March 8, 2016 By Michael Florio and Jackie Strawbridge
Unique exterior details were illegally torn from the former Elks Lodge on 44th Drive this morning just days after the local community launched an effort to landmark the property and stave off development.
Construction workers took jackhammers to the building, located at 21-42 44th Drive. An elk head, one of the building’s unique exterior details, has been hacked off.
According to DOB documents, the work was taking place without proper permits. By Tuesday afternoon, police had arrived to enforce a stop work order from the Department of Buildings, an officer told the LIC Post.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who wrote a letter to the Landmark Preservation Commission requesting landmark consideration of this property, called the illegal alteration “a disgraceful act of civic vandalism.”
He reached out to the DOB and Mayor’s office to have inspectors visit the location and issue a stop work order.
A construction supervisor told the LIC Post on Tuesday morning that the work being done was to test for asbestos, and not part of a demolition.
Van Bramer and other community members were skeptical of that claim.
The Councilman charged that developers started work in response to his landmark request letter as well as a community petition launched last week to prevent demolition of the building.
“I think the letter terrified them,” Van Bramer said.
“They are trying to destroy the façade of the building, which is the most architecturally significant part,” he continued. “The historical presence is extremely important in the landmarking process.”
Richard Mazda, director of the nearby Secret Theatre who has been documenting work at the Elks Lodge on social media, agreed.
“They are attacking the red brick sculptures of Elks on the front of the building,” he said. “They are destroying what makes it historically significant before it can be landmarked.”
Orestes Gonzales of the Court Square Civic Association, which launched the Elks Lodge petition, said, “since they [developers] got word of the petition they have been working all weekend to destroy it before we could save it.”
After purchasing the property late last year, Adam Westreich of Alwest Equities told the LIC Post that his company was working with Planet Partners to develop both 21-42 44th Drive and the lot next door as luxury condos.
It is unclear where development plans stand now; the property was purchased once again in early February, according to City documents, although names listed on the buyer’s forms appear to have ties to Planet Partners.
Neither company could be reached for comment as of press time.
Van Bramer said that the developers should be punished for any illegal actions.
“If they have violated laws, we want them to be subjected to the most severe penalties that exist,” he said. “In addition, they should have to restore any damage done to the building to preserve its historical value.”
However, he added that once something is destroyed it is hard to restore it.
“It may not be the same, but it is better than having the building demolished,” he said.