July 16, 2008

Sayonara Kent Avenue Powerhouse

Photo: Brownstoner.

Brownstoner has the latest pictures of the demolition of the BRT power house at 500 Kent Avenue. The building above doesn't look much from this side, but from the water side, it matches the Beaux Arts details of the main section of the building (which is still mostly intact).

As Brownstoner points out, Con Ed still has not said why they are demolishing the building or what the future plans for the site are. They continue their shortsighted race to demolish a building with no idea if it even can be reused.

August 21, 2008

Environmental Concerns Raised About Brooklyn Con Ed Plant

Councilmember Eric Gioia raises concerns about Con Ed's hasty demolition of the former BRT Power Plant at Kent and Division. (Where is our Councilmember on this issue?)

If its any consolation, WGPA has reviewed a host of environmental records for this property, and none of them mention asbestos "baked into the walls", as Con Ed has claimed. There was asbestos associated with piping and machinery, all of which could have been removed without taking a brick off the building. And there was lead paint in the building (as there is in every 100-year-old building), which also could have been removed without lifting a wrecking bar.

If you want to talk about environmental issues, look to the empty lot immediately south of 500 Kent. That lot is home to a former Brooklyn Union Gas manufactured gas plant.

Curbed has more here.

September 2, 2008

Another Power House

Ainslie Street Station of the Municipal Electric Light Company (ca. 1889).
Photo: PropertyShark

For the past few months, WPA (and everyone else) has been focused on Con Ed's demolition of the former Brooklyn Rapid Transit power station at Kent and Division. Just in the past few weeks we have learned that Con Ed's definition of sustainability includes green roofs, but does not include recycling buildings. We also learned that Con Ed does not want to be forthcoming with the details on its environmental remediation.

It turns out that the old BRT plant is not the only legacy power plant in Williamsburg that Con Ed owns. Far less grand - but potentially of even greater historic significance - is the the former Ainslie Street Station of the Municipal Electric Light Company of Brooklyn. This building - now scaffolded and possibly being prepped for demolition (though the only permit on BIS is for pointing and masonry repairs) - sits astride the BQE at the corner of Rodney and Ainslie.

308 Penn Street
Photo: PropertyShark

Municipal Electric was formed in 1884 to electrify Williamsburg and provide street lighting. The company constructed three power plants in the area - Ainslie Street, 308 Penn Street (right) and South 5th Street near Bedford. The Bedford plant was demolished at the turn of the 20th century as part of the construction of the Williamsburg Bridge. The Penn Street building and the Ainslie building both survive. What sets Ainslie Street apart, though, is the fact that was designed as a power station, not like the typical commercial building of the day (as Penn Street was).

Based on preliminary research, the Ainslie Street station was constructed in 1889. It is certainly one of the oldest, if not the oldest, purpose built electrical generating station in Brooklyn (and the city overall). WPA has requested that the Landmarks Preservation Commission review this building for designation as an individual New York City landmark. Earlier this year, LPC refused to consider the BRT plant for designation; we can only hope that Ainslie Street is different.

February 9, 2009

Building Brooklyn

Every year, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce sponsors a Building Brooklyn Award for the best architecture of the borough. And every year, Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsnburg come up short. Since the nominations are due on Thursday, we'd thought we'd throw out a few of the projects that we think are award worthy (and a few that are clearly not worthy).

First, their rules. To be eligible, a project must be completed and have received a CO or TCO in calendar 2008. Now our rules. We're looking at projects in North Brooklyn only. The BB categories are a little bit wacky (do we really need two categories for residential buildings under 5 families - that's so 20th-century Brooklyn?). So we've added a few of our own.

1. Adaptive Use and Historic Preservation

Photo: Brownstoner

The Mill Building (85 - 101 North 3rd Street)
Fifield Piaker Elman Architects

A luxury loft in Williamsburg that is actually a loft. Not everything here is to the highest preservation standards, but the conversion of this former factory at North 3rd and Wythe has celebrated the historic architecture and the history of the neighborhood. And it looks great.

The building itself was constructed for the Hinds & Ketcham lithography company in two parts. The mid-block portion was completed before 1898, the corner piece (directly across from Relish) after 1898.

Photo: Brownstoner

Not nominated:
118 Greenpoint Avenue
Scarano Architect

This one was designed to the highest preservation standards - those of the NYC Landmarks Commission - but the results are underwhelming to say the least. None of it rises to the level of the unregulated Mill Building. This project would have passed unnoticed, though, were it not for the cornice, which looks like someone installed a crown molding on the face of a factory.


Special liars award:
Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power Plant
500 Kent Avenue
Con Edison, owner

The building is pretty much gone by now, but less than a year ago it was an intact structure. At that time, local blogger INSIJS did an in-depth article on the fate of the building. Everyone, including workers on site, said the building was coming down. When asked it that was true, a Con Ed spokesperson said that they were only doing some "spring cleaning". Spring cleaning that clearly required removing every brick and sending it very far away to be cleaned.

Landmarks looked at this property in 2007, but refused to hold a hearing to designate. This despite the fact that that the community had identified the building as a significant resource over a decade ago. The State Historic Preservation Office did determine that the building is (or was) eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

As for the future, Con Ed has no plans for the site. Or at least that's what they say.

Have buildings that you think should be included (or excluded) in the BB awards? Email us at wpa [at] wgpa.us.

April 20, 2009

Coal Pockets!

April 12: Masonry demo in progress.

The demolition of the BRT Power Plant on Kent Avenue entered a slow-motion phase a while ago. In the last week or three, they have finally gotten to removing most of the masonry, revealing the coal pockets that were housed in the north portion of the building.

Coal pockets? Indeed. These massive iron bins were used for storing coal to fire the boilers which in turn ran the turbines that provided the power to the BRT system. The coal would have been delivered by barge and hoisted up into the pockets, from whence it was fed by gravity to the boilers below.

If this type of infrastructure turns you on, get on out to the site quick. Once Con Ed figures out how to take these things apart, they will probably disappear pretty quickly.

April 17: View from the Water Taxi at Schaefer Landing.

June 5, 2009

Save the IRT Powerhouse


The BRT powerhouse is pretty much toast by now, but the IRT powerhouse on West 58th Street in Manhattan is slated to go before the Landmarks Commission for a designation hearing in July. The IRT plant was designed by McKim, Mead & White, and has already been heard by LPC twice (first in the 1970s, then in the 1980s) - in both cases, LPC took no action. Its an incredible building (as was the BRT plant) - if you agree, sign the petition.

Eberhard Faber