Contractors started bulldozing the beloved Jacob Dangler mansion Wednesday morning—first yanking the decorative copper spire on the roof— despite efforts from neighbors and electeds to preserve the building and its unique French gothic architecture.
The New York City Department of Buildings issued the demolition permit on the building Tuesday, after waiting a mandatory 40 days for the Landmarks Preservation Commission to vote on whether this building would be eligible to receive landmark status. But, the LPC didn’t vote on the property in time, and on day 42, demolition started.
As the news spread online, more than 20 residents gathered Thursday morning to voice their disapproval of the wrecking.
“This building has been here since before I was born, and I was born and raised on this block,” Michael Williams, a local resident said.
“Seeing this happen, I’m just upset and heartbroken in many ways. It’s a building that means a lot to the community—we used it as a gathering place.”
The building was officially entered into the landmarking process on June 9, after half a year of neighborhood advocacy. After a very promising meeting with the LPC on July 12, some residents thought they had a good chance of succeeding and were expecting a timely vote from the Commission.
But, the DOB legally only has to pause work permits for 40 days while the LPC deliberates, and the Commission’s time is up.
“Today has been like talking to a lot of brick walls—I’ve had a chance to speak with the lawyer for the developer and that’s pretty much it,” State Senator Jabari Brisport said, who was at the scene Thursday morning, in efforts to put a stop to the demolition.
“They’re really hiding behind the technicality that we are outside of the 40-day window which allows them to begin demolition. Truthfully, the respectful thing to do would be to wait for determination from the LPC about whether or not the building can be landmarked,” Brisport said.
Brisport and Bed-Stuy Council Member Chi Ossé joined forces and reached out to the DOB and Mayor Eric Adams requesting a stop order, which was ultimately not issued.
The DOB inspector showed up at the site around 11:30 to respond to the stop work order and the 311 safety complaints from residents, concerned about the falling debris and the potentially contaminated dust in the air.
The inspector ultimately did not issue a stoppage and drove away an hour later as contractors turned their heavy machinery back on and resumed dismantling the building, breaking briefly for the rain. The building, surrounded by clouds of dust, is now almost entirely knocked down.
The DOB inspector declined to comment.
“That the LPC calendared it when they did was a boost in our morale. When we showed up for the hearing, the outpouring of support was amazing,” Lauren Cawdrey said.
More than 70 people wrote letters to the LPC in support of landmarking 441 Willoughby, and 19 people testified in favor of the cause at the official LPC July 12 hearing.
Among the pro-landmark voices at the hearing were Ossé, Brisport, Assembly Member Stefani Zinerman and representatives from local organizations like the Historic Districts Council, New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Victorian Society, Pratt Institute and actor Edward Norton.
Just four testified against landmarking: two board members from the United Grand Chapter Order of the Eastern Star (the masonic organization that owns the building), their lawyer, and the lawyer for developer Tomer Erlich, of Brooklyn 360.
“The LPC could have stopped this and they didn’t, and that’s the bottom line. The LPC had 40 days. They had every opportunity to do this. But they didn’t. This is day 42, and the demolition has started,” Cawdrey said.
Cawdrey, who is the vice president of the Willoughby Nostrand Marcy Block Association and a local business owner, is one of the neighborhood’s key organizers in the effort to landmark the building.
“Why give us that false hope? Why dangle that carrot and allow us to think we had a shot and then not follow through? It’s politics; it’s money… It’s really frustrating that we’re here right now.”
Brooklyn 360 plans to put a 7-story, 44-unit modern apartment building with 30% affordable housing and a parking garage, and at the July 10 community meeting gave a verbal pledge to save a minimum of 1,000 square feet for community use.
Christopher Fenelus, a representative of the Order, said at the July 10 meeting there is a $2.3 million lien on the building and in order to avoid bankruptcy and foreclosure, the United Grand Chapter Order of the Eastern Star had to sell the site to Brooklyn 360.
“I’m disturbed by the process that led to this point, especially the unacceptable lack of transparency and community input,” Ossé said this Thursday.
“Bed-Stuy has both an important history to preserve and a severe lack of functional indoor community space. We cannot allow the mistakes made regarding the Dangler House to be repeated in the future,” Ossé said.
“There is no doubt that New York City, and this neighborhood in particular, face an acute housing crisis,” Ossé said. “We need to build more housing. The opaque tactics the developer, Tomer Erlich of 360 Brooklyn, LLC., used in this case mirror those used across the city, and prove that most are not good-faith partners in addressing this need.”
“Ultimately, it’s a private property,” Erlich said in a phone call with the BK Reader on July 7.
The LPC declined to comment and told the BK Reader to reach out to the mayor’s office instead.