By Bill Parry
Some of the biggest names in the Long Island City arts community declared war on developers who illegally altered the decorative facade on the Elks Lodge building on 44th Drive Tuesday, one week after neighborhood residents renewed efforts to have the property landmarked.
Construction workers were seen removing elk heads from the molding with jackhammers before the Department of Buildings issued a stop work order on the site for “dangerous and illegal construction.”
Photographer Orestes Gonzales, who launched the Elks Lodge landmark petition in a grassroots effort save it from destruction, saw workers drill into the facade Tuesday afternoon.
Richard Mazda, the owner of the Secret Theatre and founder of the LIC Arts Open, had been documenting work being done at the site. He said workers sneered at him when he asked to see permits and they claimed they were doing asbestos removal.
“Maybe this building is a line in the sand about how we go about further development here,” Mazda said. “We’ve had a relationship with other developers like Rockrose and TF Cornerstone, who go about things by the rules. Not these Johnny-come-latelies.”
Mazda was referring to Alwest Equities and Planet Partners, which planned on replacing the Elks Lodge with an eight-story, 74-unit condo building. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who organized the rally of artists outside the Elks Lodge Wednesday afternoon, was furious. Last week he wrote to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, urging them to designate the building as a histroical landmark,
“Everything that happened here yesterday was illegal and there were criminal acts against this community,” he said. “They tore into this facade surgically, and we will never forgive them. What has been done to this building is nothing short of civic vandalism.”
Van Bramer said he has been in contact with the city Department of Buildings and the de Blasio administration about the matter and that the developers had been slapped with multiple fines.
The councilman said he would draft two pieces of legislation to discourage developers from illegally altering structures. The first piece would impose significant fines and penalties to any landowner that intentionally alters the facade or any part of a building that is in the process of being landmarked and the second piece would authorize the city to increase the fines if a developer does illegal construction without a permit.
Alwest Equities and Planet Partners could not be reached for comment.
“This is the kind of developer we need to be extra vigilant about and maybe put out a warning to all the new developers coming that this is a community that is unified and if we see illegal work we need to report it,” Mazda said. “And if we see people going about this in a kind of wanton destruction we need to protest.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr