New York, NY — New York City Council Member Brad Lander issued the following statement in response to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (LPC) vote today to calendar eight buildings across five properties in Gowanus for landmarking consideration: 

“Gowanus is rich with industrial and architectural history. So one of our goals in planning for its future must be to preserve, celebrate, and connect people to that history, even as we make room for new uses to meet our city’s needs. This list of eight distinctive historic buildings, across five sites, is a great start in that effort. 

I’m grateful to the LPC for their diligent research and consideration, and for putting this list forward earlier in the process than in many prior rezonings. Credit is also due to neighborhood leaders and advocates who have fought to ensure that we take seriously our responsibility for preserving the historic character of Gowanus. 

The buildings identified by the Commission are the most striking examples of industrial development in Gowanus during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Together, they are a significant cultural resource and strong contributor to the neighborhood’s unique sense of place. The buildings are: 

  • the Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel Pump House and Gate House (2 buildings) at 196 Butler Street; 
  • the Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) Central Powerhouse at 153 2nd Street; 
  • the Old American Can Factory (3 buildings) at 238-246 3rd Street; 
  • the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Building at 223-237 Butler Street; 
  • and the Norge Sailmakers Corporation Building at 170-172 2nd Avenue. 

These buildings would join three existing historic landmarks in Gowanus: Public Bath #7; the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company Building; and the Carroll Street Bridge. By voting to calendar potential landmarks earlier in the neighborhood rezoning process than in prior rezoning actions, the LPC is allowing the Gowanus community to engage in more thoughtful planning that incorporates preservation and historic interpretation.

One important goal in that broader effort is to preserve industrial uses in a mixed-use Gowanus, as well as historic and distinctive buildings. That’s why we’re working on a new “Gowanus mix” designation for light-manufacturing, arts, artisan, and not-for-profit uses in new development around the Canal; preserving some blocks within the rezoning area for manufacturing and commercial uses; and developing a vision plan for the nearby Gowanus Industrial Business Zone, which will remain fully non-residential, to allow for industrial job growth.

One of the buildings being calendared today — the Old American Can Factory — offers an opportunity to preserve industrial uses as well as structures. An important Gowanus institution that served as manufacturing hub dating to the mid-nineteenth century, the Can Factory currently provides work space for more than 300 people in the arts, culture, and creative industries. Landmarking is a great tool to preserve the buildings, but it would not preserve the contemporary light-manufacturing and creative uses. Over time, with landmarking alone, the building would likely become a retail mall (witness what happened recently at 2nd Avenue and 9th Street), or perhaps a residential conversion.

So while I applaud the designation of the three buildings on the site that LPC has proposed, I am open to supporting the Can Factory owner’s proposal to develop the parts of the site that LPC did not calendar. As part of their proposal, they would commit to preserve light-manufacturing and artisan uses which fill up the Can Factory today and contribute greatly to the industrial character and job opportunities of Gowanus. I look forward to further conversations with community members, the owners of the site, LPC, and City Planning about their proposal.

Our work to preserve the history of Gowanus most certainly does not end here. I will continue to push for the Commission to take a hard look at additional buildings that were identified by the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition, including the Roulston Grocery Warehouse (9th Street and 2nd Avenue), the R.G. Dun & Company Building Nevins & Butler), and other structures that have cultural and historic value that should be recognized and preserved. I am also grateful that the LPC has committed to study potential expansion of the nearby Carroll Gardens Historic District, which was designated in 1973, and includes the area bounded by Carroll, President, Smith, and Hoyt Streets. As we saw recently at 236 and 238 President Street, which were designated as landmarks after a strong organizing effort by community members in the face of a threat that Brooklyn’s first purpose-built kindergarten would be destroyed, there are architectural treasures in the area which are at-risk. 

Finally, building on the Department of City Planning’s 2018 Gowanus Framework (Gowanus: A Framework for a Sustainable, Inclusive, Mixed-use Neighborhood), I look forward to working with City agencies and community-based organizations on a historic interpretation program that connects future generations to the rich history in Gowanus, from its past as a natural estuary to a site of Native American fishing ground to a battlefield of the Revolutionary War to a hub for shipping and manufacturing to a site for urban renewal.

Today’s action by LPC will preserve eight great buildings that are part of that history. Together, we can insure that those buildings are knit into a mixed-use future, one that residents, workers, and visitors can treasure and learn from in the decades to come.”