After it was announced earlier this year that a developer had plans to demolish Sunset Park’s only mansion, the former Dr. Maurice T. Lewis House, to make way for a 21,000-square-foot, seven-story, 24-unit apartment building with vertical and horizontal extensions, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has moved up a hearing about landmarking the historic property to March 6.
“It’s so important to the community,” Lynn Tondrick of the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee (SPLC) said of the structure at 405 55th Street. “It’s a historic building. It’s Sunset Park’s only mansion. It’s part of the beautiful block of 55th Street which is all historic, preserved, intact buildings. It’s a big deal to us that this building is maintained. In Sunset Park, we have a couple of historic landmarks. We have the rec center in the park, the courthouse and the old police precinct which we worked very hard to get portions of preserved recently. This is another integral building that is key to Sunset Park and the history of our architecture, and we are really pleased at the possibility of it remaining intact.”
According to the Historic Districts Council, (HDC), the LPC swiftly calendared the mansion after learning about alteration/demolition permits which have been approved, but not yet issued. According to the city’s Department of Finance, the building was purchased for $2.8 million by SL 218 LLC back in November, 2017 .
“The LPC is required to give 10 days notice for a public hearing. Thus, the next possible public hearing for the building is scheduled for March 6. The final step for designation after the public hearing is a vote by the LPC,” said a rep for HDC in an email.
According to the LPC, calendaring is the first formal step in the designation process.
“After a presentation by the Research Staff the full Commission votes at a public meeting whether to schedule (‘calendar’) a public hearing on the potential resource. A vote by a majority of the Commissioners present is required to calendar a resource,” its website states.
Anyone is allowed to testify about the proposed designation before the full Commission.
Before testimony begins at the public hearing, a member of the Research Department will make a brief presentation about the property under consideration for designation.
Other locals have chimed in on the prospect of preserving the building.
“I hope it can be saved. It’s not run down and there’s no excuse to tear this down for greed,” said Linda Krekey on the Sunset Parker Facebook page.
“This building is important not just for its architecture but for the history that is attached to it,” said Tony Giordano, who runs the Sunset Parker Facebook page. “It was built by Dr. Maurice T. Lewis who was the president of the Bay Ridge Savings Bank in 1929 when unfounded rumors, of a single dissatisfied customer, led to a “run” on the bank. The bank could have gone under except for the fact that the local business community showed their support and offered funds to cover all customer accounts. The Heilbronn Department Store on the corner of 53rd and Fifth went so far as to put huge signs of support and trust in the bank in all its windows. This kind of history can all be linked to the mansion on 55th and must be preserved.”
The hearing will be held at the LPC offices in Manhattan. 1 Centre Street, ninth floor, North Building. No specific time has been given yet.