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Ada Louise Huxtable

Ada Louise Huxtable, Doyenne of Architecture Criticism, Dies at 91

Huxtable2.jpg
The legend on her pillow: "Ada Louise Huxtable already doesn't like it" (a caption from a New Yorker cartoon). The world of architecture is in mourning. Ada Louise Huxtable, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, high spirited, fiercely opinionated architecture critic, revered by architecture historians and feared by developers, was the pioneer who brought serious, informed architecture criticism to daily newspapers. Her writing was invariably erudite, lucid and witty. The few times when she graciously conversed with me, in writing or in person, I felt I as though I had been touched by royalty. At the time of her death today at the age of 91, she was architecture critic for the Wall Street Journal. She wrote until the end with the verve, feistiness and exhaustive command of the facts of someone one-third her age. Take her final piece for the WSJ, published early last month, about the New York Public Library's plans to renovate and restructure its flagship 42nd Street facility (or, as she put it, "to undertake its own destruction"). She delivered a detailed analysis of why, in her estimation, the library's stacks should not be demolished---arguing her case not just on historic preservation grounds, but also on engineering grounds:
What no one seems to have noticed, or mentioned, is that the stacks are the structural support of the reading room. They literally hold it up....Restoration and retrofitting would be easier and cheaper than supporting the reading room with the enormously complex and expensive engineering needed during demolition and reconstruction.
What's more, she allowed herself the rare luxury of complaining in print (at some length) about the runaround she had gotten after asking library officials to release "schematic studies of how the vacated space would be used....I have been patient and cooperative, but I believe I have waited long enough." What she didn't mention was that her exasperation may have been heightened by a consciousness that her own time was running out. It is probably no coincidence that two weeks after Ada Louise's heated critique, the Library released more information about its construction plans. In her NY Times report on this, Robin Pogrebin tipped her hat to Huxtable by quoting her complaint in the the rival newspaper about the long-time dearth of information. The Library claimed that "the designs were not refined until now," Pogrebin reported. I hope that both the online editions of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times (where Ada Louise wrote with universally admired distinction from 1963 to 1982) will link to highlights from among her many articles, along with an appreciative recap of her many achievements. (The Times has just posted its detailed obituary.) The tributes from the art and architecture critics who are her progeny are already pouring in.
January 7, 2013 8:29 PM | Permalink | ShareThis
%AM, %12 %042 %2012 %00:%Nov

Post Sandy Assistance

Dear Clients, Business Associates, and Friends:   I am writing with the hope that you and your families are safe and dry, and that power has been restored to your homes and offices after our two most recent storms.  Our offices were without power for a week, a minor inconvenience compared to what many suffered throughout our region.  We are lucky enough to be back up and running, and we remain on call to help with any recovery effort you may require at this time.  Our architects, staff, and network of trusted and reliable contractors and trade professionals are available to assist you with any emergency property assessments and repairs resulting from the strong winds and flooding sustained in our area, including façade damage, roof damage, or any other building related issues that you may be faced with at this time.  If we can be of any assistance, please let us know. We can be reached at our offices, (212) 995-2464 or send email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Sincerely,  Scott Henson 
August 08, 2012 01:30PM   1155-1205 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint Nearly all of Brooklyn’s large manufacturers have left the borough, chasing locations with less regulation, and cheaper labor and real estate. Sometimes, the massive warehouses and factories they leave behind are renovated into luxury apartments, as will be the case at the former Domino Sugar factory. But, according to the New York Times, there is a flowering niche manufacturing industry in Brooklyn that is keeping some of these forgotten buildings in their original industrial intent. The scale of the manufacturing in Brooklyn’s industrial buildings has become smaller and more specialized. One building, at 1205 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, has been divided into more than a dozen micro-factories, producing everything from specialty metal and wood pieces to artisanal glass. The small scale gives entrepreneurs an affordable alternative to outsourcing their product’s manufacture, keeping production costs low. “We think this is the future of urban manufacturing,” Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center CEO Brian Coleman, said. “There is a highly skilled work force making products for local consumption.” However these tiny factories are not employing anywhere near the number of New Yorkers the traditional factories employed. In 2011 Brooklyn businesses averaged 11.2 workers per business in 2011. The average in 2000 was 16.8 workers. [NYT] – Christopher Cameron Go to THE REAL DEAL
May 01, 2012 04:30PM By Katherine Clarke
From left: City Council member Leroy Comrie, who chairs the City Council's land use committee, Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert Tierney and Simeon Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council
The New York City Council is set to review a package of 10 bills relating to the workings of the Landmarks Preservation Commission tomorrow morning, according to the council’s website, some of which have garnered significant support from the Real Estate Board of New York but elicited concern from preservation groups. A few of the bills seek to impose a timeline on the LPC’s deliberation of potential landmarks and historic districts, including one that introduces a time limit of 180 days for LPC to respond to requests for evaluation and another that institutes a fixed deadline of 33 months for landmark and historic district designations. Detractors such as Simeon Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council said the restrictions are “almost ensured to create paralysis at the agency.” It’s not all bad, the Historic Districts Council said. If passed, three of the bills would empower LPC to intercede in cases where unused Department of Buildings permits are still active on landmark buildings and require better monitoring of construction near landmarked buildings — both bills supported by the Historic Districts Council. But other bills, which address the timeline for designation, mandate a publicly accessible online database of requests for evaluation and allow for replacement materials on landmark buildings to be those present at time of designation, have caused some discontent within the preservationist community. “If these bills are adopted in tandem as written, they would risk overwhelming the LPC’s scant resources and could result in thousands of potential buildings in dozens of historic districts being rejected,” Bankoff said in an email blast to members of the Historic Districts Council yesterday. He argued that the success of the bills “would result in thousands of buildings being permanently prevented from becoming landmarks based on a mandated schedule rather than merit.” A spokesperson for the Real Estate Board of New York, which supports a selection of the bills, argued that the proposals, including one which mandates the City Planning Commission to analyze the potential economic impact of designation on the development potential of proposed landmarks, are necessary in order to prevent the LPC from becoming a tool for preservationists in regards to planning. Preservationists are inclined to use the bill to prevent new development in prized areas, he said, as opposed to protecting existing beauty or history. “The landmarks laws are in place to protect cultural heritage, but we’ve been seeing [the landmarking] of properties of questionable merit,” said Michael Slattery, a senior vice president at REBNY, referencing the recent designation of an “unexceptional” gas station at West Houston and Lafayette streets. “[The laws] are being exploited by the preservationist community. It seems clear to us that planning agendas have been directing [the activities of Landmarks.]” In a statement issued earlier this month to the New York Post, Landmarks spokesperson Elisabeth de Bourbon defended the move to designate the gas station: “As the gateway to Soho, West Houston Street was determined to be so critical to its character that the vacant lots there… ought to be under [LPC's] purview,” she said. The replacement materials bill proposes revoking an LPC requirement stipulating that building owners making changes to their properties use historically appropriate materials even when those materials were not in place at the time the owner purchased the building. It has been particular contentious, sources said. Preservationists argue it undermines the basic benefit of LPC oversight in helping to gradually return areas to their historic condition, while building owners and some members of REBNY contend that the provision currently in place makes it too costly for owners to renovate or alter their properties. While De Bourbon declined to comment on the bills pre-hearing, she said the commission would discuss the merits of the legislation at tomorrow’s event. Meanwhile, City Council member Leroy Comrie, who chairs the Council’s land use committee, did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
 
%PM, %02 %558 %2012 %12:%May

Penney shines image with Lafayette lease

Last Updated: 12:24 PM, May 2, 2012 Posted: 11:50 PM, May 1, 2012   Lois Weiss BETWEEN THE BRICKS: EXCLUSIVE JCPenney just got a fair and square deal of its own with a lease for all 130,000 square feet of 200 Lafayette St. at Broome Street. The move is designed to attract a hip workforce and continue the corporate culture shake-up under relatively new CEO and former Apple executive Ron Johnson. “They will build out a spectacular rooftop deck,” said our SoHo spy. The fate of the 11,500-square-foot retail space being marketed by Susan Kurland of CBRE is still under discussion. A CapitalOne branch is in the building, which is otherwise vacant and being renovated. Kurland did not return calls for comment, although she worked on the office deal along with leasing agents David Falk, Jason Greenstein and Daniel Levine of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, who also declined comment through a spokeswoman. The SoHo building was snapped up by Jared Kushner and CIM Group in January for $50 million from John Zaccaro, who was the husband of the late vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. Marketing brochures say the new owners are doling out $30 million more to upgrade every corner of the seven-story building and its numerous arched windows. Kushner and CIM did not return calls for comment, and JCP declined comment via e-mail. While others saw residential condos, Kushner, from his experience with the nearby Puck Building, had an eye on renovating the loft building and renting updated offices to the techies being drawn to Midtown South. Indeed, Falk, who spoke at Bisnow’s Silicon Alley Real Estate Summit yesterday without revealing the tenant, said they were conducting about seven space tours a week before a lease went out for the entire building. Sources said the fully signed 15-year lease took just 45 days to complete and had an asking rent of about $68 a square foot. The net effective rent will be less as Penney will be responsible for all expenses, including property taxes that are running now at about $280,000 a year. Among the companies that kicked the sandy-colored bricks were Restoration Hardware, Facebook, Armani and ad agency Droga5, which has 23,000 square feet at 400 Lafayette St. and is growing rapidly. Penney was headquartered in New York from 1914 until they fled to Dallas in 1987, and sold their 1.5 million square-foot tower at 1301 Sixth Ave. Go to New York Post  
%PM, %23 %711 %2012 %16:%Apr

Best-Kept Homes

Taking Guardianship of a Historic Home

By Iyna Bort Caruso for Sotheby's International Realty Entering a home from a bygone era is like crossing a threshold in time. “Historic residences are profound works of both art and craft,” says Katherine Malone-France, director of outreach, education and support at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. “They tell us a lot about ourselves, what people liked, what was important to them and how their lives were structured.” Across the board and around the globe, buyers have long been drawn to the pleasures of owning a moment in time. Not every older home can measure up. Only those deemed to have historical, cultural or aesthetic value are eligible for special designation. That “value” can be based on architecture, of course, but it can also be tied to an event associated with the home or to an individual who once lived there. More than anything, owners of historic homes buy for love. Love of the artisanship, architectural details and even the quirks. Still, it’s a smart investment. A landmark plaque on a residence increases property value. It assures buyers the qualities that attracted them to the home in the first place will endure over time. What’s more, “historic homes are incredibly sturdy and solidly built,” says Malone-France. “They have so many more hand-driven fasteners, they contain woods that are no longer available to us but were specifically selected because of their strength and properties for different elements, whether as rafters or floor joists. They were built to breath, to adapt, to last.” Yes, there are some unconventional layouts in older homes and, yes, owners must follow certain prescribed guidelines when making changes or improvements. That comes with the territory. Preservation guidelines are intended to safeguard character-defining elements and protect against inappropriate alterations. Owners are tasked with keeping the structure in good repair and obtaining prior approval before performing work. Based on the governing body, the guidelines can be as specific as the choice of paint colors and the selection of foliage. Would-be buyers are sometimes intimidated by the prospect, feeling they may be required to spend exorbitantly on the maintenance of a landmarked home. Not so, says Malone-France. “The best preservation work is often the most economical. You basically strengthen the places that need to be strengthened and make sure the exterior envelope is solid. It doesn’t have to be a tremendously expensive or invasive process.” Historical preservation organizations are a good source for architect, contractor and artisan referrals. Eran Chen is the founder and creative director of ODA–Architecture in New York, a firm with an extensive portfolio of historic projects. He considers the city’s preservation commission a partner in the design. The firm worked on a Union Square condominium building discovered to have been designed for Tiffany & Company in the late 19th century. Encased—and forgotten—behind brick walls were beautiful cast-iron arches. That finding “changed everything” about the development of the project, Chen says. “There’s always a lot of discovery,” he says. “The process is full of surprises. In some old structures, there are really treasures hidden in the walls and in the floors.” There are historic homes and then there are homes located in historic districts like the Gaslamp Quarter in San Diego, Calif., and the French Quarter of New Orleans, La. In New York City alone, there are dozens of historic districts. Louise Beit of Sotheby’s International Realty in New York frequently handles properties with landmark designation. The homes are typically located on gracious, tree-lined streets. Many were designed by prominent architects of the 1920s. “They are a fabulous investment,” Beit says. “They go up in value exponentially.” While buyers don’t necessarily seek out landmarked properties, she says they consider it a bonus when a home they love happens to be designated as one. It means that a governing entity, in this case the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, is looking out for the property’s—and neighborhood’s—best long-term interests. “Buyers can be assured the residence will always be saleable and in excellent architectural and aesthetic taste.” Most countries have programs intended to protect buildings of architectural or historic distinction. Like the U.S., homes of exceptional interest in Mexico, for instance, have registries at the federal, state and local municipal levels. Residences in historic districts such as Mexico City’s downtown Zócalo neighborhood, San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mérida and Querétaro are in especially high demand, says Graciela Zamudio Conde of Guadalajara Sotheby’s International Realty in Mexico. Read more... http://online.wsj.com/ad/article/sir-insights?WC=HPInsThumb  
Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times
Derrick Taitt and his neighbors tried to save the graffiti-covered building at 58 East 126th Street.
By
Published: April 15, 2012
Gentrification, or at the very least prettification, has reshaped block after block in Harlem, but it has not fully arrived at East 126th Street between Madison and Park Avenues.
There, handsome rows of century-and-a-half-old brownstones line the north and south sides of the street, just as they do one block west, on a pristine tree-lined stretch where homeowners keep polished doorknobs and spotless front stoops. But along East 126th Street, vacant buildings are interspersed among the inhabited ones. Their windows are boarded up or bricked over with cinder blocks. Chicken wire encircles a couple of the front stoops. One brownstone is fronted by ribbons of razor wire, though neighbors said people still lived there legally, they just went in through the back. In the middle of the block, on the south side, sits No. 58, scrawled over with graffiti, stricken with a caving roof and collapsing floors, and deemed structurally unsound. The building is slated for demolition this month by the city, despite a nearby resident’s efforts to buy it and neighbors’ laments that the seamless row of houses will be punched through with a gap-tooth hole. “Historical buildings should be saved,” said Michael Henry Adams, an architectural historian and the author of “Harlem: Lost and Found.” “If a property is more valuable with its historic resources intact,” he said, “why would you let it get to a state where the only recourse is to demolish it?” No. 58 has not been designated a city landmark, but, according to Mr. Adams, it has the potential to be, sitting on a brownstone block comparable to others with historical designations. It is also about a block and half from the former home of the poet Langston Hughes, 20 East 127th Street, which is a city landmark. Despite a strong overall community sentiment that city money should go to restoring such buildings before they degenerate and become structurally dangerous, the city says it is not in the business of rescuing unsound, privately owned buildings. “It’s always the private property owner’s responsibility to maintain the property,” said Eric Bederman, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which is overseeing the demolition. “It is a critical part of what being a responsible owner is about.” Property records show a troubled financial history for No. 58, which, according to Mr. Adams, was most likely built in the late 1860s for upper middle class whites. It was advertised for a sheriff’s sale in 1970, acquired by the city in 1980 through a tax foreclosure, sold at public auction two years later, and in 2006, was bought for $950,000 by a corporation called Parade Place LLC, of Brooklyn. Messages left with Saadia Shapiro, who is listed in public records as the corporation’s managing member, were not returned. One neighbor, Derrick Taitt, who owns a brownstone on the north side of the street, said that No. 58 had sat empty for over two decades. In recent years, neighbors began calling the city’s 311 line as conditions deteriorated. Debris was falling. The roof was collapsing. Squatters were sneaking in and out of a large hole in the street level wall. “It’s gotten worse in the last eight or nine months; street dwellers have been coming in,” said Michael Peterson, 44, who lives with his family in the top floor of No. 56, next door. “All of us collectively have been complaining.” The brownstone on the other side of Mr. Peterson’s building is also vacant, which is troubling to him and his neighbors. No. 52-54, a double-wide, has long been a gathering point for vagrants, drug users and prostitutes, Mr. Peterson said. He and other neighbors recently bought supplies from a hardware shop and hammered together a wooden barrier with nails sticking out of the top to block the basement stairwell. They also lined the front fence with chicken wire. “Prior to the sealing, it was really bad,” he said. “But we shouldn’t have to do that.” (According to property records, the building is owned by the William M. James Housing Development Fund Corp. Reached by phone, Mr. James, who is 96 and a former minister at Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church, across the street, said that there were plans to convert the building into a seniors’ center). But though the buildings on either side have vexed Mr. Peterson, he does not want to see them torn down. “It’s just going to bring in more issues,” he said. Mr. Taitt, who said he was on the board of the Community Association of the East Harlem Triangle, said he had tried repeatedly to contact the owner of No. 58 to make offers on the place, sending certified letters that got no reply. “Another neighbor said, ‘Why don’t we get together and buy it?’ ” Mr. Taitt said. “The owner doesn’t want to talk.” After inspections by the city departments of housing and buildings found further problems at No. 58 — a teetering rear brick wall, more roof cave-ins, a collapsed floor — they issued a declaration to demolish in late March. A spokesman for the housing department said that demolition work would most likely begin in two weeks, and that the property owner would be billed. Neighbors suspect, warily, that after the building is torn down, a bland, boxlike structure will rise in its place: the property owners may build whatever they please, so long as they comply with zoning requirements and the building code. Already, neighbors are girding for the loss. “These buildings have personality,” said E. Wayne Tyree, 70, a poet who lives nearby. “This will change the whole beauty of the thing.”
Jack Begg contributed reporting.
 
A version of this article appeared in print on April 16, 2012, on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: On Block in Harlem, Neighbors’ Push for Restoration Will End in Demolition.
By:Edward Keegan
 
Frank Lloyd Wright’s campus at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla.—the largest single collection of Wright buildings in the world—is just one of a baker’s dozen of new National Historic Landmarks designated earlier this week by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
  Other architecturally significant structures that made the distinguished list include the Romanesque Revival-styleGardner Earl Memorial Chapel and Crematorium in Troy, N.Y., and the Braddock Carnegie Library in Braddock, Penn., which is the oldest intact library funded by Andrew Carnegie.   Two colonial-era projects in Virginia also made the cut. St. Peter’s Parish Church in New Kent County, Va., exemplifiesearly 18th-century brick architecture in the Chesapeake Region. Eyre Hall in Northampton County, Va.—“a rare vernacular architectural ensemble and rural landscape of the Colonial and early Federal periods,” according to the Interior Department’s press release—was landmarked for its historical significance as a “significant physical remnant of Chesapeake society” whose economic and social reliance was based on slavery.   The National Historic Landmark program was established in 1935 and is administered by the National Park Service. “These new listings will join approximately 2,500 other sites in the National Historic Landmark Program,” National Park Service director Jonathan B. Jarvis says. “These places not only showcase our rich and complex history—from prehistoric time right up to the modern era—but they help drive tourism and boost local economies.”   The 13 new National Historic Landmarks Montauk Point Lighthouse (Long Island, N.Y.) Town Hall (New York, N.Y.) Destroyer escort USS Slater (Albany, N.Y.) Gardner Earl Memorial Chapel and Crematorium (Troy, N.Y.) Braddock Carnegie Library (Braddock, Pa.) Fort Apache and Theodore Roosevelt School (Fort Apache, Ariz.) Deer Medicine Rocks (Rosebud County, Mont.) Akima Pinšiwa Awiiki (Fort Wayne, Ind.) St. Peter’s Parish Church (New Kent County, Va.) Eyre Hall (Northampton County, Va.) Meadow Brook Hall (Rochester, Mich.) The campus of Florida Southern College (Lakeland, Fla.) The Carrizo Plain Archeological District (San Luis Obispo County, Calif.)

03/07/2012

 
Contact: Adam Fetcher, (DOI) 202-208-6416 David Barna, (NPS) 202-208-6843 Hampton Tucker, (NPS) 202- 354-2067
  WASHINGTON -- Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced $46.9 million in historic preservation grants to the 50 States, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Territories, and three affiliated Pacific island states. The grants will enable the states to preserve and protect our nation’s historic sites without expending tax dollars. “National Preservation Grants invest revenue from oil and gas development into telling the story of America by enabling the people of each state and territory the opportunity to preserve the places that are unique to their heritage,” Secretary Salazar said. “These grants leverage private investments in historic preservation activities and help spur tourism, create jobs, and build pride in communities across the nation.” The Historic Preservation Fund is supported by revenue from federal oil leases on the Outer Continental Shelf. The National Park Service administers the fund and uses the majority of appropriated funds to distribute matching grants to State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. “Throughout the country, historic preservation fund grants and other federal historic preservation programs help sustain and revitalize communities,” Director of the National Park Service Jonathan B. Jarvis said. “Historic preservation promotes heritage tourism and can transform under-utilized and often-vacant historic buildings into revenue-generators for local economies. The National Park Service is honored to be invited into so many communities and is proud to assist in saving and sharing history.” States officials use the grants to fund preservation projects, such as survey and inventory, National Register nominations, preservation education, architectural planning, historic structure reports, community preservation plans, and bricks-and-mortar repair to buildings. Grants and programs funded by the HPF encourage private and nonfederal investment in historic preservation efforts nationwide. Recent achievements of the HPF can be found in its annual report at http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/hpg/downloads/2011_HPF_Report.pdf For more information on the Historic Preservation Fund, please visit: http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/hpg/index.htm Amounts made available to each jurisdiction are listed below.

FISCAL YEAR 2012 HISTORIC PRESERVATION FUND APPORTIONMENT TO STATES Under Public Law 112-74

ALABAMA $822,991   MONTANA $785,522
ALASKA $1,012,985   NEBRASKA $785,932
AMERICAN SAMOA $396,261   NEVADA $746,194
ARIZONA  $857,460   NEW HAMPSHIRE $620,598
ARKANSAS $753,650   NEW JERSEY $924,707
CALIFORNIA $1,494,229   NEW MEXICO $788,226
COLORADO $885,222   NEW YORK $1,361,060
CONNECTICUT $735,325   NORTH CAROLINA $926,187
DELAWARE $528,258   NORTH DAKOTA $681,157
DIST. OF COLUMBIA $525,361   CNMI $410,831
FLORIDA $1,031,826   OHIO $1,105,786
FSM $412,161   OKLAHOMA $830,447
GEORGIA $911,695   OREGON $865,309
GUAM $409,123   PALAU $238,866
HAWAII $574,945   PENNSYLVANIA $1,180,736
IDAHO $732,243   PUERTO RICO $645,071
ILLINOIS $1,143,960   RHODE ISLAND $578,929
INDIANA $916,252   SOUTH CAROLINA $760,507
IOWA $847,320   SOUTH DAKOTA $704,651
KANSAS $840,849   TENNESSEE $850,118
KENTUCKY $814,083   TEXAS $1,334,882
LOUISIANA $828,743   UTAH $772,697
MAINE $709,070   VERMONT $574,034
MARSHALLS $238,866   VIRGINIA $895,405
MARYLAND $797,793   VIRGIN ISLANDS $415,115
MASSACHUSETTS $917,262   WASHINGTON $923,154
MICHIGAN $1,113,476   WEST VIRGINIA $706,619
MINNESOTA $942,010   WISCONSIN $950,369
MISSISSIPPI $744,073   WYOMING $688,885
MISSOURI $935,314       
      TOTAL $46,924,800
%PM, %29 %706 %2012 %15:%Mar

Market Nears A Landmark .

By LANA BORTOLOT

Whole Foods Market Inc. faces a series of City Council votes starting next week to win final approval for construction of a 52,000-square-foot supermarket next to a 140-year-old landmark in Gowanus, Brooklyn.
Eric Haugesag for The Wall Street JournalThe Coignet building today next to the planned Whole Foods grocery site
The new store is planned to wrap around two sides of the vacant Coignet building, the city's earliest known concrete building, at the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street. After expected council approvals, the grocery chain would be allowed within five feet of the old building and wants to have its first Brooklyn store open in 2013. Built in 1872 for the New York & Long Island Coignet Stone Co., the 2½-story building is the sole survivor of a five-acre industrial park built along the Gowanus Canal in the early 1870s. The elegant Italianite mansion provided office space for Coignet and subsequent companies, including its longest-running tenant, the Brooklyn Improvement Co., from which Coignet leased the land for its stone works. "It's a lonely little building," said Jennifer Gardner, a researcher at the Gowanus Institute, a local think tank. "To some degree, the plans for that site will limit the opportunity for the [Coignet] building, but also provides a potential draw for people to see it and appreciate it in a different way." The building received city landmark status in 2006. Two City Council panels overseeing landmarks and planning will vote next week on whether to reduce the Coignet building's lot size to about 1,720 square feet from 6,250 square feet, a measure that's already been passed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. If approved, a full City Council vote on the measure is slated for April 18. Some residents and preservationists still fear the landmark building will lose its prominence as it is enveloped by the store,
Marlene Donnelly, Friends & Residents of Greater GowanusAn undated rendering of the Coignet building in Gowanus
"It's strange to be shrinking a landmark site; it allows any site to be looked at as a development," said Nadezhda Williams of the Historic Districts Council, a preservation organization lobbying for rejection of the variance. "We need something more sympathetic, that doesn't take away its prominence." Ms. Williams and others point to the Fairway supermarket in Red Hook—which integrated unlandmarked Civil War-era warehouses into its design—as a model for treatment of the Coignet. The Brooklyn Navy Yard faces a related issue with its recent acquisition of Admiral's Row, which abuts the parcel designated for a 74,000-square-foot supermarket. Whole Foods doesn't own the Coignet building, but the food retailer plans to "give it a facelift" approved by the landmarks commission, said company spokesman Michael Sinatra. The grocer has no plans to rehab the interior or to use the historic building, whose owner, Richard Kowalski, couldn't be reached. Designed by William Field & Son, the curious building was a showcase for Beton Coignet, a new concrete developed in France by François Coignet in the 1850s. The Brooklyn mansion was built of the very material it championed and displayed various architectural features and ornament cast from molds, showing that concrete could replicate the stone-and-chisel method of old. "It was definitely an advertisement [for the company]. They put it on the most visible position on the lot," said Matthew Postal, a landmarks commission researcher who studied the Coignet building, "This is a building that was testing a new technology; it would be an engineering landmark." Noteworthy commissions using the new building material included portions of St. Patrick's Cathedral, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cleft Ridge Span in Prospect Park, the oldest such arch in the country. Coignet also supplied concrete for new residential developments, simultaneously rising to prominence with the Brooklyn Improvement Co., founded by Edwin Clark Litchfield. Indeed, the Coignet stone works was the impetus for Mr. Litchfield to reactivate the Gowanus creek as a working waterway for transport of raw and finished materials. "It was a fully integrated site. One can only imagine the scale of that operation when it was fully activated," said Gregory Dietrich, a preservation consultant who is surveying the site for possible inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Despite its successes, the Coignet company filed for bankruptcy in 1873 and the factory closed in 1882. The Coignet building housed the offices of Mr. Litchfield's company until 1957 and a variety of tenants until its final occupants left in the mid-1970s. "It's quite lovely and by any objective standards it represents an important architectural element in the Gowanus corridor that resonates with neighbors," said Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board Six, which includes Gowanus and which has supported the new Whole Foods store. "It is so highly distinctive I could see it easily being a museum—it has such an interesting story," Mr. Dietrich said. "It's a diamond in the rough." A version of this article appeared March 29, 2012, on page A24 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Market Nears A Landmark.

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