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Historic ASPCA Headquarters Sells to Developer Planning 'Unique Retail'

 A Manhattan developer paid $9.5 million cash for 233 Butler St. in Gowanus, once the headquarters of the ASPCA.
A Manhattan developer paid $9.5 million cash for 233 Butler St. in Gowanus, once the headquarters of the ASPCA.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

GOWANUS — A Manhattan developer ponied up $9.5 million in cash to buy a historic Butler Street building and plans to transform it into a "unique retail concept," real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield announced Tuesday.

The 104-year-old building at 233 Butler St., between Nevins and Bond streets, was the headquarters of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York from 1913 to 1979. A horse trough (now filled in with cement) still stands in front of the building and a bas-relief sculpture over the front door shows an angel helping abused horses.

Cushman & Wakefield declined to name the buyer, but public records show it's MacArthur Holdings, which owns the Beacon Hotel and Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side and many other properties citywide.

The Butler Street building is in a manufacturing zone where commercial use is allowed, and it was until recently the home of two pipe organ businesses (one did tuning and repair, one built organs). Part of the building is still occupied by Retrofret Vintage Guitars, which will stay in the building under an agreement with the new owners, Retrofret owner Steve Uhrik said.

Uhrik and childhood pal Larry Trupiano, who owned one of the pipe organ businesses in the building, bought 233 Butler St. together in the mid 1980s.

Drug dealers and prostitutes provided most of the foot traffic on the block then, an out-of-the-way stretch that overlooks the head of the Gowanus Canal, Uhrik said. The block was lined with burnt out cars and the building was still brimming with leftover animal hair and fur when they took over the building from the ASPCA, Uhrik said.

John Klauder, who ran a pipe organ tuning business in the building for decades, remembers starting a collection of crack vial caps after his shop first moved to 233 Butler in the 1980s. "They came in so many different colors," he recalled. Drug dealers used to hide their stash behind broken terra cotta tiles on a part of the building that was an ASPCA kennel, he said.

In 2014 a street artist paid homage to the building's animal-oriented past by installing a large sculpture of a wolf on the sidewalk. The sculpture was stolen after only a few weeks.

Klauder moved his business to the Bronx a few months ago, and Trupiano's pipe organ building shop has left too, but Uhrik's Retrofret Vintage Guitars is still inside 233 Butler St. The shop sells and restores rare antique instruments and counts guitarists such as Jack White, Dan Zanes and Bill Kerchin among its regulars.

Uhrik said the new owner's plans for 233 Butler are still "nebulous," but that the developer isn't planning to knock down the building. Another developer intends to build a 162-room hotel next door at 255 Butler St.

The building sale comes as the city is considering a rezoning in Gowanus that could open up the largely industrial neighborhood to more residential development.

"I saw it as good timing to have someone come in who would have the equity and wherewithal to develop the property to its full potential," Uhrik said.

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