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Underground Railroad Penthouse Still Standing After Demolition Deadline

By DNAinfo Staff on December 10, 2010 6:45am

By Tara Kyle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CHELSEA — An illegal fifth floor penthouse on a row house that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad is still standing, days after the Department of Building's deadline for demolition.

The DOB gave the developer of 339 W. 29th Street, formerly the home of Quaker Abolitionist Abigail Hopper Gibbons, an order on Nov. 23 to tear down walls, ceilings and the rest of the illegal, partially constructed fifth floor within 14 days.

But 16 days later, on Thursday, the penthouse still rose above its four-story neighbors within the landmarked Lamartine Place Historic District. That matters to preservationists, because when Civil War draft rioters targeted the family, two daughters used the level rooftops to escape.

"I am so angry," said neighborhood activist Fern Luskin, who has spent four years battling development and documenting the home's history. "This is beyond belief."

DOB spokesperson Carly Sullivan confirmed that the deadline had passed, and that the Department would perform a re-inspection to evaluate if further actions were necessary.

Asked about his future plans for the fifth floor, and whether he planned to challenge the DOB's order, contractor Nick Mamounas, who has been identified in news reports as the building's owner, said he was undecided.

"At this point, I don't know," Mamounas said Thursday.

Previously, Mamounas called the DOB's treatment of him over the past four years "very, very unfair" and said the 1847 building's history "has nothing to do with the construction."

As the activists wait for a follow-up inspection by the DOB, Luskin's cohort, Julie Finch, said they would "absolutely" continue to the fight.

"I'm a Quaker. These abolitionists were Quakers," she said. "Quakers always fight for justice."