By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission Tuesday morning voted 7-0 today to deny an application to legalize already-made changes that hid the elegant details of the old Gage & Tollner restaurant at 372 Fulton St. behind hot-pink partitions and racks of costume jewelry.
The elegant restaurant, which opened in 1879 and moved to its most recent address in 1892,was known for its mirrors and plush interior; its gaslights, long after most places had replaced them with electric lights; and its seafood and Southern cuisine.
In its heyday, it attracted Broadway and Hollywood stars like Jimmy Durante, Mae West and Fannie Brice. The city’s Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) declared its exterior a landmark in 1974, and landmarked its interior in 1975.
As the Fulton Mall became more “downscale” starting in the 1960s, however, Gage & Tollner’s fortunes began to wane. Its last owner, Joe Chirico, who also owns Marco Polo in Carroll Gardens, made extensive renovations but closed in 2004 because, in his terms, “the business was dragging every day.”
Later that year, the space became a T.G.I. Friday’s. In 2010, it became an Arby’s, and the LPC praised the chain’s plans to incorporate historic details into the new restaurant. However, that Arby’s closed only seven months after opening.
In August 2011, however, the Eagle’s Linda Collins reported that the current tenant, a discount jewelry store known as Ladies & Gents, had installed “hot pink material and wall panels” over the still-existing original fixtures.
“We inspected the site last week, determined the changes were made without LPC approval and issued a warning letter,” said Elisabeth de Bourbon, LPC press secretary
At Tuesday’s vote, the feeling among the LPC commissioners was unanimous.
Commission Vice Chair Pablo E. Vengoechea said, “Hiding something [the original walls] behind something is not a preservation strategy. We designated this [space] in order to be able to see it … You need to expose what’s there.”
Commissioner Michael Goldblum said, “Why not bring the architecture of the space of the space into the design of the store? ... There is no excuse at all for this being the way this is, period.”
The Historic Districts Council issued a statement saying, “Wistful memories for the days of Gage & Tollner were brought up the last time we saw this interior and individual landmark back in 2009 as a proposal for a new Arby’s outlet. Who thought then that we might one day be wistful for the days of Arby’s?”
According to Ms. DeBourbon, Ladies & Gents’ architect Rand Rosenbaum of Lake Success, Long Island, apologized for the changes, but explained that the tenants had “simply installed a self-supporting display and lighting system that doesn’t penetrate any of the walls.”
Some fixtures, such as the gas lamps, are “still there,” he reportedly said. While the original mirror and arches are no longer up, he added, they are still in storage on the site.
Rosenbaum and the owner of Ladies & Gents did not respond to phone calls and emails from the Eagle by press time.