Exclusive: Inside Broken Angel

Exclusive: Inside Broken Angel
The Brooklyn Paper / Dennis W. Ho

Broken Angel, the handmade Clinton Hill ziggurat that caught fire in October, inflaming the ire of the Buildings Department and the ardor of the community, is even more extraordinary from the inside.

Shahn Andersen, a young developer, is helping artist Arthur Wood restore his decades-long art project, bring it up to code and turn it into condos (including one for the Wood family, which has been living there for decades).

This week, Andersen took two Brooklyn Paper reporters on a tour of the building to show off how much work has been accomplished since the fire and Wood’s subsequent eviction by cops for violating city building laws.

On the first floor, light filtered through sizable cracks between the wall and the ceiling, casting gentle rays on exposed brick, an old, rusty bathtub, and a table of tools, including a fire extinguisher.

The October blaze that brought the Downing Street mansion to the Buildings Department’s attention was not the cause of the building’s decline, according to Andersen.

“The fire was nothing,” he said. In fact, Andersen contends that it was another fire, in 1975, that caused the greatest damage, before Wood even moved in.

Wood used the scarred building as his studio, and maintained a small apartment downstairs. Since the Buildings Department crackdown, he’s been staying down the street.

But his work remains intact. And the building’s scars underscore the stark beauty in his unusual mosaics, the stained glass formed from discarded bottles, the intricate woodwork. Under Wood’s influence, even those scars are pleasing to the eye, the light breaking through the ample holes in the brick, skirting the shadows, making dusty planks lovely, and abandoned office chairs works of art.

Indeed, the building, constructed over a lifetime, seems almost alive. At any moment, like Howl’s Moving Castle, the house might just shudder, lift its wings, shift its staircases, and take a walk.

That impression deepens the higher one goes. The middle floors, or mezzanines, are only accessible by ladder. They offer bird’s-eye views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan skylines, unimpeded by glass from an altar that’s as airy as a cathedral.

Though different: this spiritual place is covered in pigeon poop.

The highest floors, where the October fire took place, are off-limits. In a month’s time, Andersen will start taking down the all-wood floors and rebuilding them with steel.

He expects to finish reconstruction in about a year.

“It will be even greater than before,” said Andersen. “And with the steel, it will last forever.”

Developer Shahn Andersen has put up the money to save “Broken Angel” at 4 Downing St.
The Brooklyn Paper / Dennis W. Ho