Crown Heights

Construction starts soon on new building thisclose to landmarked Dean Sage Residence in Crown Heights

Eye On Real Estate

September 20, 2017 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Here's the Dean Sage Residence as it looked from the St. Marks Avenue sidewalk last week. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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Construction is about to start on a new building that will wrap around the Dean Sage Residence and occupy part of a garden on the side of the house.

That’s the word from Robert McMinn, director of networks and relationships at the Institute for Community Living, the nonprofit that owns the distinctive Crown Heights North Historic District mansion.

“We look forward to starting construction on this important project this fall,” McMinn told the Brooklyn Eagle via email.

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“Our agency has engaged in a thorough public review process, complied with all oversight requirements and gained the necessary approvals from federal, state and city government,” he said.

The Institute for Community Living’s development project has been awarded $2 million in HUD HOME funds, he said.

HUD, of course, is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The historic house at 839 St. Marks Ave. was designed by architect Russell Sturgis and constructed in 1870. Back when it belonged to its original owner, Dean Sage, famous author Mark Twain was a house guest.

In recent decades, the Institute for Community Living (ICL) used the High-Victorian Gothic mansion and an addition on the back of it as a 48-bed residence for mentally ill single adults.

The institute plans to demolish the back addition to make way for the new building, which will also occupy part of a garden on the side of the historic house.

Part of the new structure will be 4½ stories tall and part of it will be six stories tall.

When the development is completed, there will be approximately 70 units of supportive and affordable housing.  

Readers with good memories will recall that ICL presented its expansion plan for 839 St. Marks Ave. to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission at a March 2016 public hearing.


Memorandum of agreement about protecting historic house during construction

To obtain HUD funds for 839 St. Marks Ave., the ICL signed an agreement with two government agencies about how to construct the new building without harming the original 19th-century landmark. 

The federal funds are administered by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

The memorandum of agreement (MOA), which the Institute signed in July, is with HPD and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Here’s what it says the Institute for Community Living must do:

* Preserve “character-defining features” in the ground-floor common areas of the 1870s house such as paneling, parquet flooring and molded trim on the ceiling.

* Consult with SHPO about the correct methods for repairing the exterior of the 1870s house, which might include the reconstruction of architectural features that have been removed. According to the memorandum of agreement, ICL plans to rebuild the historic house’s front porch, which was removed sometime between 1929 and 1940.

* Salvage ornamental items in the garden such as a sundial and “amphitheater masonry” and reuse them in garden areas that remain after the new building is constructed.

* With the help of an engineer with expertise in dealing with historic buildings, create a “construction protection plan” that will prevent harm to the 1870s house and other historic buildings within a 90-foot radius of the project site.    


Three cheers for the WeedWackers

Last week, we stopped by the Dean Sage Residence to take photos. The historic house looked like it was lost in the wilderness.

Vines choked the trees at the front entrance. The garden was wildly overgrown. Weeds as tall as trees sprouted out of the surrounding sidewalk.

That day, we emailed the Institute for Community Living to ask for development info — and inquire about why the grounds weren’t being maintained.

The next day, we made another visit to the Dean Sage Residence. We saw a work crew from the Institute for Community Living out on the sidewalk, chopping weeds out of the tree pits.

The following day, when we stopped by the house again to snap additional photos, the workers were there, continuing their landscaping clean-up.

Three days after that, we received McMinn’s email response.

“Our facilities department is now working to ensure proper maintenance of the property,” he said.     


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