By Mark Hallum
The City Council voted Tuesday to affirm the April ruling of the Landmark Preservation Commission, which designated the Lydia Ann Bell and William J. Ahles House at 39-26 213th St. in Bayside a landmark once and for all. The final motion is the result of work that started in 2009 with then-Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and other preservation activists, and ended with Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), who brought vocal support for the motion to the chamber.
The Ahles House dates to 1873, long before Bayside was consumed by the growing city of New York. It was built by Robert Bell as a gift for his daughter Lydia and her husband William. It is one of the oldest buildings in the neighborhood, a remnant of the estate of the Bell family, after whom Bell Boulevard is named.
Landmark designation of the property took seven years due to lack of cooperation from the owner. According to former corporate attorney Chris Murillo a major reason behind the length and complexity of the landmark-creation process is the fact that the designation can remove the legal rights of owners to do as they please with their property. Extra caution is taken when putting a label on buildings which locks the property into one use.
LPC rulings go through multiple agencies to ensure the rights of residents are not infringed upon. The Subcommittee on Zoning, community boards and Zoning and Land Use are just a few of the entities needed to approve landmark designations, according to Vallone.
“We had to work with the owner to make sure that he understood that we weren’t doing something against his wishes, but that we were trying to protect something from 1873, and it all worked out,” Vallone said, adding that the vote in the Council Chamber was 44-to-1 in favor of the designation. “This is as good of a landmark as we’re going to see around here.”
“Over the past 20 years, the Bayside Historical Society has been a steady and true advocate for landmark certification of the Ahles House in Bayside,” said Paul DiBenedetto, president of the Bayside Historical Society. “We were thrilled to hear that this 1870s Bell family estate, a critical reminder of Bayside’s rich and rapidly disappearing past, is now an official NYC landmark.”
Vallone has been an outspoken supporter of preserving historic places in his district, such as the Hawthorne Court Apartments on the corner of 43rd Avenue and 216th Street, which received landmark designation in 2014. The apartments, designed by the architect Benjamin Braunstein, were built during the late 1920s and early 1930s in the Tudor Revival style.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall