Photo: Historic Districts Council

Austin, Nichols & Co., Warehouse, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Around the same time he planned the Woolworth building in lower Manhattan, architect Cass Gilbert designed the massive reinforced concrete Austin, Nichols warehouse overlooking the East River at 184 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg. The first floor of the warehouse, which was used by wholesale grocers Austin, Nichols & Co., could accommodate railcars and elaborate conveyor belts moved goods throughout the structure.

But as the area’s shipping and manufacturing industries declined, so did the building. It remained vacant for many years until in 2000 when, with Williamsburg rebounding as a residential neighborhood, developer Moishe Kestenbaum began renting out some apartments in it. Now Kestenbaum wants to build a larger rooftop addition and convert the three-part windows to single windows, which, preservationists say, would dramatically alter the look. They also criticized the size of the rooftop addition.

The Board of Standards and Appeals must approve Kestenbaum’s proposed changes to the building. The board has agreed to the owner’s request to adjourn hearings on the application until fall, according to the Historic Districts Council. At the same time, preservationists are working to have the building designated a landmark, which seems to have stalled. Preservationists cite opposition from Councilmember David Yassky, whose district includes the building, as a contributing factor.

Previously, it was reported that Yassky had agreed to support Kestenbaum’ s plan if the developer gave $335,000 to a fund for affordable housing in the area. Yassky could not be reached for comment.

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