GOWANUS — A beloved piece of the Brooklyn skyline is about to disappear.
The Eagle Clothes sign that's loomed over the corner of Third Avenue and Sixth Street for more than half a century will be torn down this week, said a representative of U-Haul, which owns the building on which the iconic sign sits.
The massive rooftop marquee, which is visible from the Gowanus Expressway and the elevated F train tracks, is being dismantled because U-Haul is adding two floors to the building, said project manager David Pollock. U-Haul rents trucks and runs a self-storage facility there. The success of the business has forced U-Haul to expand, Pollock said.
U-Haul had originally hoped to preserve the vintage sign, but that plan didn't work out for several reasons, Pollock said. Installing the sign on top of two additional floors would make the entire structure too tall for city height limits, Pollock said.
Also, the sign would have been impossible to restore properly because many of its parts, especially the neon sections that once lit up the Gowanus sky, don't exist anymore.
But U-Haul will keep the sign's pieces and incorporate some of them into the expanded building as a nod to the neighborhood's bygone days, Pollock said. He also plans to work with U-Haul's art department to put other imagery on the renovated building that will reference its surroundings.
Pollock, who works out of U-Haul's headquarters in Phoenix, Ariz., said he was immediately struck by the sign's faded beauty when he first saw it from the highway on a visit to Brooklyn several years ago.
"My first reaction was, what a piece of art," Pollock said. "The size, the proportion — someone really spent some time putting this together. That's why I'll do everything in my power to make sure we maintain the past and incorporate parts of the sign into the building."
Pollock began researching the sign's history in 2010, and tried in vain to track down members of the family that once owned Eagle Clothes to discuss the sign's future. Pollock said he also worked with the city to find community members or local groups to weigh in, but no one stepped forward. The sign is not landmarked.
The red and green Eagle Clothes sign, a favorite of photographers and neighborhood history buffs, is a vestige of Gowanus' manufacturing past. Eagle Clothes opened its then state-of-the-art Sixth Street factory in 1951, according to Jeremiah's Vanishing New York.
The company manufactured men's suits that were once modeled by 1950's Hollywood heartthrob Rock Hudson, but fell on hard times as fashions changed, according to Jeremiah's Vanishing New York. Eagle Clothes filed for bankruptcy in 1989. U-Haul acquired the building sometime around the 1980s, Pollock said.
U-Haul prides itself on reusing and restoring older buildings, Pollock said. He noted that the company's facility in Flushing, Queens is in a building with a historic clocktower that U-Haul restored. "We do a lot of reuse and redevelopment," Pollock said. "We're very cautious in making sure we're not disrupting the neighborhood...We're doing our job if we can maintain history."
By Tuesday afternoon, the bottom halves of the sign's E, A and G were gone. It will take about a week to dismantle the Eagle Clothes sign, and U-Haul expects to complete the building addition by spring 2014.