City Won’t Landmark Brooklyn’s Grand Prospect Hall

Grand Prospect Hall and former owner Alice Halkias (Wikipedia, Youtube via Jimmy Kimmel)

A last-minute campaign to landmark the Grand Prospect Hall has failed.

Despite its cultural cachet, the Brooklyn banquet hall has undergone too many architectural changes since it opened in 1903 to qualify for preservation, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The panel also noted that Angelo Rigas, the local electrician who owns the building, has already gutted much of the building’s interior.

“These alterations at Grand Prospect Hall diminish the legibility of the original design and substantially impact the historic architectural character and integrity of the building,” wrote Kate Lemos McHale, a researcher for the landmarks commission, in its rejection.

The decision all but kills activists’ leverage to stop Rigas from demolishing the building. They had hoped to landmark the building before the city could approve Rigas’ request for demolition permits, and even persuaded a judge to temporarily halt work on the building’s exterior two weeks ago  They were set to plead their case tomorrow morning.

In its letter, the landmarks commission pointed out that even if the building were designated for preservation, that wouldn’t compel the owner to do anything in particular with it. “LPC does not regulate use, and landmark designation does not compel an owner to restore a building or bring back a prior use,” wrote McHale.

Moreover, dozens of buildings with landmark status have been demolished anyway.

The local activists, led by artist Jim Glaser and two local teenagers, wrote on Twitter that they still think there’s room for a deal with Rigas. “We plan to keep working to try and save the facade by halting work or discussing with the developer ways to preserve the facade,” they wrote.

Glaser elaborated on the group’s plans in an op-ed Wednesday. “With the bones of the building still intact and a network of culturally attuned real estate investors coming together, we hope to work with the new owner to build around a revitalized, and likely smaller, Prospect Hall in ways that will benefit the community while helping the owner reach his business goals,” he wrote.

Rigas’ goals are not known, but he would likely have to build a substantial project to achieve a return on his investment. Acquisition alone cost him $30 million. 

Behind-the-scenes wrangling aside, the group’s legal remedies appear limited. Glaser’s initial complaint prevailed because a demolition would make it impossible for the city to determine whether to landmark Grand Prospect Hall. With a decision now made, there’s little else to argue in court.

In recent weeks, the activists had compiled more than 40,000 signatures in support of landmarking the building. They also gained support from local elected officials like City Councilmember Brad Lander, who called it “a site of many memories and melodies for generations of Brooklynites.”

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