Hopes that part of Park Slope’s fabled Grand Prospect Hall could be saved dimmed earlier this week with the revelation that the new owner, Gowanus Cubes, an LLC operated by Angelo Rigas, has filed permits for a five-story, mixed-use building, most likely containing condos, on the site.
Although the move had been expected, local preservationists had hoped that at least the façade of the historic banquet hall would be preserved. However, Jim Glaser, an artist who lives nearby, told the New York Post that the building was in the final stages of demolition.
Since the 1980s, Grand Prospect Hall, at 263 Prospect Ave., was known for its television commercial, in which owners Michael and Alice Halkias stood amid the hall’s opulent fixtures and architecture and said, “We make your dreams come true!”
The commercial was so famous that in 2019, “Saturday Night Live” did a parody of it — despite the fact that viewers in other parts of the country had no idea what the show was parodying.
After the death of Michael Halkias of COVID in 2020, Rigas bought the building and several adjacent properties for $30 million. He filed for full demolition in August of last year.
Soon, 16-year-old Solya Spiegel and friend Toby Panone, 18, launched a petition drive to save the Hall by landmarking it, and approximately 30,000 people eventually signed it, according to news reports. Even ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio got into the act last August, when he said he wanted to preserve the façade.
But although the Grand Prospect Hall had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, it had never been declared an official New York City landmark.
The Grand Prospect Hall was built in the early 1890s by German immigrant John Kolle, chiefly as a resource for the German American community. When it was constructed, it had, in addition to its restaurants and meeting halls, bowling alleys, a shooting range, a “bird cage” elevator, a roof garden, and, unusually for that time, electric lights. When the building burned down in 1900, Kolle immediately rebuilt it.
In 1940, the Hall was sold to a Polish American organization. In the 1950s, when the neighborhood started to decline due to the construction of the Prospect Expressway, the Hall did as well. By 1981, when the Halkias family bought it, it had seriously deteriorated and was only sporadically used. The family refurbished it from scratch, and even purchased the original murals and reinstalled them.
Over the years, Grand Prospect Hall hosted a myriad of functions, including appearances by stars such as Fred Astaire, Sophie Tucker, Gingers Rogers and Lena Horne; rallies by political figures such as presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, socialist leader Eugene B. Debs and then-Mayor Jimmy Walker; film showings; live theater; baby showers; masquerade balls; concerts, and even a basketball team.
It also hosted important meetings for neighborhood groups, the local community board, religious and fraternal organizations, the legal community, and much more. In addition, it was used as a filming location for “The Cotton Club,” “Prizzi’s Honor,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Gossip Girl” and more.