CHELSEA — A panel of judges ruled on Tuesday against a landlord who built a penthouse atop what was once a stop on the Underground Railroad, according to court documents, forcing him to go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission to defend what neighbors call an illegal addition.
Tony Mamounas began building a rooftop addition on the Hopper-Gibbons House at 339 W. 29th St. about a decade ago, launching a battle over whether he should have gotten permission from the city for altering the now-landmarked building.
The Department of Buildings ordered Mamounas to tear down the penthouse, but he fought that decision in court and the fight is ongoing.
Following a series of appeals, a panel of four state Supreme Court judges ruled unanimously Tuesday to uphold a 2013 decision by the city’s Boards of Standards and Appeals. BSA had told Mamounas that he needed to go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission to get his building permit reinstated, or else he will have to tear the addition down.
The building, which was landmarked in 2010, was also home to abolitionist Abigail Hopper Gibbons during the 1800s, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Fern Luskin, a professor of art and art history at LaGuardia Community College who lives a few doors down from the Hopper-Gibbons house, said she was hopeful Tuesday's ruling meant the end of a yearslong battle.
“I was so excited that I was shaking, because it could have gone the other way,” she said.
Luskin began researching the Hopper-Gibbons house soon after she saw steel girders go up on its roof years ago.
In the letters of lawyer Joseph Hodges Choate, she learned the house was a rare Manhattan stop on the Underground Railroad. Choate also described a meal there with William Lloyd Garrison and a former slave. Black and white guests stayed in the house, and John Brown was a visitor, according to a city history.
Luskin said the building’s roof was particularly significant because Gibbons and her family escaped an angry draft riot during the Civil War by fleeing across rooftops to Eighth Avenue. Rioters targeted the family because they were abolitionists, and the mob was angry about having to go to war, she said.
Luskin and other advocates say Mamounas continued construction after the building got landmark status.
Neither Mamounas nor his lawyer responded to a request for comment. The Landmarks Preservation Commission did not respond to a request for comment.