On March 8, the East New York Savings Bank, Parkway Branch, in East New York, Brooklyn was designated the first city landmark of 2016. That same day, the former Empire State Dairy Company complex, also in East New York, was added to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s calendar. On Tuesday, the designation process continued.
The complex is located at 2840 Atlantic Avenue (a.k.a. 2840-2844 Atlantic Avenue) and at 181 Schenk Avenue. Designs were by Theobald Engelhardt and Otto Strack and construction took place between 1906 and 1907 and between 1914 and 1915. There were several buildings in the complex, and the one at 2840 Atlantic Avenue features two wonderful tile mosaics by Leon Solon. The Borden dairy company took over the site in 1924, but ceased operations in 1982.
The first public hearing on the designation took place in July. The Historic Districts Council’s Kelly Carroll, in her public testimony, spoke about the history of the site, the works of its designers, and called for more designations in East New York. Alex Herrera of the New York Landmarks Conservancy also spoke in support of designation, as did Zulmilena Then of Preserving East New York (PENY). She even came decked out as one of the aforementioned mosaics.
Prominent land use attorney Valerie Campbell, speaking for developer LSC, expressed its opposition to development. She noted alterations over the years and contamination, and asked for more time to present the case against designation.
That brings us to Tuesday’s somewhat unusual continuance of the proceedings. In recent years, the process for designation usually goes as follows. The commission votes to calendar the property on one day, and hears testimony on another. Then, at a subsequent session, the commissioners discuss the property and vote on the designation.
At any rate, Campbell returned on Tuesday, accompanied by engineers and an environmental attorney. They said the complex’s building five is structurally compromised, and that work to correct that and execute environmental remediation would be unfeasible if designation occurs, certainly if designation includes that building. They estimated the cost of dealing with the situation at building five would be $4 million.
While the LPC works with owners of designated properties to find sources of income to help finance necessary maintenance, it isn’t technically the commission’s problem if designation is expensive for said owner. It’s also worth noting that environmental remediation would be necessary for redevelopment, regardless of landmark designation.
Anyway, noted Columbia University architecture professor Andrew Dolkart took advantage of the second round of public testimony to express how “enthusiastic” he is about the prospect of the complex’s designation.
PENY’s Miriam Robinson said it is one of the few sites left that represents East New York’s past, and that the neighborhood’s families need an anchor.
“Thank you for hearing public testimony today. HDC wishes to reiterate its support for the designation of the Empire State Dairy, and to thank the LPC for moving forward to consider this landmark-worthy complex. The buildings are threatened by the city’s rezoning plans, especially due to their presence on Atlantic Avenue, where increased bulk is being encouraged,” testified HDC’s Barbara Zay. “The complex is listed in the Environmental Impact Statement as a projected development site, which makes this designation all the more imperative and symbolic. The agency is pursuing designation in part because the buildings have become endangered, and we applaud this effort. In a neighborhood that has only three designated landmarks, this designation would send a strong message to residents about the importance of their neighborhood anchors. An even stronger message would be to take further actions to designate more of East New York’s significant structures so that the city celebrates this vibrant community’s past while also planning for its future.”
The commissioners did not comment on the merits of the site, but LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said a vote will take place on October 25.