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East New York Buildings Threatened by Rezoning Could Become Landmarks

 The Empire State Dairy complex at Atlantic and Schenck avenues was calendared for consideration by the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday.
The Empire State Dairy complex at Atlantic and Schenck avenues was calendared for consideration by the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday.
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Preserving East New York

EAST NEW YORK — Two historic buildings threatened with destruction under East New York’s proposed rezoning are one step closer to being protected with landmark status.

The Empire State Dairy complex on Atlantic and Schenck avenues was calendared for consideration by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday.

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to rezone East New York and bring thousands of affordable housing units to the neighborhood, the site which consists of several buildings “could be demolished or substantially altered,” according to the proposal’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

“The LPC has been working hard to find preservation opportunities that compliment the East New York rezoning plan,” LPC researcher Jessica Baldwin said Tuesday, adding that the properties taking up a full block of Atlantic Avenue are two of the “most architecturally and historically significant industrial buildings in the neighborhood.”

One building on the corner of Schenck and Atlantic was built between 1906 and 1907 and designed by architect Theobald Engelhardt in a Renaissance, Romanesque revival style, Baldwin said.

In 1914 and 15, Empire State Dairy expanded with a new four-story building facing Atlantic Avenue, designed by Otto Strack.

The structure features ceramic tile mosaics that are thought to be the largest decorative tile installations from the American Encaustic Tiling Company, according to Baldwin.

The properties were constructed during a time when dairy regulations were changing and technological advancements in health were being made, she added.

“Both of these buildings speak to the history not only of industrial Brooklyn, but the dairy industry,” Baldwin said.

Other buildings on the Empire State Dairy complex were not up for consideration, as they serve more “utilitarian purposes” and don't present the same architectural merit, she added.

The LPC voted in favor of calendaring the properties, with a public hearing planned for an undetermined date in July, according to LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan.

“I think we know that East New York will probably undergo change over time and I think preservation of these buildings is really critical to ensure that the neighborhood has this mix of old and new,” Srinivasan said.

There are four sites located within and immediately adjacent to East New York’s proposed rezoning area that are already landmarked through the LPC or the State/National Registers of Historic Places, according to the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

With landmark status, properties are protected under the New York City Landmarks Law, which requires LPC's review and approval before any alterations or demolition can occur. Sites that have been calendared for consideration also receive measures of protection.

In its East New York study, the city identified 20 properties and one historic district eligible for landmark designation or listing with the State/National Registers of Historic Places, including Empire State Dairy.

Other sites include the Magistrates Court at 135 Pennsylvania Ave. near Liberty Avenue and Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church at 205 Pennsylvania Ave. near Glenmore Avenue.

Zulmilena Then, who grew up in the neighborhood, founded Preserving East New York, a group dedicated to keeping historic buildings in the area.

Then, 29, created the organization in 2015 after hearing about plans to demolish the East New York Savings Bank at 91 Pennsylvania Ave. The building has since been torn down.

“That was the catalyst of this movement and, at the same time, thinking about how the rezoning was going to transform the neighborhood,” she said. “I felt like I couldn’t let my neighborhood disappear.”

The group has been working with the community to identify more than 30 buildings they would like to see landmarked, Then added.

With Tuesday’s decision to calendar Empire State Dairy for designation, she said she’s hopeful that more sites can be saved.

“We see that Landmarks is working to save those buildings that we care for, so we’re very happy with today’s victory.”