Crown Heights

Landmarking agency asks for design changes for supportive housing project on Crown Heights North mansion’s lawn

March 22, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This rendering shows the proposed design for a new residential building (center) that would occupy a substantial portion of the Dean Sage Residence's side lawn. Rendering by Dattner Architects and Easton Architects via the Landmarks Preservation Commission
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What’s the appropriate way to construct a new building that wraps around a landmarked mansion and occupies a big chunk of its garden?

On Tuesday, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) debated the details of a supportive and affordable housing project of this nature proposed for 839 St. Marks Ave., AKA the Dean Sage Residence.

LPC researchers consider it one of the oldest and most important 19th-Century mansions still standing in the Crown Heights North Historic District.

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The Institute for Community Living (ICL), the nonprofit owner of the stunning house, plans to demolish an addition on the back of the mansion and replace it with a 5½-story apartment building that would also fill a substantial portion of the house’s side garden.

Joseph Biber, an ICL executive, said at a hearing at the preservation agency’s Lower Manhattan headquarters that the planned development would include 45 apartments for mentally ill adults and 30 affordable housing units for the general population.

The High Victorian Gothic-style mansion, built in 1870 of rock-faced brownstone for lumber industry mogul and philanthropist Dean Sage, and the back addition currently serve as a single-room-occupancy residence for seriously mentally ill adults.

The house has an enormous lawn the size of a pocket park, with large trees and spring flowers blooming in the grass.

Commissioners chose not to vote on the Institute for Community Living’s new-building plan.

Instead, they gave the project architects suggestions on how to change the design so an amended plan can be presented at a later date.

The ICL’s new-building proposal drew opposition from neighborhood groups including the Crown Heights North Association and the St. Marks Avenue Independent Block Association.   

Interesting info about the St. Marks Avenue mansion: The architect who designed it, Russell Sturgis, was a preeminent architectural scholar and critic. Sturgis also designed a quadrangle of buildings at Yale University that are now known as the Old Campus.

While Dean Sage lived at 839 St. Marks Ave., his friend Mark Twain was a house guest.

The Dean Sage Residence was one of many mansions in the area, which was called the St. Marks District. But in the 1930s, other mansions were torn down and replaced with apartment buildings, architectural history expert Suzanne Spellen, who used the pen name Montrose Morris, wrote in a 2014 story.

City Department of Finance records indicate that for a while, the Sisters of Saint Joseph owned the property. They sold it in 1987 to Michael Freeman and Lee Hymowitz for $335,000.

The Institute for Community Living leased the mansion from Freeman and Hymowitz in 1988, Finance Department records indicate. The lease had an option for the tenant to purchase the premises.

The non-profit bought 839 St. Marks Ave. in 1998 through an entity called ICL Real Property Holding Corp.



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