A former Elks Lodge in Long Island City is slated for demolition and a group of neighborhood residents are trying to preserve the decades-old building for community use.
Amadeo Plaza, the president and founder of the newly-formed Court Square Civic Association, recently created a petition calling on Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer to oppose the demolition plan and to foster a conversation about responsible development in Long Island City.
“There aren’t a lot of buildings in Long Island City that are architecturally distinctive,” Plaza said. “A lot of the buildings that are up now are luxury towers. The character of the neighborhood is disappearing.”
The Elks Lodge, located at 21-42 44th Drive, was purchased in November and is slated to become an eight-story, 74-unit building. According to the Greater Astoria Historical Society, The Queens Elks Lodge Number 878 was “one of the most powerful political institutions in Queens for the next half century.”
It was altered in 1914 by famous architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle, who worked for Calvert Vaux, the designer of Central Park and was most recently used by the Sheet Metal Workers Union 137 for meetings. The new incarnation of the Queens Elks Lodge Number 878, which is a designated landmark, is located at 82-20 Queens Blvd. in Elmhurst.
Plaza said the building’s rich architectural history, along with its value as a potential community space are some of the reasons residents are trying so hard to protect the structure.
“There’s no reason that it couldn’t be used again,” Plaza said. “There is value in preserving these older buildings.”
He also hopes this fight sparks a larger discussion about development in Long Island City. Plaza and his wife moved to the Court Square area two years ago and were profiled in the New York Times about their decision to move to the area.
“Some would say that I am actually part of the problem,” Plaza said. “We’re part of that incoming wave of people but it’s ridiculous for the developers to think that there aren’t some newcomers in the area who would like to hold on to some of that past.”
He added that this development is part of a larger systemic problem taking place in Long Island City and that there are “smart ways” of fostering development without abolishing the character of a neighborhood.
“I envy Hunters Point because they’ve drawn that line on Vernon Boulevard,” Plaza said. “I think there are no lines on Court Square and that’s the problem.”
Van Bramer has written to the Landmark Preservation Commission to request that the agency consider the “unique and beautiful building” for designation as a landmark.
“The Elks Lodge building is an important and distinctive part of the LIC community, and it deserves to stand in our neighborhood for years to come,” Van Bramer said in a statement.
Plaza said many developers use Long Island City’s proximity to Manhattan as a selling point but he is hoping to encourage people to create a sense of community in the neighborhood.
“We’re in for the long haul. We have a 1-year-old and we want him to grow up feeling like this is his home,” Plaza said. “A lot of people are just here for now and even when they are here they’re still leaving the area for fun and I don’t think you have to do that. I just think that there needs to be an advocate for that idea.”