More changes in historic Heights

Are high-profile builders Tom and Fred Elghanayan looking to make their big development site on Livingston Street even bigger?

The two brothers – whose company TF Cornerstone owns a blue-chip portfolio of New York City apartment properties and Manhattan and Washington office buildings – are planning their Downtown Brooklyn debut at 276-300 Livingston St.

Last spring, Cornerstone paid $70 million for this parking garage with storefronts housing an IHOP pancake house, a Greyhound bus station and several other tenants. The developers plan to clear the site for 600 apartments.  

Now, the word on the street is they've got their eye on a neighboring office building, 285 Schermerhorn St. It's directly adjacent to the parking garage, which is a block-through corner property with frontage on Schermerhorn as well as Bond Street.     

The Schermerhorn Street building, constructed in 1927, belongs to a nonprofit with serious longevity, Brooklyn Community Services. The organization – which has been around since 1866 and has been known over the years as the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities and the Brooklyn Bureau of Community Service – is headquartered in the seven-story property.

The coffers of the social services provider – which began its operations with a shelter for homeless newsboys in Brooklyn Heights – would benefit from the nice chunk of change the building could command if sold as a development site.

There's 105,000 buildable square feet, real estate database indicates – which could be worth $200 per buildable square foot, or $21 million, a real estate source told the Eagle.

The BCS building has been drawing would-be buyers' attention since the parking garage next door changed hands.

“We had explorations from half-a-dozen different developers,” Marla Simpson, executive director of Brooklyn Community Services, told us. “We're in listening mode,” she said.

One thing's for certain, Simpson added: “We intend to remain in Downtown Brooklyn.”

A source said BCS honchos are working with a number of city agencies to come up with a plan for how to proceed.

In addition to owning the handsome red-brick office building, BCS rents facilities in several Brooklyn neighborhoods. Programs serving more than 10,000 people each year include day care and early-childhood education, family counseling, job training and placement programs and help for people who are mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

The Elghanayans are keeping silent on the subject of their development site's neighboring building.

“At this time, TF Cornerstone does not have a comment on this,” a spokeswoman said.

Their project is one of two mammoth apartment developments that promise to transform decidedly unglamorous Livingston Street and draw retailers priced out of nearby Fulton Mall, as we previously reported. The other is Doug Steiner's residential skyscraper at 350 Livingston St.

If you missed our story, it can be found on the Eagle website.

The block where 285 Schermerhorn St. is located is a hotbed of development. There's the back side of 276-300 Livingston, where tenants have been told to vacate by Dec. 31. There's construction underway on the Nevins Hotel at 46 Nevins St., which has frontage on Schermerhorn Street.

Across the street, work has begun on a Holiday Inn at 300 Schermerhorn St.


Henry Street is so fine. It may never hope to achieve the earning power of the Montague Street retail corridor, but it has a movie theater to call its own.

Now comes a pledge from the beloved Brooklyn Heights Cinema's landlord that if he gets the okay to turn the picture palace's 70 Henry St. home into an apartment building, the theater will not be relegated to the basement, with just a single screen and some lobby space on the first floor.

Plans are being revised to turn the Brooklyn Heights Cinema building at 70 Henry St. into apartments - with most of the first floor occupied by the movie theater. Photo by Josh Ross

That was the compromise Tom Caruana came up with in February 2012 after his initial plan to demolish the 18-foot-high building and get rid of the two-screen cinema caused an uproar.

In November, the design by architect Randy Gerner that was shown to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission was a new building with a mostly glass facade, 17 rental apartments and space for the cinema in the basement and ground floor. LPC chairman Robert Tierney told Caruana that Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel's plan needed “rethinking,” and commissioners tabled their discussion.

Caruana will be going public with new plans this fall.

“We're in the process of revising our plans and submitting them to the LPC, addressing all the comments from the commissioners,” he told the Eagle.

Asked what were the LPC's big concerns, he said, “The movie theater will be on the first floor – most of the first floor will be devoted to the movie theater.”

Also, he said, “The most important thing is that most of the historical components of the building would remain.”

Logically, that would mean much of the existing building's facade would remain intact and new floors would be added on top of it. But he wouldn't elaborate, except to say he will not ask for permission to exceed the land-marked neighborhood's 50-foot construction height restriction.

Caruana – whose grandfather Giuseppe Zevola bought 70 Henry in 1968 through family company Ridgeton Poultry – said he hoped the next  LPC hearing about his project will take place in October.

“Probably we will show the LPC a few different drawings,” he said.

He said he might take the new plans to Community Board 2 as well, though he has already been before the civic group.


Change is looming elsewhere on Henry Street: Plymouth Cafe may shut down.

“It's a 50-50 chance we will close,” Peter Hong, who runs the sit-down deli at 90 Henry St., told the Eagle.

This building at 90 Henry St. is for sale - and if the buyer wants an empty building, Plymouth Cafe will close. Photo by Josh Ross

He and his brother Seung Jae Hong, who co-own the building, recently put it up for sale – and will clear it of tenants, including the cafe, if that's what the purchaser wants.  

The asking price is $5.49 million for the building on the corner of Pineapple Street, which has nearly 100 feet of retail frontage and six apartments. Massey Knakal Realty Services is the sale broker.

The deli has a following, with $3.25 egg and bacon sandwiches a particular favorite. Will his clientele miss him if he has to go?

“I think so,” he said. “I've been here a long time.”

Landlord Peter Hong serves a customer at Plymouth Cafe, which may close because he and his brother are selling the building. Photo by Lore Croghan

Hong wouldn't explain the reasons for his and his brother's decision to cash out of their investment.

“Any time is a good time to sell,” said the cafe manager, who is also known as Seung Chang Hong. “We've gotten a lot of interested people.”

The brothers bought the building through their company JCI Realty Corp. in 1989 for $594,000 from the executors of the estates of Louis and Bessie Weisberg, city records indicate.

Peter's brother is older and lives out of state. Peter, who's 53, is too young to retire, he said. He might start “another food business” if Plymouth Cafe must shut down. But it can't be on Henry Street, he said – there's no vacant space to rent.


When will the new owners of 113 Willow St. fix up its sad-looking facade?

It has been covered in ghost-gray asphalt shingles for at least a half-century. Yes, that's roofing material covering their rowhouse – which was built in 1829 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being within the Heights' landmark district.

When will the new owners of 113 Willow St. take the ghostly gray asphalt shingles off their home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places? Photo by Josh Ross

Renovation plans have been filed but the three-story frame house, which changed hands in December, has a “stop work order” slapped on the front door. The place is silent as a tomb, the front garden a patch of bare earth.

The single-family home sold for $2.9 million, city Finance Department records indicate. While on the market, its initial $4.5 million asking price was trimmed to $3.9 million, noted.

The deed, signed on Christmas Eve, identifies the buyer as 1113 Willow Street LLC. (Yes, there is an extra “1” in that number that differentiates it from the property's address.)

The LLC partners' names aren't on the deed and there's no record of a mortgage, which would reveal their identities.

Real estate lawyer Howard Brickner signed city Buildings Department filings for the LLC – but he told the Eagle he's a “manager” of the LLC as a courtesy to the new homeowners and the house isn't his. He said he would send his clients our query about the fix-up plans. They didn't respond in time for deadline.

Online Buildings Department records indicate that interior renovation is contemplated but make no mention of any plan to remove the unsightly shingles and replace them with historically appropriate clapboard. Will that come later?

An engineer has filed paperwork in an effort to get the “stop work order” lifted.

It's unclear why the previous owner, to whom the house belonged for nearly 30 years, didn't get rid of the shingles. She has an out-of-state address and couldn't be reached.

The house was covered with “composition shingles” – roofing made of asphalt and man-made fiber – back in 1960 when American architecture expert Clay Lancaster did his ground-breaking survey of the pre-Civil War homes in the Heights.

The survey served as documentation to get the neighborhood designated as the city's first historic district in 1965 and was published as the book “Old Brooklyn Heights: New York's First Suburb.”

A beautiful feature of the house that's mentioned in the book – a distinctive mid-19th Century cast-iron entrance porch – has also survived since 1960.

Other 1820s-vintage houses that were covered in asphalt shingles when Lancaster wrote his assessment of historic Heights houses have undergone facade restoration in the intervening years.

A tip of the preservationists' hat for 30 Middagh St, which was built in 1824. Its impeccable gray-bluish clapboard would look good on 113 Willow. And also for 68 Hicks St., which was built in 1822 and began its existence as a grocery and tavern. Pale green clapboard now covers the house.

Before Brooklyn Heights became a historic district, asphalt shingles covered 30 Middagh St. Now the facade is historically appropriate. Photo by Josh Ross

Heights home 68 Hicks St., previously covered in asphalt shingles, has been impeccably renovated. Photo by Josh Ross



A final preservationists' shout-out goes to two iron basket urns that are perched on pedestals at the foot of the front stairs at 46 Monroe Place. They're one of a kind.

Lancaster, who had an awe-inspiring eye for detail, pointed out the pair of stoop decorations in “Old Brooklyn Heights” as “being a unique survivor of what was once a prevalent feature on the Heights.” The 1830s-vintage house has changed hands since his 1960 survey but the graceful urns – which are topped with pineapples – have been beautifully preserved.

Iron basket urns adorn the stoop at 46 Monroe Place. Photo by Josh Ross

These symbols of historic stewardship are especially gratifying to see on Monroe Place.

At the other end of the one-block street, 8 Monroe Place was demolished, though it was on Lancaster's list of pre-Civil War homes, for use as part of the Cadman Towers apartment complex site. And the top two floors of 1 Monroe Place – also on Lancaster's list – were torn down by the city in 2008 because they were deemed unsafe.

The building, which was foreclosed on, was sold in 2010, but it's still a mess.