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Sky−high hopes for new district

The Brooklyn Paper
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Look! Up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District.

In the wake of St. Francis College’s 180 Remsen Street building seeking city landmark status, the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) is renewing its call for a skyscraper historic district in Downtown Brooklyn.

Back in 2004, the BHA partnered with the Municipal Art Society to create such a district, which would include 28 buildings in the Downtown Brooklyn Fulton Mall area.

However, after the Landmarks Preservation Committee (LPC) designated five of the 28 buildings, the BHA took the issue off their front burner.

However, after recent announcements that the LPC is looking at 180 Remsen Street, BHA Executive Director Judy Stanton said the organization is looking at the district once again.

“We are considering the potential for a new historic district, tentatively called the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District, to protect historically important commercial buildings not included in the 1965 [Historic District] designation of the Heights,” said Stanton.

“Among the architecturally significant buildings that we are looking at for designation by the Landmarks Commission are 177, 181, 185 Montague Street, 186 Remsen Street and 16, 32 and 44 Court Street,” she added.

The call for the new district comes after the LPC voted to hold a public hearing on a proposal to give 180 Remsen Street individual landmark status. The date of the hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Designed by prominent Brooklyn architect Frank Freeman and built in 1914, the building was the former headquarters and general office building of the Brooklyn Union Gas Company.

Brooklyn Union Gas then company presidents James Jourdan and James H. Jourdan called for the headquarters to consolidate 300 employees in a single building.

According to the LPC, Freeman’s austere monumental design reflected the current taste for neo−classicism and the client’s desire to be perceived as a public institution.

The Brooklyn Union Gas Company occupied the building for 47 years and sold it to St. Francis College in 1962.

Alex Herrera, who works for the non−profit Landmarks Conservancy and who has been active with the BHA, said the building at one time was known as 180 Remsen Street and the McGarry Library.

The college demolished the library, which was also a significant building, and now 180 Remsen refers to the school’s main building, Herrera said.

Several sources in the Brooklyn Heights community speculated as to why the LPC is designating only 180 Remsen Street for landmark status.

There are several other noteworthy buildings in the area that also deserve being landmarked, sources said.

Among these buildings is 186 Remsen Street, which BHA has been lobbying the LPC to designate for some time.

The speculation includes St. Francis College wanting the designation because it would make the transfer of air rights easier.

St. Francis College spokesperson Richard Relkin said the school has spoken with LPC, but refused comment on how the building was nominated for landmark status.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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