Brooklyn’s McDonald House And Renken Dairy Designated Landmarks

The McDonald House and Renken Dairy. Credit: LPC

On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate two Brooklyn sites as individual landmarks. They are the Henry and Susan McDonald House and M.H. Renken Dairy. That means their exteriors cannot be modified and demolition may not occur without the commission’s approval.

The Henry and Susan McDonald House is a three-story Italianate house at 128 Clinton Avenue (between Myrtle and Park) dating back to 1854. It was built following an expansion of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, located not far away on the other side of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and the creation of new streets. It’s on a hill with views of the East River, Manhattan. According to the LPC, “Clinton Avenue was the neighborhood’s premiere residential street – a wide tree-lined boulevard containing the villas of wealthy merchants.” McDonald was a Manhattan banker and lived there with his family until the mid-1870s.

“This very rare and well-preserved frame house is an important reminder of a time when the Wallabout area of Brooklyn was undergoing rapid development,” said LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan. “Today’s vote underscores the Commission’s commitment to ensuring that it remains a part of the City’s historic fabric for generations to come.”

The M.H. Renken Dairy Company office at 582-584 Myrtle Avenue and the engine room at 580 Myrtle Avenue in Clinton Hill are two structures with a unified Art Moderne style design. “German immigrant Martin H. Renken founded his dairy company in 1888, and by the 1930s, Renken Dairy was at its peak,” the LPC said. “The elevation of cow’s milk into a commonplace food largely resulted from the rise of the industrial city, technological advancements in transportation and milk processing, and the work of progressive public officials, public –health advocates and urban reformers who were especially active in New York City.”

“As the third-largest dairy company in New York City, Renken pasteurized and bottled more than seven million quarts of fresh milk annually, operated 300 delivery routes, and owned several creameries in Upstate New York and Pennsylvania.”

“In 1932, reflecting its prosperity, the company built a new office building at 582-584 Myrtle Avenue, designed by the prolific Brooklyn firm of Koch & Wagner. Four years later, Koch & Wagner renovated the circa-1860 building at 580 Myrtle Avenue to contain an engine room and storage space, with a new front façade that matched the design of the office building and gave both buildings the look of a single structure. The Renken buildings were ‘modernistic’ in design and faced in beige enameled brick to convey a hygienic image. At its opening, the office building housed a ‘model Renken dairy store,’ the storefront of which remains essentially intact.”

“Dating from the period in which New York City’s milk was renowned for its exceptional quality, these buildings serve as reminders of the City’s signature role in improving the safety of milk, and are distinguished remnants of both a once-bustling dairying complex and a vanished era,” said Srinivasan.

Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.

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