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Lenox Lounge Owner Gutted Jazz Hotspot's Historic Interior, $25M Suit Says

By Jeff Mays | February 15, 2013 11:40am

HARLEM — The landlord of the building that housed the now-shuttered Lenox Lounge is suing the famed lounge's owner for $25 million, claiming that he swiped the jazz club's historic fixtures and decorations to fill his new venue, leaving the historic site "completely bare and empty."

Ricky Edmonds, who owns 286 Lenox Ave., the former home of the historic lounge, Alvin Reed, who owned the hotspot since the 1980s, covertly ripped out the banquettes, wallpaper, bathroom doors and the signage and transferred them to the site of Reed's new Lenox Lounge a few blocks away at 333 Lenox Avenue.

Reed — who claims to own the copyright to Lenox Lounge — was forced to vacate the original location, where jazz legends such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis played, by Jan 1. Reed said previously that Edmonds tried to double the rent on the property.

When Edmonds and architect Huntley Gill walked into the club on New Year's Eve, they saw carpenters and other workmen ripping out the banquettes, etched mirrors and the famed zebra wall for which the Zebra Room was named, according to the suit.

Gill claims that he advised Edmonds that he was not allowed to remove the fixtures because they were the landlord's property. The lawsuit said Reed's attorney called the police and was told the situation was a civil matter, not a criminal matter. Still, they were advised that the exterior and interior could not be altered without permit, the lawsuit says.

At 4 a.m. on Jan. 1, Edmonds returned to the lounge after its final party and claims he saw 10 to 15 workers "carrying out the contents of the Lenox Lounge into two waiting trucks." The trucks traveled to the new Lenox Lounge location at 333 Lenox Ave. and returned for more, the lawsuit says.

"The front facade was removed. The interior and exterior doors were being removed. Fixtures such as mirrors, light fixtures, signs and banquettes were removed," the suit says, "completing their extensive stripping and looting of the property."

By stripping the lounge, which first opened in 1939 and began operating under the name Lenox Lounge in 1943, Reed, who took over the club in 1983, "destroyed "a hallmark example of the few original art deco structures left in New York," the suit charges.

Reed could not be reached for comment and his attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

However, Tyreta Foster, a lawyer for Reed, told DNAinfo last month that Reed owns trademarks on the Lenox Lounge sign, along with the red paneling out front, the Zebra Room and the other historic elements of the interior.

"It wasn't landmarked," Foster said. "The sign will go back up and the Zebra Room will return," at the lounge's new location at 333 Lenox Ave., just two blocks from the original location, she said.

Reed, in a statement last month, said the lounge would live on, just in a new location.

“Just as I restored Lenox Lounge in 2000, I am determined to expand the brand just two blocks away,” Reed said in a statement.

“Of course the famed Zebra Room will get a second act,” he added.

The fate of the lounge has caused concern among Harlem leaders because many thought the famed building was landmarked because of its historical significance but it wasn't. In 2011, Community Board 10 included the lounge in its first-ever historic preservation plan.

Restaurateur Richard Notar is scheduled to open a new jazz club on the 286 Lenox Ave. site.