11 January 2009

Austin, Nichols & Co. Wins in the End

What a strange journey to preservation the Austin, Nichols & Company warehouse in Williamsburg has taken. As per today's NYT City section:

ONE thing that the owners of the Austin, Nichols & Company warehouse at 184 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, were firm about throughout the long battle over the building’s fate three years ago was that it was not historically valuable. The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which declared the 1915 structure a landmark, disagreed, but the City Council took the rare step of overruling the commission and siding with the owners.

A lawyer for the owners, the Kestenbaum family, called the warehouse an eyesore. Councilman David Yassky, who helped lead the fight against designating the building a landmark, described the warehouse as “a nondescript white box,” indistinguishable from anything else on the Williamsburg waterfront. When the mayor stepped in to preserve the warehouse, the Council overrode him, too.

But times have changed, and the warehouse, which was designed in the Egyptian Revival style by Cass Gilbert, the architect of the Woolworth Building, has had a reversal of fortune.

A short time after the Council voted, the Kestenbaums sold the warehouse, which takes up an entire block, to the real estate company J.M.H. Development. Then representatives of that company, saying that the building was not an eyesore after all, announced in December that it had granted a national preservation group the right to preserve the building’s exterior in perpetuity. The warehouse is now being restored and is scheduled to open for rental tenants this summer.

The Kestenbaums wanted to build condominiums on the site, either with a tower or a large rooftop addition, plans that would have been impossible if the structure had been made a landmark. J.M.H.’s rental plans, by contrast, are not impeded by preserving the building.

The Kestenbaums. What can be said about this family that this article doesn't already express in spades. Beauty is just wasted on some folks.

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