The scaffolding was already up at the historic mansion at 441 Willoughby Avenue, ready for demolition. Internal clearing of debris had already begun.
Then the Landmark Preservation Commission swooped in and unanimously voted to consider the 120-year-old Bed-Stuy mansion for official landmark status.
The vote, which happened this week at the end of an LPC meeting, means that all work on the house will halt until the LPC finishes the process of determining its fitness for landmark status, which is allowed to take up to 40 days.
If the LPC approves the mansion for landmark status, that means that the building can’t be demolished and any alteration of the building has to be approved by a committee dedicated to preserving its architectural integrity.
To fit the criteria for a landmark, the LPC must find that the house is structurally sound and has significant historical value and cultural significance.
That shouldn’t be a problem, a long-time neighbor of the mansion and local business owner Lauren Cawdrey said.
“It’s bricks and mortar on the outside, but when you think about what the impact in people’s hearts—it was so important to the neighborhood as a gathering place,” Cawdrey said.
“It has a rare style of french gothic architecture that is part of Brooklyn’s history, but at the heart of it is the people who have kept it going for so long.”
Cawdrey is part of the Willoughby Nostrand Marcy Block Association, the group leading the charge to get the location landmarked.
The building was built by famous German American architect Theobald Engelhardt for a successful German grocer named Jacob Dangler at the turn of the 20th century. Since then, it has been used as a community center and the deed belongs to the Grand Chapter of the Eastern Star, a masonic organization.
The mobilization to get the building landmarked began in January and has steadily built neighborhood-wide support. Since January, over 1,300 people have signed a petition in favor of preserving the building.
Cawdrey said she was under the impression local Assembly Member Stefani Zinerman was interested in supporting the fight to protect the building, as she had reached out to community members and had said she’d attend a recent action in support of the potential landmark.
Earlier this week, Council Member Chi Ossé, who represents Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, officially vocalized his support in a letter to the LPC.
Ossé didn’t initially support the landmarking of 441 Willoughby, because the deedholders were experiencing financial hardship which is why they wanted to sell the property to developers.
“The deed holders are a Black religious group who have been in the community for a while,” Ossé said.
“It’s actually been kind of hard to get in touch with them, though, which was making the process a bit difficult but also making it easier for me to send in my support for landmarking because of how much communication I had from the side of the community that wanted this to happen.”
Ossé said that when the time comes, he will testify in front of the LPC in support of the landmarking status along with the members of the WNMBA.
However, if landmark status is approved, the community is going to need to find someone who wants to preserve it, Cawdrey said.
“If it’s going to be landmarked, it really complicates things for the greater good,” Cawdrey said.
“It’s going to be a long-term payoff rather than a quick solution and developers don’t want a long-term payoff, obviously, they want a maximum return. We need to find someone who wants to take it over and use it for some type of adaptive reuse. It’s got to be a rallying cry to people who have ideas for this space.”
Private real estate developer Brooklyn 360 was in the process of buying the building from the Grand Chapter of the Eastern Star and had filed a permit for demolition with the city Department of Buildings. If the landmark is approved, Brooklyn 360 developer Tomer Erlich said he doesn’t know what he will do.
“Right now the fact that the LPC decided to calendar it doesn’t really mean anything for me and I don’t know what the next step is,” Erlich said. “When we hear more then we’ll decide what to do.”
The LPC publishes its meeting agendas one week in advance, and the June 14 meeting does not have 441 Willoughby Avenue on the agenda. The following LPC meeting will be on June 28.
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