THE BLOG
02/12/2012 04:42 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

Razed and Confused: The Chilly Fate of the National Cold Storage Warehouse

If the developer who converted the Eagle Warehouse to residential use was, perhaps, immune to its historic charms, his was a benign indifference that nonetheless bequeathed the building to the future.

And, while he may have been compelled to do so by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and a host of other governmental agencies, the end result was the survival of a jewel of late Victorian commercial architecture.

It is somewhat surprising, therefore -- even shocking -- that a building of similar vintage just a few hundred yards away was recently pulled down and erased from the public domain without ceremony.

The National Cold Storage Warehouse, an interconnected series of brick and concrete buildings on Furman Street built between the last quarter of the 19th century and first quarter of the 20th, had been abandoned for decades when the admirable Brooklyn Bridge Park was built at its feet. Occupying a desolate stretch of long dormant waterfront once controlled by the New York Dock Company, this wonderful park at the base of Old Fulton Street looks out onto an extraordinary panorama stretching from New York Harbor to the Manhattan Bridge and beyond.

A questionable requirement of the park charter, perhaps understandable given the finances of the city during this recession, is financial autonomy to be subsidized by the construction of housing and a large hotel.

What is surprising is that the adaptation of this fine, old warehouse to this purpose does not appear to have been seriously considered (although the building's massive wooden timbers made of extinct long-leaf pine were salvaged as material for the park benches). Instead, this rambling, quirky, monumental brick structure was razed in a matter of days and, with it, well over a century of embedded history.

A series of conceptual designs for a new hotel were solicited, all by accomplished architects and developers. The purpose of this piece is not to critique these designs, all of them competent and professional, but rather to ponder why it seemed to occur to no one in a position of influence that this lovely and historically significant warehouse might have made one of the most charismatic hotel and loft buildings in New York City.

Here was an ideal opportunity to focus the economic motivations and resources of the present day on the preservation and adaptation of a relic of the once-vigorous Brooklyn riverscape.

Instead of the cold, cool foreground buildings presented, not one of which seems to owe anything to the rich and storied context of the Brooklyn waterfront, we might have had an entirely unique building infused with historic relevance, texture, and presence.

What a story that would have made and what a credit to the park, the officials and designers who conceived it, and the city itself.

I am not suggesting that it would have been inexpensive, easy or expedient in any way. I am simply stating that it would have been magical and an example of enlightened governance for generations.

If we succumb always to the drumbeat of progress, we so easily silence the music of romance.

With gratitude for the images provided by Erik Lieber, Carl Bellavia, and Frank Jump; all true friends of Brooklyn.

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