Landmarks Holds Public Hearing for Jacob Dangler House

The Jacob Dangler House. Image Credit: LPC.

UPDATE: (7/21/22) The developer began demolition on the Dangler House on July 21, 2022. CityLand will continue to follow this story as it develops.

The owner and a potential developer oppose landmarking, 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 Landmark. Located at 441 Willoughby Avenue at the intersection of Willoughby and Nostrand, this Bedford-Stuyvesant mansion was calendared for consideration 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 alterations, namely a large addition that drew questions from Commissioners, the integrity of the building is intact. The Dangler House was purchased in 1954 by the Universal Grand Lodge, a Masonic organization, and has since housed the United Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. The Order is very engaged in Bed-Stuy, using the home as a gathering space and community food pantry and awarding 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 unable to reach the Order until after the building was calendared.

Potential developer Tomer Erlich of Brooklyn 360 was represented through a statement read by his company’s attorney, Eliad S. Shapiro, to oppose the landmarking. Shapiro alleged that Landmarks “prejudiced Brooklyn 360” by leaving them unprepared for this hearing. According to Shapiro on April 8, 2022, Brooklyn 360 asked for status reports on six properties, including the Dangler House. Brooklyn 360 received four reports on April 11th and a fifth report in May but did not receive a report on the Dangler House. After over a month, Brooklyn 360 sent a follow up request to Landmarks about the Dangler House. On May 24th, Landmarks informed Brooklyn 360 that the Dangler House was not landmarked. On June 3, 2022, Brooklyn 360 moved forward and requested a permit for demolition from the Department of Buildings. The Buildings permit intake form was rejected on June 7th, the same day Landmarks voted to calendar the Dangler House for consideration. Shapiro claimed that “this intentional delay violated LPC precedent,” and asked to delay this Landmarks hearing due to Brooklyn 360’s lack of prep 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 on this decision to sell, 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 the mansion as an event space; that the building is in disarray; and that the financial difficulties resulted in the difficult decision to sell. While the Chapter is open to saving the building and adding new housing around it, Punnett advocated strongly against landmarking, arguing that leaving the building as is would make it “unsellable” and “the biggest eyesore on Nostrand and Willoughby.”

The Chapter’s Assistant Grand Matron Celeste Jefferson also testified in opposition, with multiple members deferring to her for testimony. Jefferson reiterated that COVID “truly destroyed [the Chapter’s] finances,” and that their “only recourse” was selling. Jefferson emphasized the strong possibility that Brooklyn 360 will back out if the home is landmarked, which she claimed would force the Chapter into litigation and bankruptcy. Since the building is already “in decay,” Jefferson believes the neighborhood would be better off with a new development.

Mark Brandoff, the attorney for the United Grand Chapter, added that there is currently a foreclosure proceeding against the owners, who owe $2.5 million on the mortgage. Brandoff echoed Jefferson’s belief that if the sale falls through, the Chapter will go bankrupt, and spoke out against the potential landmarking.

Elected officials and many community members spoke in support of saving the Dangler House and landmarking the building. Councilmember Chi Ossé, who represents the district, wants the building to be landmarked due to its historical and cultural impact, and noted that “the proud culture of Bed-Stuy is not just represented in this space but facilitated by it.” State Assembly Member Stefani Zinerman, who represents the district, also voiced her support.

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

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

Cawdrey claimed Illegal work is currently ongoing at the mansion, and that 311 has stopped hearing complaints despite the home’s proximity to two elementary schools. Cawdrey also praised the architecture, saying “we will find another space to meet, but we will never find another structure like this one.”

Additional community members and landmarks advocates spoke in support of landmarking. 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 Avenue. Norton believed that buildings like the Dangler House are a valuable piece of history and should be viewed as a “major city asset” when it comes to creative productions within New York City.

Christina Conroy of the Victorian Society noted that while the owners applied for a demolition permit, there have been no plans or applications for new buildings filed, sharing concerns that the home will be “needlessly demolished” and that the lot will stay vacant for years.

Suzanne Spellen, an architectural historian and longtime Bed-Stuy resident whose work was used in this landmarking process, disagreed with the Chapter’s sentiment that no one would buy the lot if the sale to Brooklyn 360 fell through. “I strongly disagree that no one wants a landmarked building,” Spellen said, adding that developers just need to be willing and creative.

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

Landmarks Chair Sarah Carroll concluded the discussion, saying that the Commission will consider all testimony and vote on landmarking the Dangler House at a later date.

By: Cassidy Strong (Cassidy is a CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2024.)

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



One thought on “Landmarks Holds Public Hearing for Jacob Dangler House

  1. Brooklyn and other older cities will not have the rich visual heritage that is being quickly removed by anxious developers determined to hit their debt repayment targets.
    The Dangler House will likely be replaced by a plain concrete facade reminiscent of a State prison. Don’t expect any eye-candy on the next iteration. There goes the tourism dollars and potential savings on reusing the property for community benefits. Why the owners were reluctant to seek State-aid to retask the property is too long a tale to tell here.

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