In LIC, a new preservation battle has escalated quickly.
There has been quite a bit of buzz lately about the old Elks Lodge building in LIC. Things have really heated up in the last 48 hours after members of the community started a petition to landmark it. The new owners of the building (who intends to demolish it and replace it with a large condo building) responded swiftly to this petition by destroying significant portions of the decorative tiles on the building’s facade.
Here is a before and after showing the illegal vandalism:
The vandalism of the building facade was done without a work permit. Additionally, photos and video footage of this work shows OSHA violations and a complete lack of public safety consideration. Eventually the NYC Dept. of Buildings issued a Stop Work Order and police are rumored to have shown up to send the owner’s goon squad packing (though this happened after much of the damage was done).
In response to this situation, local civic leaders and the city council rep for LIC (Jimmy Van Bramer) held a press conference outside of the lodge today. During this press conference Van Bramer announced he would push for a new law that would make it illegal for property owners to vandalize any building under consideration for landmarking (I didn’t catch any details on what the penalties would be – the curmudgeon in me says ‘Give them jail time, huge fines and community service – and revoke the license of the contractor that performed the work‘).
Unfortunately, the city has a backlog of properties considered for landmarking, and many of these properties were recently unceremoniously dropped for consideration. NYC’s landmark commission has long been an understaffed, underfunded logjam.
History Repeats itself.
Back in the 1980s, “developer” Tommy Huang destroyed much of the old RKO Keith theater in Flushing. 10 years ago, the historic Greenpoint Terminal was destroyed by a mysterious fire. It too was under consideration for landmarking. There are dozens of similar examples. NYC has a long, disturbing history of developer-lead destruction. This destruction is practically condoned by weak laws and lackadaisical enforcement.
One must wonder, why do we call them ‘developers’ when so many of them are bent on rampant destruction.
That’s not to say that the community doesn’t share some of the blame (as a life long LIC resident, I get to say that). The LIC elks lodge has been vacant for months (the last resident was the sheet metal workers union, which used it as an office & union hall). To save this building, the government or a non-profit would have had to have bought it before the greedy developers swooped in. It is a little late to try to save this building, but who knows? As Bob Singleton of the Greater Astoria Historical Society stated, ‘maybe this will be that one out of a 100 times” we get to preserve something. The value of the property might stabilize or even drop if it is landmarked. The building itself would make for a great community center.
I’ll keep an eye on this story in the coming weeks. Who knows, maybe the good guys will somehow win? Even if we don’t, at least attention is being drawn to one of NYC’s more systemic preservation problems.