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From the outside, the old Ward Bakery building at 800 Pacific St. looks like just another city relic — an abandoned, six-story building with cement filling the spaces that were once windows.

But the century-old, terra cotta-tile building with Romanesque arches may be one of the city’s treasures, according to the Prospect Heights Historic Association, a group that formed to protect the Ward Bakery building and at least two other area buildings from demolition should developer Bruce Ratner’s plan for the creation of mega-blocks to house a professional basketball arena, office towers and housing come to fruition.

The group seeks to get the buildings included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project proposes a sweeping, 24-acre development with a 19,000-seat basketball arena for his New Jersey Nets, residential buildings and four soaring office towers. The Frank Gehry-designed project would be built over Long Island Rail Road storage yards and is dependent upon the state condemning more than two square blocks of private property and knocking down up to 70 buildings.

“I was angered that an architect didn’t give second thought to this lasting architecture to make room for his own,” said Nancy Finton, who helped found the Prospect Heights Historic Association after getting wind of Ratner’s plans.

In addition to the Ward Bakery, the group seeks to preserve the former A.G. Spalding sporting-goods factory at 24 Sixth Ave., the Atlantic Art Building at 636 Pacific St., and the former Daily News printing plant at 700 Pacific St., the only building of the four not slated for demolition under the Ratner arena plan.

All three are now luxury apartment buildings.

“I grew up in the suburbs and love living in a place that has a sense of a past,” said Finton.

Asked about bringing in Gehry — noted for the Guggenheim Bilbao museum in Spain and the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles — Finton said, “I’m not crazy about Frank Gehry. I feel like he’s become very trendy and his work is likely to look dated in another 10 or 20 years.

Spokesmen for Gehry and Ratner declined to comment on the preservation efforts.

While a listing on the National Register would not guarantee the buildings’ survival, it would give preservationists a seat at the table, said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, a non-profit preservation group.

The Empire State Development Corp. is expected to be the lead agency on the Atlantic Yards project.

If the buildings were placed on the National Register, said Cathy Jimenez, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, “[The Atlantic Yards developers] would have to show that there is no other possible alternative to demolition, that it is absolutely a last resort.”


Downtown landmarks

In a related effort, the Brooklyn Heights Association has joined forces with the Municipal Art Society to seek the city landmark designation of 16 buildings in Downtown Brooklyn that could face demolition as part of the Downtown Brooklyn Plan.

The plan would use the state’s power of eminent domain to condemn and demolish buildings in order to create mega-blocks that might eventually house 5.5 million square feet of office space and 1,000 new apartments.

“Rather than encouraging new development from the ground up, we suggest promoting adaptive reuse, mixing ground-floor retail with residential uses on the floors above,” the Municipal Art Society explained in testimony delivered at a public hearing on the plan last month.

The Brooklyn Heights Association has sent a list of the buildings to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Three Downtown properties are facing the most imminent threat, according to Vicki Weiner, a Kress Fellow for historic preservation with the Municipal Art Society.

Those include the beaux-arts style former Board of Education offices at 131 Livingston St., a three-story clapboard house at 233 Duffield St. and three buildings with cast-iron commercial facades at 567-571 Fulton St.

“We don’t feel that it’s too late,” Weiner said of the preservation efforts.

“We don’t think of efforts of preservation on Fulton Street as against the [Downtown] plan in any way,” she said. “We think it is compatible with it — no matter what happens with the plan you have Fulton Street. We would like to see it revitalized and the buildings made full use of, because some of the buildings are really magnificent.”

Department of City Planning spokeswoman Rachael Raynoff said the agency was interested in the preservation efforts in the area. City Planning is the lead agency on the Downtown Brooklyn Plan.

“Chair [Amanda] Burden has reached out to local civic groups to use our collective resources and expertise to work together with the Municipal Art Society to look at some of these buildings and some of the goals the Municipal Art Society has outlined,” Raynoff said.
As for the next steps, Finton says the Prospect Heights Historic Association is busy researching the properties.

“It’s incredible that they could even consider tearing down these amazing buildings,” said Rodney Ripps, a Crown Heights native and painter who lives at 700 Pacific St.

Added Ripps, co-chair of the Prospect Heights Preservation Association, “Those buildings are the heritage of Brooklyn.”


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