An activist group is asking the city to landmark a Flatbush Avenue Bank before its owners demolish it to construct a new, mixed-use building in its place.
In a letter sent to Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) chair Sarah Carrol last week, the group Respect Brooklyn requested the LPC landmark the Flatbush Savings Bank located at 1041-1049 Flatbush Avenue by Duryea Place, calling it “imperative that this be considered expeditiously as demolition could be imminent.”
“It would be a terrible shame and border on LPC agency malpractice to lose yet another architecturally and historically significant building in Flatbush, especially since other work by the same notable architects have been preserved in other neighborhoods of NYC,” the letter reads.
The three-story Renaissance Revival-style structure, which was completed in 1927, was designed by the architecture firm Halsey, McCormack & Helmer, which also built the landmarked Williamsburgh Savings Bank building in north Brooklyn. A two-story, 50-foot-wide addition to the north of the building was constructed in 1946. It most recently held a branch of Astoria Savings Bank (which has since become Sterling National Bank).
Henry Bubbins, a researcher and organizer with Respect Brooklyn, said a petition organized by the group had garnered over 100 signatures as of Wednesday night.
Respect Brooklyn’s efforts also got a boost from the bank’s architecture firm itself, which now operates under the name Mancini Duffy. In a letter sent yesterday to the LPC, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Council Member Mathieu Eugene who represents the area, the firm wrote they “strongly urge the Commission to move swiftly to calendar the worthy Flatbush Savings Bank, and consider it for landmark designation.”
A spokesperson for the LPC said the Commission had received the request and was in the process of reviewing it, as did a spokesperson for the Borough President. Eugene declined to comment on this story.
The building’s current owners, Nehalkumar Gandhi and Anish Gandhi under the 1045 Flatbush Avenue LLC, first applied for a demolition permit in 2019. The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) issued the permit in September, but it expired on December 27th, meaning the owners will need to renew the permit before taking down the building.
The Gandhis also filed construction permits for a new, nine-story, mixed-use building at the site, totalling 86,021 square feet. Of that, 43,395 square feet is designated for commercial use, 15,377 for residential use, and 519 for a “community facility.”
The early documents, which were submitted to DOB in December, show plans for a mix of 39 hotel guest rooms, 23 apartments, and space for an “ambulatory diagnostic/health rehabilitation” facility. The filings also indicate plans for an underground parking garage of 56 spaces and bike parking of 17 spaces. There’s no indication at this point that the proposed structure would require a zoning change, though that, as with all the other details, may change as the still-incomplete application evolves.
The Gandhis have been prolific hotel developers, proposing and developing projects everywhere from Williamsburg to Sheepshead Bay, East New York and the Bronx, though it’s unclear how many are actually operational. Another Flatbush-area Gandhi hotel, a Best Western Plus that replaced a Jiffy Lube building at 928 Coney Island Avenue, is theoretically set to open sometime this year.
In a brief phone conversation, Anish Gandhi said the Savings Bank building would be demolished “sometime this year,” but that he and his team “haven’t decided yet” how exactly the commercial space would be used.
Bubbins speculated that the health facility was included to maximize the allowable size of the building, and that the developers may plan to eventually rent the hotel rooms to the city’s Department of Social Services (DSS) as temporary homeless shelters, an expensive practice the city has looked to end even as the pandemic has prolonged its use.
“A hotel is obviously preposterous in this economic environment,” Bubbins said. “But who knows, they could file anything and do something else.”
Bubbins suggested the developer could expand or adapt the existing bank building without demolishing it. “It’s not stuck in amber,” he added.
The building sits adjacent to the Kings Theatre, which was completed two years after the bank building. In their letter, Respect Brooklyn activists complained about the relative lack of landmarks in the area; the most recent landmarking was of the nearby Sears Roebuck building in 2012.
The group also expressed frustration at the LPC’s decision in 2018 not to consider landmarking the building that housed Baptist Church of the Redeemer at 1921 Cortelyou Road, which has since been demolished to make way for a 76-unit apartment building that includes 29 below-market-rate units and a new worship space for the congregation.
In a letter announcing that decision, the LPC wrote that it was “currently studying the Flatbush area, and we will keep you apprised of our efforts in this part of Brooklyn.” But the Respect Brooklyn activists said the LPC has not provided them updates on that study, nor did the LPC spokesperson respond to a question from Bklyner about such a study.
A separate, 69-room hotel project across the street at 1024 Flatbush Avenue, which has been under development for the better part of seven years, was bought by Flatbush Hotel LLC in September. That seven-story structure is advertised to open in January 2022 as the Brooklyn Vybe hotel under the Ascend brand.