Results 1 to 10 of 10

Thread: Hopper Gibbons House - 339 West 29th Street - Chelsea

  1. #1
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002

    Default Hopper Gibbons House - 339 West 29th Street - Chelsea

    Construction permits pulled at Underground Railroad site

    By Patrick Hedlund
    (large photo)

    The efforts of a group of preservationists to halt construction work at a Chelsea rowhouse that was a stop on the Underground Railroad recently led the city to revoke the developer’s permits to build a penthouse addition.

    The Hopper Gibbons House, at 339 W. 29th St., is currently under consideration for landmark designation due its rich history of housing an abolitionist couple who harbored fugitive slaves during the Civil War.

    Last week, the city Department of Buildings revoked the developer’s construction permit “related to the job to vertically and horizontally enlarge the building,” said DOB spokesperson Carly Sullivan. The plan includes the addition of a fifth floor and penthouse to the 1847 building, with much of the construction already completed despite the fact that it had already been deemed illegal.

    In May, the DOB levied a stop-work order on the property, even though ongoing construction work had inexplicably been allowed to continue after the developer’s plans failed a DOB audit in 2008.

    The October 2008 audit stated that additional work violated the city’s Sliver Law limiting the height of buildings relative to their width. The addition of a fifth story—even without the penthouse, which is currently under construction—still raised the rowhouse to 64 feet rather than 60 feet, the maximum height allowed by law.

    Last year, local preservationists Julie Finch and Fern Luskin started a campaign to landmark the property and compel the owners to stop construction on the building between Eighth and Ninth Aves. But news of the revocation did not exactly give Finch cause to rejoice.

    “We’re very happy about the revocation of the permit, but [DOB] did revoke a permit last October, and it slipped back in again,” she said, describing the back-and-forth between the builders and the department. “I’m still skeptical. I haven’t bought a bottle of champagne yet.”

    In January, the city Landmark Preservation Commission held a hearing to review the history of the Hopper Gibbons House as well as 11 surrounding buildings for possible designation as the Lamartine Place Historic District. The LPC calendared the buildings for a vote, and a spokesperson for the commission stated that it will likely occur in the fall.

    The DOB seemed to take more interest in the property after preservationists—including Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff—held a May press conference outside the building to decry the ongoing construction.

    “On this and some other things, the Buildings Department is often something of a mystery, and sometimes seems to have a split personality, where part of the Department will do the right thing… and then somehow soon after that the dark side of the department remerges and someone reinstates the permit,” Gottfried said.

    Bankoff noted that if owners Tony and Nick Mamounas decided to reapply for the permits, it would trigger a review by the LPC due to the current review process.

    “It’s been such a complicated issue,” he said, acknowledging that in the past, permits had been rescinded or revoked, then subsequently reinstated despite the work failing to adhere to building requirements.

    Lisi de Bourbon, a spokesperson for the LPC, confirmed that the owners would only have to get approval from the commission if they submit a brand-new application, not an amendment to the current application.

    “If the application is an entirely new one, it would be referred to us before DOB issues the permit,” she said.

    Meanwhile, the project’s architect remains committed to seeing construction through to the end. After previously stating that “[a]ny history that was there is 100 percent gone” and declaring the proposed work “permanent,” architect John Hulme reaffirmed this week that “we are moving forward.” He added that the owner would attempt to finish construction “as soon as possible.”

  2. #2


    Barn door shut, horses AWOL.

    Landmarks Commission true to form.

  3. #3

    Default 3 years after landmarking, the illegal fifth floor on the Hopper Gibbons House remain

    Although attacked and torched by Draft Rioting mobs, the house remained relatively intact until the scofflaw owner/developer of 339 attempted to build an illegal 5th story addition which mars the original four story roof line of the Lamartine Place row houses, whose rooftops served as the escape route for the Gibbons family during the riot. Three years after landmarking, the illegal fifth floor on the Hopper Gibbons House remains. The owners illegal construction has defied three failed DOB audits, two DOB stop work orders, the Commissioner's Order to Correct and a pending Nuisance Abatement order by the DOB. Currently the addition is well along in its construction and preservationist have been deeply frustrated that the relevant city agencies have not moved more forcefully to get it dismantled.
    In a small victoy, yesterday a historic marker sign was unveiled on the block outside the house in a special ceremony.

  4. #4


    This city is so frustrating sometimes. This entire "controversy" is a farce.

    These NIMBYs should be thrown in the Hudson River. The only reason the city considered landmarking this property is because politically connected local NIMBYs were mad at the landlord and the construction noise.

    So, magically, AFTER construction began, suddenly NIMBYs starting claiming the building was "historically significant" and that maybe there was some potential underground railroad connection.

    Even if it's true that there is some connection, then what does that have to do with adding a floor? NOTHING, of course! You can still commemorate the past with or without a fifth floor. Maybe the rent-controlled tenants should be kicked out, and we can install a museum or some other type of visitor center.

    But obviously the NIMBYs could give a crap about history, landmarks, or the integrity of the zoning regulations. They just want the "evil developer" to take a financial bath.

    If these folks REALLY care about the underground railroad connection, then they should volunteer to leave their apartments, and we can memorialize the past. Otherwise, they're full of crap.

  5. #5
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    It wasn't a legal addition from the start, and DOB apparently issued the originally permit erroneously (as found in the original post in this thread):

    The October 2008 audit stated that additional work violated the city’s Sliver Law limiting the height of buildings relative to their width. The addition of a fifth story—even without the penthouse, which is currently under construction—still raised the rowhouse to 64 feet rather than 60 feet, the maximum height allowed by law.

  6. #6
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    NYC - Downtown


    More from Save Abigail Hopper Gibbons Home: 339 W29 St, NYC blog via NY Times:

    ... The Buildings Department initially allowed the addition in March 2005, and the owner later began construction. But officials revoked the permit in July 2009 after hearing complaints about the project, the city said, and after conducting an audit that found that the expansion did not meet state fire-safety codes ...

    Work on the building was ordered stopped in July 2009, although last year the city agreed to let the owner address any emergency safety issues.

    In November, after receiving complaints that construction on the building was continuing, the city ordered Mr. Mamounas to remove the additional floor by Dec. 7. A day before that deadline his lawyer, Marvin Mitzner, notified the city that he planned to ask its Board of Standards and Appeals to let him complete the addition, said Tony Sclafani, a Buildings Department spokesman.

    A spokesman for the appeals board said it had not yet received such an appeal.

    The city has a range of remedies to address illegal additions, including fines, orders to fix a condition and criminal court summonses.

    It is somewhat unusual for a building permit to be revoked. But Mr. Sclafani said that when the permit was originally approved in 2005, the city allowed the owner to provide alternative fire-safety measures, like sprinklers and fire escapes, instead of the fireproof stairwell required by state law. In 2008, he said, the appeals board ruled that the city lacked the power to waive the fire-safety requirements, so the permit was revoked upon review by the auditors ...

  7. #7
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002


    Chelsea Stop on the Underground Railroad Becomes a Landmark

    by Paul Lomax

    The subway isn't the only historic railroad that runs through Manhattan.

    Advocates are celebrating the landmarking of a row of Chelsea houses that played a central role in the Underground Railroad that moved escaped slaves from the south to freedom.

    The row of antebellum 19th century Greek revival houses form the Lamartine Place Historic District, stretching from 333 - 359 West 29th St., were given landmark status on Saturday.

    Notable among them is the Hopper Gibbons House at No. 339, the only documented Manhattan stop of the underground.

    "This is an important event today," Christopher Smith, of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, said Saturday.

    "Dr. Martin Luther King was a drum major of peace and the people involved with this project are members of a greater cause just like Dr. King was. So that makes everyone here today drum makers of peace."

    Even though it was attacked and even torched by Draft Riot mobs, forcing the Gibbons family to escape over the roof, number 339 has remained in good condition.

  8. #8


    It was also featured on an episode of Secrets of New York.

    Locals: Don’t let developer destroy Manhattan’s only stop on the Underground Railroad

    Builder has already done illegal work on W. 29th St. townhouse. Building once hosted the likes of Frederick Douglass.

    By Jennifer H. Cunningham / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
    Sunday, February 10, 2013, 11:37 AM

    Mariela Lombard/for New York Daily News

    State Sen. Bray Hoylman will join other pols and activists at 339 W. 29th St. in Manhattan to call on the city to prevent a developer from adding an illegal fifth floor to the landmark building — which is the only documented stop on the Underground Railroad in Manhattan.

    Chelsea officials and neighborhood preservationists are demanding the city block a greedy developer from desecrating the only known Underground Railroad stop in Manhattan.
    An obscure city board will decide Tuesday whether to allow the owner of the building on W. 29th St. to add a fifth floor to the landmark townhouse, which sheltered countless runaway slaves and hosted prominent abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.
    Co-owner Tony and Nick Mamounas started building the additional floor in violation of city landmark code — then kept building even after the Department of Buildings ordered them to stop in 2010.
    “For all of these reasons, its especially important that the (city) vote to ... restore the building to the way it was a before he started attacking it,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who was set to rally in front of the building Sunday afternoon.
    The 10-unit 19th-century structure was once the home of Quaker abolitionists James Sloan Gibbons and Abby Hopper Gibbons.
    Mariela Lombard/for New York Daily News

    City officials will rally in front of this building on W. 29th St. — the only documented stop on the Underground Railroad in Manhattan.

    The fifth-floor addition was erected on top of the roof that the family used as an escape route to flee an angry mob who torched the house during the 1863 Draft Riots, preservationists said.

    “We feel the route over the roof has been ruined,” Julie Finch, co-chairwoman of the of the Friends of Gibbons Underground Railroad Site.
    And the building at 339 W. 29th St. is now a covered with scaffolding and tarp — and its facade is no longer visible from the street.
    Nick Mamounas died since the controversy flared. His brother’s attorney, Marvin Mitzner, did not return a call for comment.
    Community advocates and pols said the structure is a relic of the city’s anti-slavery past and should be left alone.
    “Not only has the owner broken the law, by building the addition without a permit, but he is defacing history,” state Sen. Brad Hoylman said. “I would urge the (city) to have the illegal addition removed.”

    Read more:

  9. #9


    The "developers" should be castrated.

  10. #10
    NYC Aficionado from Oz Merry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002


    Underground Railroad House Owner Loses Appeal to Keep Rooftop Addition

    By Mathew Katz

    The owner of a historic house that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad lost his appeal to keep an allegedly illegally-built fifth-floor addition to the building, though authorities stopped short of ordering him to remove it.

    The city's Board of Standards and Appeals unanimously voted that its owner, Tony Mamounas, must appear before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which will rule on whether or not the fifth floor on the landmarked building can stick around.

    Since the building is protected by the commission, it's possible the LPC would order Mamounas to remove it.

    The Hopper-Gibbons House at 339 W. 29th St. belonged to Abigail and James Hopper Gibbons, abolitionists who helped bring escaping slaves to Canada. The roof — still covered with years-old scaffolding and equipment from when the addition was built in 2005 — served as an escape route for the family when the house was attacked during the Draft Riots in 1863.

    The house has been in a state of bureaucratic flux since the Department of Buildings mistakenly issued a permit to allow the construction of the fifth floor in 2005. At a hearing on Tuesday, Mamounas' lawyer, Marvin Mitzner, argued that the mistaken permit was the DOB's fault, leaving the addition exempt from the landmark protection the house was given in 2010.

    "Because the DOB made a mistake, my client is an innocent here," Mitzner said.

    The board, however, rejected that argument.

    "We've come to a stalemate," said Meenakshi Srinivasan, the BSA's chair. "We believe you should pursue this with the LPC."

    Mitzner, who claimed that the LPC only gave the building protection because of the fifth-floor addition, said he planned to continue to fight the decision.

    "I will be making a stop in court," he said. "I believe the decision on this board is clearly in error."

    The drama around the house has united preservationists, residents, and politicians in recent years, all who hope to return the building to its original state — one that's in line with the rest of its low-rise block.

    Opponents of the fifth floor took the decision as something of a victory, though said the battle is far from over.

    "Mr. Mamounas nearly succeeded in cheating all of us of our history," said Fern Luskin, co-chairwoman of the Friends of the Hopper Gibbons Underground Railroad Site.

    "Given his past history, we certainly have no right to expect that what he actually builds there will conform to law."

Similar Threads

  1. The High Line: elevated railroad in Chelsea
    By Edward in forum New York City Guide For Visitors
    Replies: 837
    Last Post: January 19th, 2015, 01:16 AM
  2. Replies: 383
    Last Post: July 21st, 2012, 01:38 PM
  3. The Zebra at 420 West 42nd Street
    By Edward in forum New York Real Estate
    Replies: 23
    Last Post: August 30th, 2007, 01:28 PM
  4. The House Filmgoers Love to Hate
    By ZippyTheChimp in forum New York City Guide For Visitors
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: August 11th, 2003, 12:16 PM
  5. Carnegie Mews - 211 West 56th Street
    By noharmony in forum New York Real Estate
    Replies: 5
    Last Post: December 19th, 2001, 10:14 PM


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts

Google+ - Facebook - Twitter - Meetup

Edward's photos on Flickr - Wired New York on Flickr - In Queens - In Red Hook - Bryant Park - SQL Backup Software