November 2017
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MAS Conducts Survey of Gowanus Canal Historic Resources

In light of the City’s plan to rezone 25 blocks of the Gowanus Canal corridor, MAS is conducting an investigation of the area’s historic resources, including the canal itself. See slideshow below. Although the Gowanus Canal is sometimes better known for the pollutants from decades of heavy manufacturing and industrial use which earned it the nickname “Lavender Lake,” the canal should also be considered a historic industrial landscape. In fact, the waterway has been officially recognized as eligible for inclusion on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.  MAS recently completed a historic resources survey of the Gowanus Canal rezoning area, and will expand the study to include the other blocks along the canal and adjacent to the rezoning area that may be affected by the rezoning.

MAS believes that the City’s current rezoning plan — which introduces MX zoning for a mix of uses, including residential — should be improved to promote the most sustainable development for the area. Historic preservation inherently plays a key role in green development, and in Gowanus, the preservation of the area’s existing buildings could help to protect industry, existing affordable housing, and the historic character of the area. The textured, industrial landscape found along the water’s edge is the result of more than a century of evolving manufacturing and commercial use. This unique environment includes historic elements ranging from the industrial buildings situated along the waterway, to the residential blocks that surround it, and the bridges that cross it.

The survey team found many magnificent industrial buildings — several intact residential streetscapes, and a cache of low-rise garage and manufacturing buildings — all of which contribute to the unique character of the area, and may be impacted by the rezoning. Many of the most significant buildings, like the former BRT Powerstation from 1902, and the ASPCA building from 1913, are located just outside of the rezoning area. However, MAS is concerned that the planned MX rezoning will negatively impact these remaining vestiges of Brooklyn’s industrial heritage.

In addition to the buildings that may be negatively impacted, there are several notable historic features, like the bridges and the large-scale commercial signage found within and around the rezoning area that may also be vulnerable. The locally landmarked Carroll Street Bridge, located immediately adjacent to a proposed Toll Brothers residential development, dates from 1888-9 and is the oldest “retractile” bridge in the country. The iconic Kentile Floor and Eagle Clothes signs, perched high above the surrounding rooflines, speak to the rich manufacturing history along the canal, though their namesake businesses are long gone. Finally, it is important to note that the Gowanus Canal itself has been repeatedly identified over the years as a significant historic resource, eligible for the National Register.

The proposed MX zoning, which favors residential uses, will surely bring new development in and around the rezoning area that may negatively impact the historic character of the waterfront. It is our hope that in planning for the future development of the area, every effort is made to protect what remains of Brooklyn’s rapidly disappearing industrial heritage, before it is lost forever.