Landmarks Holds Public Hearing for Jacob Dangler House

The Jacob Danler House. Image credit: LPC.

The owner and a potential developer oppose listing, but many community members support saving the French Gothic mansion. On July 12, 2022, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing for the designation of the Jacob Dangler House as an individual monument. Located at 441 Willoughby Avenue at the intersection of Willoughby and Nostrand, this Bedford-Stuyvesant mansion has been scheduled for review on June 7, 2022.

The building was constructed from 1897 to 1898 and built in the French Gothic style for prominent Brooklyn merchant Jacob Dangler. Although there are modifications, including a significant addition that prompted questions from the commissioners, the integrity of the building is intact. Dangler House was purchased in 1954 by the Universal Grand Lodge, a Masonic organization, and has been home to the United Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star ever since. The Order is very involved in Bed-Stuy, using the house as a community gathering space and pantry and providing scholarships to local students. Despite the Order’s engagement with the local community, the owners are in the process of selling the property to a developer, Brooklyn 360, who plans to demolish the house and build new apartments. Landmarks was only able to reach the Order after the building schedule.

Potential Brooklyn 360 developer Tomer Erlich was represented with a statement read by his company’s attorney, Eliad S. Shapiro, opposing the landmark. Shapiro alleged that Landmarks “damaged Brooklyn 360” by leaving them off guard for this hearing. According to Shapiro, on April 8, 2022, Brooklyn 360 requested status reports on six properties, including the Dangler House. Brooklyn 360 received four reports on April 11e and a fifth report in May, but did not receive a report on the Dangler house. After more than a month, Brooklyn 360 sent a follow-up request to Landmarks regarding the Dangler house. May 24e, Landmarks informed Brooklyn 360 that the Dangler House was unlisted. On June 3, 2022, Brooklyn 360 moved forward and applied for a demolition permit from the Department of Buildings. The building permit application form was rejected on June 7e, on the same day, Landmarks voted the Dangler House schedule for review. Shapiro claimed that “this intentional delay violated LPC precedent” and asked to delay this Landmarks hearing due to Brooklyn 360’s lack of preparation time due to short notice. Shapiro added that the developer is willing to build a large community center and affordable housing in the new apartment complex.

Representatives from the United Grand Chapter also testified to the sale decision, with member Arlene Punnett explaining that they have been struggling financially since the COVID pandemic. According to Punnett, the pandemic interfered with the chapter’s ability to rent out the mansion as event space; that the building is in disorder; and that financial difficulties led to the difficult decision to sell. While the chapter is open to saving the building and adding new housing around it, Punnett strongly opposed the establishment of monuments, arguing that leaving the building as is would render it “unsaleable”. and “Nostrand and Willoughby’s greatest horror”.

The chapter’s deputy grand matron, Celeste Jefferson, also testified in opposition, with several members relying on her for testimony. Jefferson reiterated that COVID “really destroyed [the Chapter’s] finances” and that their “only recourse” was to sell. Jefferson pointed to the strong possibility that Brooklyn 360 will back down if the house is listed, which she says would force the chapter to sue and file for bankruptcy. Since the building is already “decayed”, Jefferson thinks the neighborhood would be better off with new development.

Mark Brandoff, the attorney for the United Grand Chapter, added that there are currently foreclosure proceedings against the owners, who owe $2.5 million on the mortgage. Brandoff echoed Jefferson’s belief that if the sale failed, the chapter would go bankrupt and spoke out against the potential staking.

Elected officials and many members of the community have spoken out in favor of saving the Dangler House and enhancing the building. Council member Chi Ossé, who represents the district, wants the building to be a landmark because of its historical and cultural impact, and noted that “Bed-Stuy’s proud culture is not only represented in this space, but facilitated by him”. National Assembly Member Stefani Zinerman, who represents the district, also expressed support.

Brooklyn Community Board 3 Landmarks Preservation Committee Chair Evelyn Collier read a resolution expressing the board’s support for the creation of landmarks. Collier highlighted the historic success of Jacob Dangler and the positive impact of the United Grand Chapter today. Collier said Community Board 3 “stands with residents and conservators” in their support for the construction of the building. Another community board member later spoke out in opposition, suggesting that the Dangler House should become a museum instead, and stressing the need for the new apartments to be culturally diverse.

Several members of the Willoughby Nostrand Mercer Block Association expressed their support, starting with testimony from Vice President Lauren Cawdry. Cawdry explained that the block association tried to work with the owners, but they never responded and argued that they should have asked the community for financial help if they were in trouble. She expressed concern that the sale was never made public and the environmental impact of a potential new development.

Cawdry said illegal work was currently taking place at the mansion and 311 had stopped receiving complaints despite the home’s proximity to two elementary schools. Cawdry also praised the architecture, saying “we’ll find another space to meet, but we’ll never find another structure like this.”

Other community members and landmark advocates have spoken out in favor of establishing landmarks. Silvana Tropea read a statement on behalf of actor Edward Norton, a New York resident who shot much of the 2019 film motherless brooklyn on Willoughby Ave. Norton believed that buildings like the Dangler House were a valuable piece of history and should be considered a “major city asset” when it came to creative productions in New York.

Christina Conroy of the Victorian Society noted that although the owners have applied for a demolition permit, no plans or applications for new buildings have been filed, fearing that the house will be “unnecessarily demolished” and that the land will remain vacant for years.

Suzanne Spellman, an architectural historian and longtime Bed-Stuy resident whose work has been used in this historic process, disagreed with the chapter’s sentiment that no one would buy the land if the sale at Brooklyn 360 was failing. “I strongly disagree that no one wants a historic building,” Spellman said, adding that developers just have to be willing and creative.

Andrea Goldman of the New York Landmarks Conservancy urged Landmarks to hold a vote quickly and offered the Conservancy to possibly to help the owners financially.

Landmarks President Sarah Carroll concluded the discussion by stating that the Commission will consider all testimony and vote on the Dangler House landmark at a later date.

By: strong cassidy (Cassidy is an intern at CityLaw and a student at New York Law School, class of 2024.)

LPC: Jacob Dangler House, 441 Willoughby Ave., Brooklyn (LP-2261) (July 12, 2022).

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