Bay Ridge Conservancy sounds the alarm about Victorian house demolition threat

Fourth Avenue property was the Masonic Club, then a nursery school

The wrecking ball is headed for a beloved Bay Ridge Victorian house where a nursery school was located.

A grassroots preservation group wants to save vacant 7604 Fourth Ave., which was the Masonic Club before it became Grace Nursery School in the mid-1990s.

Bay Ridge Conservancy President Victoria Hofmo said the situation is dire for residents of the grand Victorian house’s block – for a reason beyond the threatened loss of a piece of Bay Ridge’s architectural and cultural history.

Next to the turreted wood-frame home there’s an enormous, boarded-up piece of land where a developer demolished Waldeck Funeral Home more than a decade ago.

An uprooted tree is tossed onto 7604 Fourth Ave.’s front yard.

If the Victorian house is torn down, there will be only one building left on the west side of Fourth Avenue between 76th and 77th streets. That’s the United Korean Church of New York, which is at 371 77th St.

“How much more can this block take?” Hofmo asked in a recent interview.

“I don’t want to see another mess – another empty lot just sitting there,” she said.

There is no legal time limit to how long developers can wait to start construction after demolishing buildings on a site.

“The law allows property owners to impact our quality of life and erode the neighborhood,” Hofmo said.

Sold for $3.5 million in 2017

Hofmo first realized something was up with the Victorian house when she saw workers digging in its front yard a couple weeks ago.

She checked with Community Board 10 and was told the owner of 7604 Fourth Ave. plans to construct condos on the site.

There are no construction plans to be found on the city Buildings Department website.

The public record does show the Buildings Department approved a demolition application for 7604 Fourth Ave. in June 2018. The application describes the property as a three-story frame and masonry building with a cellar.

It identifies the property owner as Grace Holdings BK LLC. An agent for this entity didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Tan Development LLC of Manhasset, Long Island is listed on the demolition application as the filing representative. That’s someone who is involved in a project but might or might not be an  owner. A rep for Tan Development said she’s not allowed to speak for the developer and he wasn’t available.

City Finance Department records show that Grace Holdings BK LLC bought the Victorian house for $3.5 million from Yumin & John Inc. in September 2017. The Brooklyn Masonic Guild had sold 7604 Fourth Ave. to Yumin & John Inc. in 1995.

This is what the Victorian house at 7604 Fourth Ave. looked like in 1940. Photo courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives

Other options besides condo development

Hofmo said she hopes to involve elected officials and other preservationist groups in a campaign to save the Victorian house.

Instead of being torn down, 7604 Fourth Ave. could be used once again as a school, she said. Or it could be somebody’s home. Or it could be turned into a Bay Ridge cultural center.

“We see this as a perfect opportunity for adaptive reuse,” she said.

Hofmo’s family has lived in the Bay Ridge area for more than a century.

“Maybe that’s why I take things so seriously,” she said.

The neighborhood was ‘galvanized’

The Bay Ridge Conservancy got its start in the 1990s as a group that fought alongside other preservationist organizations to save the Bennet-Farrell-Feldmann House at 119 95th St. and an adjacent wood-frame farm building from demolition.

The threat “galvanized” the neighborhood, Hofmo recalled. “People came together,” she said.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the house as an individual landmark in 1999. The developer who owned it sold it to a family that has restored it.

The Bennet-Farrell-Feldmann House is a Greek Revival-style villa constructed in 1847, a Landmarks Preservation Commission report about it says.

The farm building next door was not landmarked. The developer tore it down and constructed an apartment building.

Hofmo thought the preservationist groups’ partial victory was bittersweet.

“I feel like every time a preservationist compromises, they lose. And every time a developer compromises, they win,” she said.

This is Bennet-Farrell-Feldmann House, which preservationist groups saved from demolition.

Efthimios Zisimopoulos owns the site next door

But back to demolition-threatened 7604 Fourth Ave.

The empty lot next to the Victorian house formerly belonged to Mousa Khalil, who for a while was known in Bay Ridge for owning properties he either tore down or kept vacant. The lot’s address is 7614 Fourth Ave.

In 2018, an entity called 7614 LLC bought Khalil’s lot for $4,893,687 in a foreclosure sale, Finance Department records indicate. Efthimios Zisimopoulos is the sole managing member of 7614 LLC, those records show.

A lawyer who represented him in the property purchase declined to pass on my questions about the property to him.    

Zisimopoulos was in the news recently concerning his purchase of Nathan’s hot-dog restaurant site at 650 86th St.

A February Brooklyn Reporter story said middle-school construction is planned for the former Nathan’s property.

Finance Department records indicate that Zisimopoulos is the managing member of the entity that bought the Nathan’s site.

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