function that way today.
Of course, the building is most commonly known for its Classical façade on Montague Street, designed by Mowbray & Uffinger and built in 1903-06. Its lesser known, but still noteworthy addition on Pierrepont Street is not being considered today as part of the landmark site, which HDC thinks is an unfortunate oversight. The addition was designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, who were contiguously working on designs for the Empire State Building. Its monumental Art Deco door surround is the highlight of that block and deserves protection along with the rest of the structure.
Peter Bray, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, said the designation of 181 and 185 would fill a “notable void” and prevent “out of scale” development. Otis Pearsall, who was among those that pushed for the designation of the Brooklyn Heights Historic District over five decades ago, also spoke in support of this designation.
Additionally, a representative of City Council Member Stephen Levin, Gabriel Halili of the Municipal Art Society, and Alex Herrera of the New York Landmarks Conservancy spoke in support of designation.
185 Montague Street is the 16-story, Art Deco former National Title Guaranty Company Building. It was designed by the firm of Corbett, Harrison, & MacMurray and features a decorative screen by Rene Chambellan. It was built between 1929 and 1930, only half a decade after the company’s founding and half a decade before its liquidation.
Several people who spoke about 181 Montague Street addressed their remarks to both buildings, but Herrera and Halili rose again to deliver remarks specifically about 185 Montague Street, as did HDC’s Zay.
The Historic Districts Council is pleased to testify in favor of the designation of the National Title Guaranty Company Building at 185 Montague Street. Along this stretch of Montague Street, also referred to as Bank Row, are a number of majestic bank buildings in a variety of styles – a characteristically diverse New York streetscape – and this Art Deco skyscraper is an important part of the ensemble. Its rich sculptural details, especially at the base, as well as its setback massing at the upper stories, help it to stand out, while its beige brick and limestone material palette help it to fit in nicely with the earlier buildings to its west. Together with the Brooklyn Trust Company Building and the hopefully soon-to-be-designated People’s Trust Company Building, the three form a striking group on a very visible corner and busy commercial corridor.
As HDC testified for The People’s Trust Company Building next door, this building, despite being on the fringe of two historic districts, has been lacking in legal protection. As the Commission will certainly remember, another building nearby and also just outside of both district boundaries, the former Brooklyn Gas Light Company Headquarters at 180 Remsen Street, was unfortunately demolished in 2005 due to its lack of protection, highlighting just how easy it can be to lose treasured buildings like these without landmark status. We are grateful that the Landmarks Preservation Commission is taking action to rectify that situation and to ensure that this building continues to play a vital role in contributing to its historic context for many years to come.
A representative of the property’s owner did rise to oppose designation. He said designation would hamper the ability to redevelop the site, and that maintenance costs, particularly pertaining to the existing windows that need replacement, would be burdensome.
The commission is scheduled to vote on designation of these two neighboring properties on Tuesday, January 31, 2017.