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Time Is Running Out for Brooklyn Heights' Iconic Watchtower Sign

By Amy Zimmer | June 30, 2017 2:35pm | Updated on July 3, 2017 7:21am
 After nearly 50 years atop the Jehovah's Witness building, the sign is coming down under new owners.
After nearly 50 years atop the Jehovah's Witness building, the sign is coming down under new owners.
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Flickr/Leo Newball, Jr.

BROOKLYN — The days are numbered for the skyline’s iconic Watchtower sign, where 15-foot-tall red letters have glowed with the time and temperature near the Brooklyn Bridge for nearly 50 years.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses earlier this month filed a permit application to remove the sign from the roof of 25-30 Columbia Heights, the organization’s world headquarters it sold for $340 million to Kushner Companies, CIM Group and LIVWRK Holdings, the Real Deal reported.

Removing the letters from the sign’s lattice framework — which is expected to remain in place —  will cost an estimated $70,500, Department of Buildings filings show.

A sign had initially been installed on the building decades before by the building’s previous owners, the pharmaceutical giant E.R. Squibb & Sons, and when the Jehovah’s Witnesses bought it in 1969, they changed it to its present form. In 2009, the religious organization upgraded from inefficient neon tubes with LEDs, which saved $4,000 a year in maintenance costs, according to the organization’s website.

The Watchtower sign may not inspire the same kind of devotion as the Kentile Floors sign that was a local Gowanus landmark for decades before being removed in 2014 — and whose letters are expected to be given a new life in a park under the elevated F/G tracks on 10th Street and Third Avenue. But many Brooklynites found it useful.

One woman, in an audio clip posted on the Jehovah’s Witness website, said, “It’s nice to look out the window to see the time and temperature before I go to work. It keeps me on time and helps me dress for the weather.”

The religious group plans to save the letters, but it's unclear what's next for them.

According to a statement from the Jehovah's Witnesses, "We will carefully remove and store the letters, which have historical significance to our organization."

The new owners — called Columbia Heights Associates — declined to comment on what might replace the sign.

When the development team unveiled plans in May to transform the building into a complex, called “Panorama” — with 635,000 square feet of office space and 35,000 square feet of space for retail and cultural programming — its renderings included a sign on the roof, though not with the Watchtower’s letters, DNAinfo previously reported.

Columbia Heights Associates is also currently developing the parking lot it bought from the Jehovah's Witnesses at 85 Jay St. for $345 million, which has 1 million square feet of development rights.

Five other former Jehovah’s Witness buildings are owned by Kushner, RFR Realty and LIVWRK. They have become part of the “high tech urban campus” in DUMBO, where companies like Etsy and WeWork also operate.  

As the Jehovah’s Witnesses group relocates its headquarters upstate to Warwick, the group is selling its last two Brooklyn properties.

It is hoping to find a buyer for 1 York St., in Dumbo, which is the organization’s last site that has potential for big development. The parcel, which sits next to the Brooklyn Bridge and is presently used as a parking lot, is zoned for a 250,000 square foot building.

It is also selling “The Towers,” at 21 Clark St., an architectural gem in the landmarked district of Brooklyn Heights. Built in 1927 as the Leverich Towers Hotel, the 16-story 314,000 square foot building was renovated by the religious organization when it bought the building in 1975 and turned it into 295 apartments.