LONG ISLAND CITY – When Richard Mazda walked by the Elks Lodge on a Tuesday morning in early March, he saw scaffolding up with no netting and workers without facemasks. He knew something wasn’t right.
“There was nothing legitimate about the method. The kind of scaffold was the kind that you or I would rent from Home Depot,” said Mazda, who works nearby at The Secret Theatre. “It wasn’t attached to the building. There were no buckets to collect any of the debris.”
Bricks in random places were missing as well as a large chunk of the frieze from the center of the building–which is made up of a wreath and an elks head–one of the building’s defining characteristics.
Although workers claimed they were legitimately testing, the community saw this as a criminal act done by developers to prevent the building from being landmarked. The Elks Lodge, which was sold to 44th Drive Owner LLC to the tune of over $8 million, has been a spot of contention for the past few months. Community activists have been working feverishly to landmark the 108 year-old building so it won’t be demolished.
“What they did is try to destroy the very things that made it worthy of landmark,” said Councilman Jimmy van Bramer, who has joined the fight to make the building a landmark. “It is so obvious and so transparent. What they have done to this beautiful building is try to make it ugly to try and scar it so that we wouldn’t care anymore, that no one would care anymore. But we’re here to say with one voice to say: You will not win. We will not stop fighting for this building and for this community.”
Built in 1908, the Elks Lodge served as the headquarters of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks until 1920 when they moved to a building in Elmhurst that is landmarked today. The building has been through a few owners since. It was most recently home to the Sheet Metal Workers Union 137, but signs of the building’s original intent are still there: the Elks sign is faded and the building is surrounded by terracotta molding featuring elk heads.
Back in December, developers told the LIC Post that they planned to demolish the building and build condos on the lot and the lot next door at 21-30 44th Drive. Since then an online petition has surfaced with over 300 signatures, asking the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to save the Elks Lodge. On March 9, about 50 residents and activists even gathered at the steps of the building at the request of Councilmember van Bramer.
The owners did not return a request for comment. In the meantime, activists were able to submit a request for evaluation that the Landmarks Commission is currently reviewing. The Commission also did not return a request for comment.
There have been several suggestions for how Long Island City could use the old Elks Lodge, including turning it into a community center, a senior citizen center and even a homeless shelter.
“No one is advocating for no change,” said Paul Stipkovich, a 25-year resident of the area. He brought a “This Place Matters” sign to the rally. “You have to pick and choose your battles, but how do you tear something like this down?”