The Kentile Sign is Saved! ... Almost


By Brian Fencil

Photo by meshugas.

Time only lingers in New York; it is a passerby, a temporary visitor, before getting pushed out. Each decade leaves a fading mark, later built over.

Think back to ‘50s-era Brooklyn, when Kentile Floors was a bustling company that dominated an entire block. The erstwhile manufacturing center was crowned with a sign, reaching 20 feet high, with a 15-foot stretch of letters that stood brightly against the skies.

In the ‘90s, the company filed for bankruptcy, the building emptied, and the sign then darkened. However, its leftover letters–that remained an enduring symbol of Brooklyn–recently came under threat by the building’s new owner, Elyahu Cohen.

When the news broke of the Kentile Floors sign coming down, borough local Stephen Savage got involved. He tells Matt DeMello of the Third Eye Weekly podcast on BTR he is adamant about saving the structure, which he has lived around for 20 years, because it “is the de facto logo of Brooklyn. When people look at it, I think they are not reading the words ‘Kentile Floors.’ [It] says ‘Welcome to Brooklyn.”

Also, as an acclaimed illustrator and storyteller, Savage feels that it is his job to safeguard the symbols of the city. The day after he heard the news he called Councilman Brad Lander and organized a protest for that Saturday. Savage also started the organization Save Our Sign, an outlet for concerned locals to become involved.

Lander consequently became very influential in saving the sign. The councilman created a petition that asked the building’s owner to “reconsider removal” of the landmark, or “at the very least, commit to preserve the sign intact and donate it to a conservation organization for future re-use.” The petition was signed 2,000 times in just a few days.

On Friday Jun. 13, the movement saw success. Cohen, Lander, and the Gowanus Alliance negotiated a deal to keep the sign from being destroyed. The Gowanus Allilance, according to their website, pledges to “preserve, to hold, and to repair the letters while officials seek a permanent location for the sign.”

At first, it seemed like the fight was over. But Savage immediately received a number of phone calls and emails from preservationists who said that if the sign isn’t taken down properly, it might be impossible to reconstruct.

“It’s gigantic!” Savage tells BTR. “It has to be disassembled; the letters probably have to be cut into pieces.”

He adds that although local forces stopped demolition just days ago, they now bear responsibility to persist through the next phase.

“We are going to need people’s help in keeping the owner and everyone accountable. We still want people to be involved. It’s a long road ahead,” he admits.

Perhaps it seems strange to save the remnants of an old tile company, but the Kentile sign is a cherished element of a neighborhood that reminds people of the past. The community efforts that its potential dismantling triggered actually represent two aspects we are losing. In these modern times, people are less likely to belong to clubs, sign petitions, or even know their neighbors than in years past. Additionally, we are less interested and less connected with the past–a trend that is growing faster and faster each year.

We tip our hats to all those who are fighting this aloof tendency and have gotten involved to save this odd, red sign in Brooklyn. Kentile Floors represents much more than a defunct factory.

For more on this story, tune in to this week’s episode of the Third Eye Weekly podcast on BTR, debuting on Thursday.