Gowanus Canal Landmarking is a Priority

As the Gowanus Dredgers bring hundreds of canoers and spectators to the Gowanus Canal area for the Gowanus Challenge, there is a battle brewing to save the character of the neighborhood.

Gowanus Canal Landmarking is a Priority

Boerum Hill
Carroll Gardens
Cobble Hill
Park Slope
Red Hook

As the Gowanus Dredgers bring hundreds of canoers and spectators to the Gowanus Canal area for the Gowanus Challenge, there is a battle brewing to save the character of the neighborhood.

A group of activists came together recently to hold a press conference at the Union Street Bridge Control Tower to showcase the unique architecture and historical significance that the area contains. Representatives of the Historic Districts Council, Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (FROGG), Park Slope Civic Council, Old Stone House, and Carroll Gardens Coalition for Respectful Development along with a few local residents want landmarks to step in before developers have free reign across the shorelines and side streets of the Gowanus Canal.

"Gowanus is the canal that built Brooklyn, for God's sake," said Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council. "A firestorm of rezoning is coming."

Brad Vogel, a board member of the Gowanus Dredgers, is at the forefront of the movement. Brad represents the Dredgers on the Gowanus Superfund Community Advisory Group (CAG) to be a voice for recreational users and artists of the neighborhood, moving to the Gowanus neighborhood because of the opportunity to canoe on the Gowanus Canal. He presented the list of proposed sites for landmarking and acted as the master of ceremony for the press conference.

“It’s a long list, and we don’t anticipate that every single one of these will be landmarked,” said Vogel. “But we do think more than a mere two or three buildings need to be landmarked in conjunction with the rezoning.”

The Union Street Bridge Control Tower was singled out for the event as discussions are underway to replace the Union Street bridge. It was one of the locations where I met and became friends with the Chicken Man of the Gowanus Canal, bridge tender Leonard Thomas. Back when I would visit him at the Control Tower, there were no groups of tourists or mothers walking their children across the bridge.

Leonard Thomas operates the Union Street Drawbridge over the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY


Over the past couple of years, we have seen two large scale apartment buildings sprout between Third Avenue and the Carroll Street bridge. More will be on the way as rezoning occurs. The current mayor's administration has made it known that they are in favor of development along the canal. The recent turn over of large parcels of land purchased by Two Trees, the developers who changed the fabric of DUMBO, makes the possibilities of a completely different landscape quite possible.

The New York State Preservation Office made the decision in 2014 to not designate the Gowanus Canal area as a state and national historic district, stating the number of letters received from property owners against the idea. But according to Kelly Carroll, Director of Advocacy and Community Outreach for the Historic Districts Council, “There’s a community here that wants landmarking and has wanted it for a long time.”

In December 2017, the Landmarks Preservation Council (LPC) refused to landmark the Gowanus Station, a Beaux-Arts brick industrial building at 234 Butler Street, which was built by the city in 1913 as a pumping station for the canal. Under some of the EPA plans, Gowanus Station would be torn down to build an underground sewage storage tank. If you take the time to look at the building, the details are special.

Gowanus Canal's Gowanus Station building which is in danger of being torn down.


Some of the other sites on the list are even more spectacular. The former Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power Station was purchased by the Powerhouse Environmental Arts Foundation in 2012 with the goal of creating a new arts organization to serve the needs of working artists. Built in 1903, it supplied electricity to the newly consolidated local steam railroad, elevated railroad and street car system. Abandoned in the 1950s, the building becomes known as the “Batcave,” a destination for explorers and graffiti artists, whose work covers its walls. It is not landmarked.

The current Lavender Lake at 383 Carroll Street is a trendy restaurant. Back in the 90s, the building sported a beautiful stable door when it carried the name Two Dans.

The Gowanus Flushing Tunnel Pumping House was completed in 1911 as a method to keep the canal clean. The 12-foot wide flushing tunnel runs from this location to Buttermilk Channel, beneath the streets of Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill. A steampowered propeller circulating the polluted water in the canal with fresh water, but in the 1960s this system broke down and was not repaired until 1999.

Gowanus Canal Flushing Tunnel pumphouse on Baltic Street in Brooklyn


The Gowanus Challenge takes place Saturday, June 9, 2018, from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. It's a great opportunity to see the future of the Gowanus Canal and take the time to look at the architecture and history around the waterway. The course is a 2.5 mile round trip from the Gowanus Dredgers Boathouse at 165 2nd St. to the buoy at mouth of Gowanus Bay and return. First heat will depart 2pm and event should wrap up by 5pm with a Post Race Banquet and Awards Ceremony starting at 4pm.

The full list of proposed sites in Gowanus for NYC Landmark Designation for individual designation presented by the coalition are:

  • Gowanus Flushing Tunnel Pumping House, 209 Douglass Street
  • ASPCA Memorial Building and horse trough, 233 Butler Street
  • Gowanus Station, 234 Butler Street
  • R.G. Dun and Company Building, 239-57 Butler Street/206 Nevins Street
  • Scranton and Lehigh Coal Company, 233 Nevins Street/236 Butler Street
  • American Can Factory, 232 3rd Street
  • Brooklyn Rapid Transit Powerhouse, 322 3rd Avenue
  • S.W. Bowne Grain Storehouse, 595-611 Smith Street
  • Union Street Bridge Control Tower
  • Eureka Garage, 638-44 Degraw Street
  • Lavender Lake, 383 Carroll Street
  • National Packing Box Company, 543 Union Street
  • Norge Sailmakers Building, 170 2nd Avenue
  • The News Brooklyn Garage, 209-215 3rd Avenue
  • T.H. Roulston, Inc. buildings, 70-124 9th Street
  • Culver Viaduct, 9th Street over Gowanus Canal
  • William H. Mobray Building, 400-04 3rd Avenue
  • 4th Street Brewery and Icehouse Complex, 401-421 Bond Street
  • The Green Building, 450-460 Union Street
  • St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, 419 Sackett Street
  • Our Lady of Peace Roman Catholic Church Complex, 522 Carroll Street
  • 505 Carroll Street
  • Warehouse with decorative pavings, 129-131 8th Street
  • Tile Works Building, 130 3rd Street
  • Planet Mills, 376 President Street
  • Industrial Complex, 530-550 President Street
  • Flats building, 57 3rd Street
  • Residence, 388 Hoyt Street
  • Remnant Shanty, 101 4th Street

Proposed for scenic landmark designation:

  • Belgian Block street-ends abutting Gowanus Canal

Proposed for historic district designation:

  • A head-of-canal district comprised of the first five individual sites on this list
  • 2nd Street two-story row houses, Carroll Gardens side of the Gowanus Canal
  • 12th Street row houses, north side, between 3rd and 4th avenues