Park Slope

Whither the Lyceum?

February 4, 2015 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The building on the corner is the Lyceum, a landmarked Park Slope arts and events space that was sold in a foreclosure auction. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

Eye On Real Estate

This is a lamentation for the landmarked Lyceum.

The Park Slope arts and events space that was a Bringer of Jollity (to borrow a phrase from a Gustav Holst orchestral suite) and a dose of culture to a swath of Fourth Avenue dominated by new apartment buildings is in the hands of a court-appointed receiver.

The stately neo-Renaissance building at 227-231 Fourth Ave., which was originally constructed as Public Bath No. 7 in 1906-1910, was sold in a foreclosure auction — and the purchaser recently announced plans to turn it into condos.

But it would be premature to declare the Lyceum dead and gone.

Eric Richmond, the sole member and sole manager of building owner 231 Fourth Avenue Lyceum LLC, which was foreclosed on, has appeals ongoing in state and federal courts.

When it comes to legal proceedings, we are ever mindful that It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over, as the Lenny Kravitz song goes.

Richmond, reached via email, wrote passionately about why he keeps going with his legal fight.

“I have sunk my heart and soul into this project, running it at a loss each year for two decades in order to keep a cultural pulse alive while I fought the legal battles and did incremental improvements,” he said in his email response to our query.

“As income was limited due to the online legal battles, our best use was as a platform for emerging artists,” he said. “While art alone won’t win the day, addressing the current appeals and motions maintains the possibility of continuing to support the arts and cultural programming in one of the most unique landmarked buildings in this city.

“So, in the end, the community will have a richer more dynamic cultural fabric in the area if the grievances of this lawsuit are addressed and the Lyceum remains a theater and event space [instead of] allow[ing] it to become an uninspired anonymous condo eyesore that supports one business as opposed to an entire community,” he said.

When Richmond purchased the historic bathhouse in 1994, it was “a barely functional shell” with some of its utilities not in working order. He recalled removing “mountains of debris” in 20-yard dumpsters — about 20 of them.

He sank “pretty much” his life savings into the Lyceum, along with “sweat equity and endless time,” he said.

“Income through the arts is always limited — either substantially supported by grants and private donors or fed directly by alcohol sales. I always chose to steer clear from either, in hopes of having the widest community access,” he wrote.

He’s not sorry he purchased the beat-up bath house and turned it into a theater.

“I do not regret for a moment buying the Lyceum and taking on the challenge,” he wrote. “It is not over and done, the current press notwithstanding.”

He said he made the purchase because “I was enchanted with the changes I saw happening that were noticeable even back in 1988, the year of my entry into Brooklyn.

“At that point no one was building new but a few people were refurbishing the old. Most old theaters were far too large and costly to maintain as theaters and thus became used as churches or drug stores or furniture stores. Something the size of the Lyceum seemed to be the right size for a 200-to-300-seat theater. That was and has always been my goal for its use.”

When he bought the building, the area was “a very rough neighborhood with little public interest,” he recalled. “But I always saw the possibility of a cultural hub, on the edge of Gowanus and Park Slope, atop a widely used subway station.”

Back then, nobody was interested in Fourth Avenue but car shops.

“There were the gangs, the stabbings in the subway, the token clerks who got hazard pay, the capture of the bombers who were planning to blow up the Atlantic/Pacific stop and so much illegal dumping by those renovating apartments between Fourth and Sixth avenues that we had to post guards at the corners Saturdays and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.,” he remembered.

Events at the Lyceum that are dearest to his heart run the cultural gamut from a combined production of Nicolai Gogol’s “The Nose and “The Overcoat” to a workshop for the Broadway show “Rocky: The Musical” and the annual Mutt Show.

In commenting on his legal appeals, he offered a list of allegations that he summed up as “blatant abuses of due process.” A number of attorneys he consulted on state and federal law have told him to “stay the course,” he said.

“This battle is one worth pursuing because the cause is just and the facts and law are on the side of the Lyceum,” he asserted.

The Lyceum was in the media spotlight the other day when the purchaser in the foreclosure auction, Greystone Property Development, announced it had paid $7.6 million for the historic building and is planning to turn it into condos.

The sale has closed, Greystone PR manager Karen Marotta told Eye on Real Estate via email. By press time, the deed had not appeared in the city Finance Department’s online records.

In its announcement, Greystone also said it had struck a deal to buy 225 Fourth Ave., the vacant lot next to the Lyceum. The firm said the combined acquisition price of the two properties is $21.1 million. (Yes, that means the vacant land was priced at $13.5 million.)

Finance Department records indicate that the lot belonged to Richmond until 2003. We’ll go into more detail about this in a minute.

Greystone’s purchase of the vacant lot has also closed, Marotta told us. At press time, the most recent document in online Finance Department records was a memorandum about the sale contract. The deed had not appeared.

Greystone plans to start renovation and conversion work on the historic Lyceum property while Richmond’s legal appeals are ongoing, Marotta said.

“Commencement of restoration for the Lyceum building is contingent upon the Landmarks approval process,” she said. “For the adjacent property at 225 Fourth Ave., we hope to break ground in the spring as the lot is currently vacant.”

Greystone plans to construct a rental-apartment building with some 68 units and 3,500 square feet of first-floor retail space on the empty land, the firm said in its announcement.

As for the Lyceum building, the plan is to divide it into two or three large condos, Crain’s reported. And there would be retail space on the ground floor.

We asked how Greystone executives feel about having purchased a property that is the focus of a continuing legal dispute.

“While in the process of acquiring 225 Fourth Ave., the opportunity arose to acquire the Brooklyn Lyceum through a Kings County foreclosure auction,” Marotta said. “The sale of the property is closed and as the new owner, Greystone will proceed with its plans to fully restore and renovate the former bathhouse.

“Greystone is excited to bring the Lyceum back to its original beauty and is working with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to approve and execute restoration of the façade,” she continued. “Inside the structure, Greystone plans to build out an exclusive collection of townhome-style residences that highlight the architectural and historic details of the Lyceum.”

Finance Department records indicate that the public bath building plus the adjacent property were in foreclosure before Richmond bought them in December 1994. A contract of sale signed in September 1994 set the combined sale price for the two properties at $330,000.

In 2003, Richmond sold 225 Fourth Ave. to Union Street Tower LLC for $592,463.96, according to a deed we found in Finance Department records. The sale prices we see are usually rounded to the nearest dollar, but that is the number recorded on the Real Property Transfer Report for the transaction.

As for the Lyceum building, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about it notes that in its original incarnation, it was the first public bath in Brooklyn to have a swimming pool inside it.

Public Bath No. 7’s neo-Renaissance architectural style “had the effect of giving the act of bathing as much importance as those activities conducted in such similarly styled buildings of the period as banks and libraries; cleanliness was thereby promoted,” the designation report says.

In 1984, when the report was published, Public Bath No. 7 was one of just a handful of New York City municipal bath buildings still standing.

 

Leave a Comment