Bed-Stuy’s beloved Dangler Mansion gets the wrecking ball after Landmarks fails to act

Demolition underway at 441 Willoughby Ave.
Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith

The clock has run out on efforts to save Bed-Stuy’s Jacob Dangler mansion: The New York City Department of Buildings issued a permit for full demolition of the building Tuesday. Video posted on Instagram by neighbors Wednesday shows demolition of the 1890s structure has started.

Just over a week ago, it seemed likely Landmarks would step in and save the French Gothic Revival house at 441 Willoughby Ave. at the last minute. LPC held a public hearing to consider landmarking the building on Tuesday, July 12. At the hearing, attendees overwhelmingly supported landmarking the mansion. Nineteen people spoke in favor and another 71 people sent letters urging for it to be designated as an individual landmark.

But the commission did not vote at the hearing to landmark it, nor in the days following, despite LPC Chair Sarah Carroll promising to “bring this item back for a vote very shortly.” While the commission has a year to decide whether to designate an individual landmark after it is calendared, any pending DOB application, such as one for a demolition permit, can be held up only for 40 days after a property is calendared. If the site isn’t designated in 40 days, DOB can issue a permit. After 42 days, DOB issued the demolition permit for 441 Willoughby.

A group of locals gathered recently in a rally to protect the building.Photo by Anna Bradley-Smith
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In addition to Bed-Stuy residents, local New York City Councilmember Chi Ossé, Assemblymember Stefani Zinerman, State Senator, representatives from Community Board 3, the Historic Districts Council, New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Victorian Society, Pratt Institute and even a rep for famed actor Edward Norton spoke in favor of saving the building at the hearing earlier this month.

“Please recognize 441 Willoughby as not only a visual and architectural gem and landmark, but as an anchor that also preserves the history and relationships of a community,” lifelong neighbor Paula Lee Poy, whose family has called the block home for five generations, implored the commission at the hearing.

Only four testified against landmarking: The current owners, their legal counsel, and the lawyer for developer Tomer Erlich. The owners, the United Grand Chapter Order of the Eastern Star, said at the hearing they had to sell the building to avoid bankruptcy.

The mansion in April.Photo by Susan De Vries

The property had a $2.3 million lien and the order was facing foreclosure if the planned sale did not go through, reps for the organization said recently.

Lauren Cawdrey, a key organizer in the landmarking effort, told Brownstoner today it is “gut wrenching to see the work happening and as predicted, so unsafely and without any warning.”

“There are just chunks falling off the building and no one was alerted. It’s not happening in a safe or respectful way.”

She said everyone on the block had been optimistic about the building’s future following the LPC hearing and there was a feeling of excitement and hopefulness about what would happen next, so to see the mansion being pulled apart is devastating.

At this point, Cawdrey said she didn’t know what could be done and she would be regrouping with others who have been trying to save the building to figure out the next steps.

“It does seem like LPC did sleep on this – a lot can happen in 24 hours, 48 hours. The ball feels like it’s in motion, and it’s frustrating that we’ve come so far, and got nowhere.”

Later this morning, a crowd of locals and elected officials gathered on the sidewalk outside the mansion. Ossé and Brisport called the mayor’s office and the Department of Buildings to ask for a stop work order. So far no one has heard from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

At around 11:30 this morning, reps from the DOB arrived to inspect the site and respond to safety complaints. The DOB and LPC declined to comment and told Brownstoner to call the mayor’s office for comment.

The Jacob Dangler mansion was commissioned in 1897 by German immigrant and prominent local meat purveyor Jacob Dangler and designed by Brooklyn’s most prolific German American architect at the time, Theobald Engelhardt. The Dangler family owned the house until 1967, when it was sold to a Masonic chapter. The deed was transferred to the United Grand Chapter Order of the Eastern Star (OES) for $40,000 in 2003.

Erlich said earlier this month he plans to raze the building and put up a 44-unit, seven-story apartment building.

Update (Friday, 9 a.m.): Demolition often takes two or three days. But, by 5:20 p.m. Thursday, the mansion was gone.

This story first appeared on Brownstoner.