Preservation hopes fade as Grand Prospect Hall facade is demolished

Bill Farrell, a spokesperson for Rigas — who bought the Hall as part of a larger $30 million, 12-property deal—told Gothamist that Rigas plans to turn the building into “a low-scale residential building with an affordable component.” According to New York YIMBY, permits were filed with the city earlier this month, with the proposed 50-foot-tall, five-story development containing 147 apartments, 180 underground parking spaces, and multiple recreational spaces, including on the roof.

“We very much appreciate the community’s attachment to the Grand Prospect Hall,” Farrell told Gothamist. “After the previous owner was unable to find a buyer for the business, it proved infeasible for it to remain a catering hall and they opted to sell the property rights. The interior fixtures had been removed before current ownership took possession of the site.”

The fight for landmark status

There were several stopgap attempts to slow the project down.

A partial stop work order was issued by the DOB on Aug. 16 preventing any work from continuing until a new home was established for a Polish American WWII Veterans Memorial located there. Then, after locals rallied at the building, all demolition was temporarily paused by court order while the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered whether to give it landmark status.

But because the building was already “substantially altered,” the LPC ultimately denied the request, with Kate Lemos McHale, director of research at the commission, writing that “it does not have sufficient historic integrity for consideration as a landmark.”

Bankoff, the former HDC head who is now consulting on other landmark designation projects around the state, said the LPC was in a no-win position. On the one hand, their decision to reject the designation was based on a “narrow view of architectural integrity,” one that did not take into account the site’s cultural history.

“Cultural significance is a criteria for consideration under the NYC landmarks law, and is key to addressing the invisible history of New Yorkers who inhabit the city but did not build it,” he said. “In this instance, the hall was actually built by and for a newly-arrived population, so that makes it an even more appropriate candidate for landmark designation.”

The building was first constructed in 1892 at the behest of local entrepreneur John Kolle, who wanted it to be a “temple of music and amusement.” After a fire in 1900, it was redesigned by architect Ulrich J Huberty and reopened in 1903, looking much like it did up until last summer. When the building was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, it was described as “probably the largest and best-preserved example of its type… the Victorian assembly hall set within a great ethnic community facility, remaining in the country .”

However, Bankoff said that even if they had designated it, they would only have had the authority to regulate its physical exterior. With so much work already done, they could not have saved “what people really loved about the building, its interiors and its use as a gathering space.”

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