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Locals Fight to Save Elks Lodge From Demo By Pushing For Landmark Status

By Jeanmarie Evelly | March 4, 2016 5:36pm | Updated on March 7, 2016 8:29am
 Local residents are pushing to landmark the former Elks Lodge building on 44th Drive.
21-42 44th Dr.
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COURT SQUARE — Local residents are pushing to landmark the former Elks Lodge building on 44th Drive, citing the property as one of the few remaining vestiges of Long Island City's history in the rapidly developing neighborhood.

Supporters fear the century-old building, located at 21-42 44th Dr., will soon be torn down or turned into luxury housing after a partial demolition permit was filed for the site in December, Department of Buildings records show.

At the time of the filing, Adam Westreich of the development group Alwest Equities told local news site LIC Post that the company was working with Planet Partners to demolish the lodge and construct an eight-story condo building there and on the lot next door.

Westreich declined to comment on those plans when reached Friday, but City records show the building was sold in February to a company called 44th Drive Owner LLC; attempts to reach this entity for comment were not immediately successful.

While plans for the site remain murky, local groups are hoping to garner support to preserve the three-story site, which sports an ornately detailed facade — including an Elk's head carved into its exterior molding.

"[It] not only has age, but character," said Amadeo Plaza, head of the Court Square Civic Association, who started an online petition earlier this week to preserve the building. 

He says the old building is unique in Long Island City's "increasingly homogenizing landscape" of modern, glassy high-rises.

"This is one of the few buildings in the neighborhood that are actually distinctive," he said.

The property was built in 1908, according to the Greater Astoria Historical Society, which is also involved in the landmark push. 

Renowned architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle renovated the building in 1914 and is believed to be responsible for its elaborate facade, according to Bob Singleton, head of the Greater Astoria Historical Society.

It was one of the original clubhouses for the Queens Elks Lodge Number 878, a local chapter of the social group the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, until the Elks outgrew the building in the 1920s and moved to a new location in Elmhurst, Singleton said.

It was later home to the Knights of Columbus and, most recently, the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, until the union sold it 2015, according to Singleton.

He thinks its history as a meeting place for different community groups would make it an ideal spot for a community center today.

"I think it's very smart on the move for those who are reinventing LIC to try and retain a place like this," he said. "These kind of things are what makes the community a strong place — when you have a mixture of both old and new."

Singleton said he's in the process of submitting a Request for Evaluation application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the site. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer also sent a letter of support to the LPC, calling the Elks Lodge an "important and distinctive part," of the neighborhood.

Though the owner of the property applied for a partial demolition permit in December, there are no active permits on file at the address, according to DOB records.

Plaza of the Court Square Civic Association said that even if the building is torn down, they hope their efforts will start a bigger conversation about what he said is the need for "responsible development" in Hunters Point.

"Nobody is building with the intention of building community," he said. "It represents an overreaching on the part of many developers — they've bought the land and now they're going to develop it."

He said he's hoping their petition will make the owner of the Elks Lodge consider retaining the existing property for a community use, or incorporating the idea into their designs.

"At the end of the day, it's hard to stand in the way of a property owner and his land," he said. "If we can't, it doesn't stop us from having a larger conversation about what's happening."