Sunset Park

Dr. Maurice T. Lewis House is landmarked to prevent its demolition

Landmarks Preservation Commission votes to protect Sunset Park's only freestanding mansion

March 6, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Dr. Maurice T. Lewis House, which is the building on the corner, is Brooklyn's new designated landmark. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
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In a dramatic move, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously to designate Sunset Park’s only freestanding mansion as an individual landmark.

The measure saves Dr. Maurice T. Lewis House from demolition.
The new owner of the house at 404 55th St. made plans to tear it down and construct a seven-story, 74-foot-tall building with 24 apartments and commercial space, city Buildings Department records show.  

The owner applied for permission to take down the century-old house but the Buildings Department has not yet issued demolition permits.

This is “an unprecedented situation,” LPC Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan said at the end of a public hearing held at the agency’s Lower Manhattan headquarters on Tuesday. “An important building is at stake.”

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After commissioners cast their votes, dozens of Sunset Park residents in the packed hearing room erupted in cheers.

Thirty-three people — including City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca — had either testified in person at the hearing or had their remarks read into the public record by one of their neighbors.

Every single person expressed support for landmarking the Renaissance Revival-style house, which also uses 5501 Fourth Ave. as an address.

Many thanked the Landmarks Preservation Commission for acting swiftly to protect Dr. Maurice T. Lewis House.

As the Brooklyn Eagle previously reported, the LPC put the mansion onto its calendar for landmarking consideration just two weeks ago.

Many people who testified on Tuesday also spoke fervently in favor of designating a portion of their neighborhood as a historic district. Residents have been campaigning for this measure over the past several years through a grassroots organization called the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee.  

The house was sold for $2.8 million last year   

Tuesday’s landmark designation of the mansion means the owner will be prohibited from demolishing it or altering its exterior without the LPC’s permission.

The house belongs to an LLC with Shuang Lin as a member, which purchased it for $2.8 million in November, city Finance Department records indicate.

“We have an obligation to protect our neighborhood’s historic buildings from insensitive development,” Menchaca (D-Sunset Park) said in his testimony during the hearing.

In her testimony, Sunset Park resident Nina Malkin said 404 55th St. is “a standard bearer for our neighborhood” — it reminds residents to take good care of their homes.

Another Sunset Park resident, Daniel Murphy, said the mansion is “an architectural fanfare for the common man.”

After the LPC’s vote, Gregory Casanova, who lives on the same block as the mansion, praised his neighbors’ eloquent pro-landmarking testimony.
“I heard the passion in everybody’s voice,” he told the Eagle. “We all care about our block as well as our community.”

The mansion’s original owner, Dr. Maurice T. Lewis, graduated from Long Island College Hospital in the 1890s. 

A 2013 story by architectural history expert Suzanne Spellen says that for many years, he was a consulting pathologist at Harbor Hospital on Cropsey Avenue.

Later he became the president of Bay Ridge Savings Bank.

The house, which is made of brick and has a rusticated limestone base, was built in 1907.

A Landmarks Preservation Commission staffer said at Tuesday’s hearing that the architect who designed Dr. Maurice T. Lewis House was R. Thomas Short.

He is best known for his work in the early 20th-century architectural partnership Harde & Short, which was responsible for the design of the iconic Alwyn Court on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan.


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