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Austin Nichols Warehouse: City Council Fails Preservation Test

austin nichols building

By a vote of 37-8, with two abstentions, the City Council overturned the landmark designation of the Austin, Nichols & Co. warehouse on the Williamsburg waterfront. The monumental Cass Gilbert-designed building will now be subject to inappropriate modifications that will spoil its unique façade and detract from the neighborhood’s character—ironically, one of the factors that make the building desirable to live in.

The heroes of preservation who voted to uphold the landmark designation were Tony Avella, Charles Barron, Letitia James, Al Vann, Bill Perkins, Margarita Lopez, Allan Jennings and Michael McMahon. Vinny Gentile and Gale Brewer also supported the building by abstaining from the vote. Mayor Bloomberg deserves thanks for vetoing the first effort to strip the designation.

Back in September, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to designate the building a landmark, and the community and civic organizations united to save it. While the local community and city government supported recognizing the building for what it is — a landmark — the local councilmember, David Yassky, and the developer who owns the building opposed it.

This building was the commission’s first designation in Williamsburg since that neighborhood, along with Greenpoint, was rezoned. The building was identified as landmark-eligible in the Environmental Impact Statement for the rezoning, a document that was approved by the City Council.

With the impending influx of development in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, these neighborhoods will soon be dramatically altered. However, designation of the Austin Nichols building would not in any way impede development of the waterfront in Williamsburg, nor prevent any other developments from occurring. It simply would ensure that while we redevelop, we also keep some of the character, history and sense of place of these neighborhoods.

Constructed from 1913-15, the Austin Nichols warehouse was designed by Cass Gilbert, who is most often noted for his Gothic-style Woolworth Building and U.S. Custom House, both in Lower Manhattan. The massive warehouse, located at 184 Kent Avenue between N. 3rd and 4th streets in Williamsburg, displays Egyptian Revival motifs as well as other interesting design features. It was built for Austin, Nichols & Co., the largest grocery wholesaler of its time.