COURT SQUARE — Demolition is underway at the former Elks Lodge building in Long Island City, a year after residents unsuccessfully rallied to landmark the century-old property, which is known for its facade of decorative wreath and elk head carvings.
The building, at 21-42 44th Dr. near 23rd Street, had been halfway dismantled as of Friday afternoon — its top two floors removed. The Department of Buildings issued a permit for partial demolition of the site at the end of December, based on plans to retain the cellar and foundation walls, city records show.
Demolition is expected to wrap up in mid-November, according to a sign at the construction site.
"This is a huge loss for the community," said Bob Singleton, head of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, who was among the group of residents who pushed last year to try and get the building landmarked.
Locals had fought to preserve the three-story structure, citing it as a unique piece of architecture in the neighborhood, which has seen an influx of new construction in recent years.
A shot of the building before demolition began. (Credit: Orestes Gonzalez)
The building was constructed in 1908, then renovated a few years later by renowned architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle, who is believed to have added its decorative stone carvings, according to Singleton.
"The architect that had redesigned the building back in the day was one of the top architects in this country," he said.
The building was used as a clubhouse for the Queens Elks Lodge Number 878, a local chapter of the social group the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and later housed the Knights of Columbus and a local union, according to Singleton.
Shortly after he and others began their preservation campaign last year, construction crews began dismantling the building's decorative stone carvings, which residents believed was an effort to prevent the site from being landmarked. The owners were fined at the time for starting the work without a permit.
Still, the Landmarks Preservation Commission ultimately turned down requests to landmark the building, citing its "comparative lack of historical and architectural significance relative to other landmarked clubhouses."
Singleton said he strongly disagrees with the LPC's decision.
"I think it's very, very clear that the building ... was worthy of designation," he said. "There's no doubt about that."
Part of the decorative facade of the Elks Lodge before demolition began. (DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly)
It's not clear what the current owners' plans are for the site.
Adam Westreich of Alwest Equities told a local blog in 2015 that his company and another developer, Planet Partners, planned to build an eight-story apartment building there and on the vacant lot next door.
Neither Westreich nor Planet Partners returned messages seeking comment on their plans.
City records show the building is currently owned by an entity called 44th Drive Owner LLC, which bought it for $9.7 million in February of 2016.
"I feel very badly that things turned out as they did," Singleton said of the building's demolition. "Things really didn’t have to turn out like this."