Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fern Luskin, BSA testimony (#144 12A and 145 12A), September 25, 2012: The historical importance of this landmarked building: In April 2007 I saw steel I-beams or a 5th story being erected atop the 1846-1847 bricks of this formerly four story row house, unsupported by anything but those fragile bricks. That’s when I began to delve into the history of the building in order to prevent this addition from going forward. A few months later, I discovered that this was a documented Underground Railroad Station. [We must not deprive New Yorkers and Americans of this unique treasure in the midst of Manhattan, a monument to abolitionism, to the Underground Railroad in NYC, to Emancipation Proclamation, and to the Draft Riots and a reminder of several pivotal moments in U.S. history]. Mr. Mamounas’ deceptions and illegal construction: Over the years, dating back to 2005, Mr. Mamounas has repeatedly deceived the DOB and engaged in illegal construction which can be proved with concrete evidence: by time stamped photographs, some of which show the dates of construction imprinted on the building materials, and eyewitness accounts. On all of Mr. Mamounas’ work permits, he claims that the only thing he intended to add to the height of the 4th story building was a penthouse, when in fact he built an additional 5th story and was also going to add a penthouse above that. His deceptions continue even today in the appeal to the BSA, for although Mr. Mamounas’ attorney claims the construction was for the most part done between 2005 and 2007, the 5th story and penthouse were actually not begun until the spring of 2007 as my neighbors and I witnessed (see my time stamped photo's showing that the 4th story roof was still intact in Sept. 2007). Construction on the 5th story then resumed 2 years later (show 2009 photographs) and again in the fall of 2010 when Mamounas’ men worked furiously and furtively to complete this 5th story and to finish the interior of the apartments on the 3rd, 4th and 5th stories (again, documented in 2010 photographs), at the very time he was ordered by the DOB to do nothing but fire safety work (Oct. 13, 2010) and to remove the illegal 5th story (Nov. 23, 2010, Order to Correct). According to DOB memos and violations, the fire safety work was to be done only in the basement to the first floor apartment and in the 2nd to 3rd floor apartments. “No roof protection to be done! This work to be done only." That none of this construction was done in good faith is furthermore shown by the fact that the architectural plans Mamounas was actually using were not the approved plans: The work done on the 3rd – 5th stories in the fall of 2010 was based on the September 2008 plans posted on the building site which include a brand-new 5th story AND a penthouse above that, rather than the amended plans approved by the DOB on March 24, 2010 which do NOT include the 5th floor and the penthouse. This is shown by the time stamped photograph dating November 7, 2010 of the Sept. 2008 plan that was posted on the wall of the 4th floor. The 5th floor plan, by contrast, was not posted on the 5th story, but was instead secreted away in a folder on a different floor, evidently so the inspectors wouldn’t see it. When Mr. Mamounas submitted the amended March 2010 plans to the DOB, he fooled them by simply omitting the pages for the 5th story and penthouse, even though he was, in fact, continuing to build the 5th story. Even on the current plans of July 12, 2011, submitted to the BSA in relation to this case, the illegal 5th story is still included. VIOLATION OF ZONING LAWS: Despite what Mr. Mitzner claims, Mr. Mamounas violated both the zoning law for this R8b district as indicated by the Planning Commissioner, Amanda Burden, in this 2007 signed letter and the conditions for the variance for the Multiple Dwelling Law issued to him by the DOB. If we can’t rely on our Planning Commissioner to insure that zoning laws are followed, then who can we rely on? It was because of these violations of the Sliver and Multiple Dwelling laws that Mr. Mamounas failed 3 DOB audits. Although on the May 29, 2007 plans submitted to the BSA (p. A-13), which are identical those posted on the building site in the Fall of 2010, the architect deceptively indicates in written form that the building is only 60 feet high, the scale of the building on the elevation tells a different story: that its height is almost 64 ft. high, as is the actual building. This violates the R8b zoning law, as it exceeds 60 feet. And although the DOB issued a variance in 2005 in regard to the Multiple Dwelling Law, since it is invalid as only the BSA had the authority to issue such a variance and the building permit was revoked in the summer of 2009. If all builders were to defy zoning laws and the DOB, imagine not only the unsightliness of our city, but the potential danger of building collapse and injury to residents. In this particular case, the steel I-beams of the 5th story sit atop 1846-1847 bricks, unsupported by anything but those bricks. According to the new 2011 plans, Mr. Mamounas plans to excavate the bedrock, which would endanger all the contiguous landmarked buildings on the block. The DOB, in fact, was intending to pursue a criminal investigation against the owner because of the illegally installed boiler and chimney which were not approved by the DOB. The eruption of the 5th story on this row of 4 story buildings is aesthetically disturbing and it lops off a slice of our history with a serrated knife. No hardship as Mr. Mamounas claims, but rather a self-created hardship: Finally, Mamounas, greatly inflating the cost of demolition of the illegal 5th story at $961,000, claims hardship, but this was of his own illegal doing. With its paper thin and plywood thin exterior walls, Julie and I will tear it down for free! The only hardship is on his neighbors as his illegal addition lowers their property values and might endanger their adjoining buildings. My appeal to the BSA: With this case, the BSA has an unparalleled opportunity to set a high ethical standard for all to follow and an important precedent, particularly for landmarked buildings. After all, if a scofflaw developer can flout the law, even in a landmarked building of such importance, then why bother instituting the laws. Why don’t we just abolish the City Council or better yet, return to the law of the Wild West – that way owners could build whatever, however, and wherever they want to. The whole country is watching this case. For the sake of our children, I trust you will make the right decision. The architectural and historical legacy of this landmarked Underground Railroad Station should endure for future generations so we can teach them what transpired here.
Friends of Lamartine Place HELP FIGHT ILLEGAL ADDITION TO THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD STATION The owner of the Hopper-Gibbons home (339 West 29th Street), the only documented Underground Railroad Station in Manhattan, recently filed with the Board of Standards and Appeals to retain the illegal 5th story addition to this four story row house and to reject the Landmark Preservation Commission’s authority over this building. The Department of Buildings, furthermore, recently issued two new building permits for the sidewalk shed and scaffolding. The Friends of Lamartine Place have hired legal counsel to help fight this permit, but they need your help. Please help preserve this beautiful and historically-important block by making a contribution (even small amounts of $5 or $10 would help). Your donation is completely tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. Write a check to the Historic Districts Council – 232 East 11th Street New York NY 10003 and make sure to put “Friends of Lamartine Place” in the memo line. Credit cards donations can be accepted by phone at 212-614-9107 For further information on the history behind the building and on the owner’s latest tactic, see two Daily News articles by Jennifer Cunningham: http://articles.nydailynews. com/2012-01-16/news/30630632_ 1_brownstone-underground- railroad-quaker-abolitionists http://articles.nydailynews. com/2012-01-29/news/30677052_ 1_historic-site-nuisance- abatement-historic-house. View the PDF of the press release:lamartine place donation flyer september 2012 http://hdc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/lamartine-place-donation-flyer-september-2012.pdf _________________________________________________ A brief summary of the Mamounas brothers’ continued defiance of the law over the years at 339 West 29th Street In 2008, the building failed an audit conducted by the Department of Buildings, because it was not in compliance with the Sliver Law, and in 2009, because it was in violation of the Multiple Dwelling Law. The building permit was subsequently revoked. In November-December, 2010, the owners built new apartments in the illegal 5th story addition at the very time they were supposed to do nothing but bring the building up to fire code. In 2011, the Department of Buildings issued an “order to correct” (to remove the 5th story addition) and was even pursuing a criminal investigation against Mr. Mamounas. His current attempt to bypass the “order to correct” and the LPC’s authority and to, instead, keep building skyward is, therefore, particularly exasperating and needs to be fought tooth and nail.
http://www.green-wood.com/2012/manhattans-underground-railroad-stop/ Blog posts in and about Green-Wood by Historian Jeff Richman (More Info>>) Manhattan’s Underground Railroad Station May 3rd, 2012 | Published in Green-Wood Historian Blog, Uncategorized | 1 Comment I’ve been catching up on some e-mail this week and came across a link Ruth Edebohls (one of our great Historic Fund tour guides and a great fan of New York history) sent me to a Daily News story from January, 2012. It reports that a marker was unveiled in front of the home of Abigail Hopper Gibbons and James Gibbons, at 339 West 29th Street in Manhattan. I knew that the Gibbons had been well-known abolitionists of 19th-century New York who are interred at Green-Wood. Here’s what I wrote about them in my book, Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery: New York’s Buried Treasure, in the passage that is devoted to New York City’s Civil War Riots of July, 1863: The homes of abolitionists and Republicans became prime targets of the mobs. On July 14, at about noon, two men on horseback, shouting and waving swords, lead a mob against the home of abolitionists ABIGAIL HOPPER GIBBONS (1801-1893) and JAMES S. GIBBONS (1810-1892) (a cousin of Horace Greeley) near Eighth Avenue and 29th Street. The Gibbons’s two daughters fled to a neighbor’s house as men with pickaxes stormed in and destroyed what they could. Other rioters joined in, looting and smashing what remained, only to be driven off twice by soldiers and police, and to return a third time to set the house on fire. Neighbors, concerned that the fire might spread to their houses, extinguished the flames. I don’t think I knew then that their home was also part of the Underground Railroad. But, since then, their home has been recognized as the only documented Manhattan station on the Underground Railroad. It was in the Gibbons’s home that fugitive slaves found a safe place to stay on their journey to freedom. This is Abigail: Abigail Hopper Gibbons, Quaker, abolitionist, prison reformer, and Civil War nurse, whose home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Women's rights advocate Elizabeth Cady Stanton said of her: "Though early married, and the mother of several children, her life has been one of constant activity and self-denial for the public good." (Click here to expand) And this is her husband, James Sloan Gibbons: James Sloan Gibbons, Abigail's husband, was a committed abolitionist. He wrote the words to a Civil War song, "We Are Coming, Father Abraham, 300,000 More"--more troops in the fight to end slavery. (Click here to expand) Here’s what the block on 29th Street looked like circa 2009, when construction was still in progress–the home they lived in is the one that is shrouded. 29th Street--the Gibbons's House is under construction in this photograph, taken circa 2009. It was this construction that sparked efforts to research the historical importance of this building and to protect it. (Click here to expand) Here’s a YouTube video from 2008 about efforts to protect the Gibbons’s home. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-flGoi0rWg&featur And here is the Daily News’ video of the January unveiling of the historical marker describing the significance of what had been the Gibbons’s home. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4JgNG5dyv8 For more on the Abigail and James, see my earlier blog posts on their fascinating lives, and the lives of those they touched, including two ex-slaves who are interred at Green-Wood in their lot.
http://ny.curbed.com/search.php?origin=cny&query=339+west+29th+street&sites=locale&blogs=1%2C4%2C9 Preservation of Underground Railroad Derailed by Delays Preservationists cheered earlier this month with the naming of the Lamartine Historic District in Chelsea; but those good feelings are bittersweet, as the address at the center of the row of Greek revival buildings—the Hopper-Gibbons House at 339 West 29th Street—is a decaying eyesore while its owners fight the city over an alleged illegal addition. The Hopper-Gibbons House is Manhattan's only surviving building linked to the Underground Railroad, which shepherded escaped slaves to freedom before the Civil War; and it survived the torches of an angry mob during the Draft Riots. But legal wrangling between the current owner, Tony Manounas, and the City over an alleged illegal rooftop addition has left the building with plywood-boarded windows and unfinished walls, and obscured by scaffolding. Manounas and his brother Nick began the addition of a penthouse unit to the Hopper-Gibbons House in 2010 and were halted later that year by the City. Since then, Tony Manounas has held on to his right to appeal the City's decision (delayed in part by the death of his brother Nick) as the building sits in disrepair. One building resident told the Daily News, "It’s a moral and historical landmark. It should be a source of pride for the city and not just be allowed to be desecrated in this way."
http://gvshp.org/blog/2012/07/13/the-1863-draft-riots-and-abigail-hopper-gibbons/ The 1863 Draft Riots and Abigail Hopper Gibbons By Sheryl – July 13, 2012Posted in: East Village, West Village The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Abigail Hopper Gibbons, whose family's home at 339 West 29th Street was attacked during the 1863 Draft Riots. As Off the Grid chronicled last year, today is the anniversary of New York City’s draft riots, five days of rioting, looting, burning, and wanton violence that erupted after the Federal government instituted the Draft Act of 1863, the first instance of compulsory service in the federal military services. The riots began on July 13, just two days after New York City’s first draft lottery. Last year, Off the Grid recounted some of the sites in the Village associated with the riots. This year, we wanted to focus on Abigail Hopper Gibbons, an abolitionist and reformer whose family’s home was targeted during the infamous riots. 339 West 29th Street, a stop on the underground railroad and target of the 1863 draft riots, is still under scaffolding as the city investigates an illegal addition. The draft riots reflected the extreme racial and class tensions exacerbated by the Civil War. Working class men were in direct competition for scarce jobs with African Americans, and the recently proclaimed Emancipation Proclamation further tied the war to the cause of slavery. Abigail Hopper Gibbons and her husband James Sloan Gibbons were targeted during the draft riots. They were both Republicans (the party of Lincoln) and outspoken abolitionists. In addition, Hopper Gibbons ran a school for African-American children and volunteered at a school for African-American adults. Their home at 339 West 29th Street has been documented as a stop on the Underground Railroad, the network of safe houses that assisted escaped slaves in getting to Canada. You can learn more about this landmarked building’s connection to the Underground Railroad from the designation report. The Isaac T. Hopper Home at 110 Second Avenue, headquarters of the Women's Prison Association. On July 14th, the second day of rioting, 339 West 29th Street was attacked. The family suspected they might be a target, and because of careful planning and the generosity of one or two of their neighbors, they made it safely away from the house during the attack across the neighboring buildings’ rooftops. You can read a wonderful first-hand account of their escape by Hopper Gibbon’s daughter Lucy Gibbons Morse here. Hopper Gibbons herself was not in New York City during the riots. The dedicated activist was working in the south as a nurse for the union army. And while this attack took place in Chelsea, the Village still claims an important connection with the Hopper Gibbons family. In 1845, along with her father Issac T. Hopper, Hopper Gibbons founded a prison reform association. She advocated for improvements in the city’s prisons, petitioned for the hiring of police matrons, and urged the establishment of separate prisons for women. In 1854, she formally created the Women’s Prison Association and the Issac T. Hopper Home, which provided temporary shelter and job skills for women leaving prison. The first home was located at West 4th Street, near 8th Avenue. In 1874, the Women’s Prison Association purchased a Greek Revival townhouse at 110 Second Avenue. The Women’s Prison Association continues to work on behalf of women trapped in the prison system at their landmarked headquarters at 110 Second Avenue.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Story about the Hopper Gibons house on News 4 NY.

Story about the Hopper Gibons house on News 4 NY.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Important article in the New York Times on Jan 5, 2011!

Important article in the New York Times on Jan 5, 2011!

Change to Civil War-Era Building DisputedBy ROBIN POGREBIN
Published: January 5, 2011

A building owner has ignored the city’s demands to dismantle a fifth story that was added to a landmark mid-19th-century row house in Chelsea that may be the only surviving documented Manhattan station on the Underground Railroad.

Abigail Hopper Gibbons, an abolitionist, lived in the house.
The owner, listed by the city as Tony Mamounas, had been ordered by the New York City Buildings Department to remove the addition by last month, but neighbors say that work instead has been proceeding on the property, once home to Abigail Hopper Gibbons and her husband, James, who were prominent New York City abolitionists.

“It’s just come to this desperate situation,” said Fern Luskin, an architectural historian who lives on the block and has taken up the cause of protecting the historic integrity of the building, a Greek Revival house at 339 West 29th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. “It’s like taking a serrated knife and lopping off our history,” she said of the addition. “It will permanently disfigure the evidence of what happened there.”

The owner is expected to appeal the order.

The Buildings Department initially allowed the addition in March 2005, and the owner later began construction. But officials revoked the permit in July 2009 after hearing complaints about the project, the city said, and after conducting an audit that found that the expansion did not meet state fire-safety codes.

Three months after the permit was revoked the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the building, along with others on the block, as part of the Lamartine Place Historic District, calling No. 339 “one of the very few extant sites to be associated with the pivotal events of those days.”

“Although the houses in the row have experienced alterations over time, this small group of houses continues to exist as the city changes around them,” the commission wrote in its designation report.

Work on the building was ordered stopped in July 2009, although last year the city agreed to let the owner address any emergency safety issues.

In November, after receiving complaints that construction on the building was continuing, the city ordered Mr. Mamounas to remove the additional floor by Dec. 7. A day before that deadline his lawyer, Marvin Mitzner, notified the city that he planned to ask its Board of Standards and Appeals to let him complete the addition, said Tony Sclafani, a Buildings Department spokesman.

A spokesman for the appeals board said it had not yet received such an appeal.

The city has a range of remedies to address illegal additions, including fines, orders to fix a condition and criminal court summonses.

It is somewhat unusual for a building permit to be revoked. But Mr. Sclafani said that when the permit was originally approved in 2005, the city allowed the owner to provide alternative fire-safety measures, like sprinklers and fire escapes, instead of the fireproof stairwell required by state law. In 2008, he said, the appeals board ruled that the city lacked the power to waive the fire-safety requirements, so the permit was revoked upon review by the auditors.

Mr. Sclafani said that while the additional floor had not been removed, inspectors on a recent visit found no evidence that construction to complete the additional story was moving forward.

“If any other work was performed that is not related to the emergency work that we’ve ordered, we will take the appropriate action,” Mr. Sclafani said.

Neighbors, however, said they believed the owners were proceeding with construction. “They’ve completed that illegal fifth story,” said Barbara Testi, who has lived in the building for 30 years. “It’s very frustrating. It shouldn’t even be there.”

Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, said the case warranted stronger enforcement action by the city.

“The issue is not only the destruction of a landmark and the desecration of a site on the Underground Railroad,” he said. “It’s an owner who is flagrantly violating local zoning and building codes and landmark restrictions. The buildings department really needs to ramp up its enforcement actions against him.”

Calls to Mr. Mamounas’s office seeking comment were not returned. Alvin H. Glick, chairman and a founder of the Mautner-Glick Corporation, said that he was the managing agent for the building, but that he did not know the status of the project.

The Gibbonses, abolitionists before the Civil War, used the house as a meeting place, where they helped escaping slaves en route to Canada. “They were like the Schindler of their day, taking such a chance, harboring slaves that were running for their lives,” said Ms. Luskin, referring to Oskar Schindler, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

In a letter cited by the landmarks commission in its designation report, Joseph Choate, a friend of the Gibbonses, wrote that he had dined with them along with William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist, and a black man “on his way to freedom.” The Hopper Gibbons house was attacked and burned during the Draft Riots of 1863. Two of the Gibbonses’ daughters escaped the mob by climbing over adjacent roofs to a waiting carriage on Ninth Avenue, descending through the house at 355 West 29th Street, where Abigail Gibbons’s sister and her family lived.

Ms. Luskin, who with Julie Finch is a chairwoman of the Friends of the Hopper Gibbons Underground Railroad Site and Lamartine Place Historic District, said that on an aesthetic level the building’s alterations disrupt the street’s uniform cornice line.

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, an advocacy group, said the Hopper Gibbons house offered a valuable window into the role of Chelsea in the city’s abolitionist history. “You don’t necessarily think that this radical movement was going on amidst all this gentility,” he said.

The landmarks commission is optimistic the situation will be resolved. “We’re not so concerned if the top floor is removed within the next few weeks or months,” John Weiss, the commission’s deputy counsel, said. “We’re confident that, in the long run, the work that was not approved by the buildings department will be removed and the building will be the better for it.”