A group of residents and elected officials that have been working to landmark a decades-old Elks Lodge in Long Island City were told by the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) last week that their efforts had been exhausted.
In a letter to Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, the LPC Commissioner Meenakshi Srinivasan said the property, located at 21-42 44th Dr., did not merit landmark status because of its “comparative lack of historic and architectural significance relative to other landmarked clubhouses.”
The LPC examined the building earlier last year and made the same determination. They reevaluated their decision again after the Greater Astoria Historical Society provided their historical findings to the LPC.
Nolan, along with Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, sent letters to the LPC earlier last month asking the agency to evaluate the building for landmark designation. The building was purchased for $8.5 million by Alwest Equities and Planet Partners, which records show are operating as 44th Drive LLC. The developers plan to turn the building into condos.
“I am disappointed by the decision of the NYC Landmarks Commission to not landmark the Elks lodge,” Nolan said in a statement. “This building is truly a unique structure and its history deserves to be saved so that future generations of residents of Long Island City and Queens can continue to enjoy it.”
On March 8, construction workers were spotted destroying the most historical parts of the building ― the facade.
Van Bramer and residents held a rally to hold the developers, who at that time did not have permits to conduct any demolition, accountable.
“Everything that happened here yesterday was illegal,” Van Bramer said at the rally. “All of it was criminal.”
According to the Greater Astoria Historical Society, The Queens Elks Lodge Number 878 was built in 1908 and 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 LPC] has maligned one of the most distinguished architects that has lived in New York City,” said Bob Singleton, executive director of the Greater Astoria Historical Society.
Singleton said he does not understand the LPC’s reasoning for deciding not to landmark the building and that comparing this Elks Lodge to other landmarked clubhouses is not a metric that he has seen the agency use before. He said pushing for the landmark should have been done “years ago” along with an inventory of the community’s historic fabric.
“There are some serious questions about LIC development if we see that there is a strong indication that many things that are happening in Long Island City is not in agreement with Jane Jacobs,” Singleton said. “That should give everyone — residents, elected officials — [cause for] concern.”
Jane Jacobs was a journalist and activist known for her influence on urban studies and the book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”
Still, he remains optimistic that the community can learn from this experience and can press for responsible development in Long Island City.
“I want success for Long Island City,” Singleton said. “We are still upbeat on the community, on its leadership on the business leaders.”