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Sunset Park’s last freestanding mansion dodges demolition, gets landmark status

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The 1907 Renaissance Revival structure was built for the head of the Bay Ridge Savings Bank, Dr. Maurice T. Lewis

Christopher Bride/PropertyShark

Sunset Park’s only freestanding mansion was set to be demolished and replaced by a seven-story apartment building; on Tuesday, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, following the efforts of hundreds of Sunset Park residents, designated the Dr. Maurice T. Lewis House, a New York City Landmark, and preserved a neighborhood icon for years to come.

To save the mansion, the Commission had to act fast. An LLC had purchased the building, located at 404 55th Street, in November last year for $2.8 million, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported. A developer was looking to demolish the structure and replace it with 24 apartments spread out over seven stories; the city’s Department of Buildings then approved this application.

Sunset Park residents quickly banded together, collected hundreds of signatures from neighbors, and appealed to the LPC. The Commission officially put the building on its calendar for designation last month, and in a somewhat unusual move landmarked it earlier today.

Typically, the Commission sets a separate date to designate a particular structure following the public hearing, like the one held earlier today. But due to the urgency of the matter, the Commission acted swiftly. The Commission’s public hearing room on the ninth floor of the Manhattan Municipal Building instantly erupted in loud applause and cheers.

Prior to the designation, LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan explained her reasoning behind moving to landmark the mansion today. She talked about the permits that were in play, the overwhelming public support, and support from local elected officials, as well as the recommendation from its own preservation department.

Dozens of residents spoke passionately at Tuesday’s meeting about saving a neighborhood treasure that was built in 1907, designed by architect Richard Thomas Short for Dr. Maurice T. Lewis, the president of the Bay Ridge Savings Bank.

“I’ve seen lots of houses destroyed in our neighborhood over the years,” said Yosko Yoshida, who purchased her Sunset Park home 16 years ago. “This is one of the most unique and important buildings in the neighborhood. I hope I don’t have to tell my children that this building is no longer there.”

The City Councilmember representing the neighborhood, Carlos Menchaca, also spoke passionately in the building’s defense.

“We have an obligation to protect our historic buildings from insensitive development,” he said. “This is a remarkable Renaissance Revival townhouse, and demolishing it will have a negative impact for years to come.”

It took the Commission just a matter of minutes to designate the building following the testimony, and they did so unanimously.