A curious survivor, a freestanding Second Empire mansion at 489 Washington Avenue in Clinton Hill, will soon vanish, to be replaced by an apartment building. Workers were demolishing the upper floors of the already gutted house before Labor Day weekend, knocking holes in the roof and walls.
The faux-stone sheathing is gone, the stoop demolished, and windows and masonry have been removed from the side facades.
The mansard-roofed house is located just outside the Clinton Hill Historic District, and therefore unprotected. Plans call for conversion of the property into a four-story, 21-unit residential building.
This stretch of Washington Avenue, between Gates and Fulton streets, was once scattered with grand 19th century residences on generous lots. In the 20th century, many of the large homes were transformed into religious, institutional or commercial uses. Today, only a few of the houses remain, interrupted by new condos and 20th century apartments.
The tale will be repeated here. The house, “a survivor with a storied past,” as Brownstoner columnist Suzanne Spellen put it, was likely built as the home for stock broker Lascelles E. Maxwell and his wife, Grace Maxwell, in the early 1870s. The couple raised seven children in the house, and it stayed in family hands until they put it on the market in 1904.
In 1906, the house was transformed into a new home for the U.S. Grant Post 327 of the Grand Army of the Republic. Known as Grant Hall, it had meeting rooms, exhibits on General Grant and entertainment spaces that were rented out to the community.
Union Army veterans gathered for annual dinners and celebrations until the late 1920s, when a mere 50 aging veterans remained as members, according to a story in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle at the time.
The post closed in 1928 and the house became Weber Studios, a dance studio. It was modernized with $50,000 worth of improvements and the creation of four ballrooms and a banquet hall, according to a 1929 article in Brooklyn Life.
The studio operated until 1940, and it was at some point after this that the house was sold to the Evergreen Church of God in Christ. A columned wooden porch was removed from the front facade at some point between the 1940s and 1981.
The church sold the property in 2015 to developer Washington Residence LLC for $2.7 million. The congregation has since relocated to Bed Stuy, having purchased a small church at 172 Decatur Street in 2016 for $1.9 million.
An application for an alt-1 permit for the historic house was filed in 2015 — rather than demolition and new-building permits — which technically means some of the structure will survive. Perhaps part or all of the foundation will remain, but it is hard to imagine much more of the historic fabric will exist.
A sketch posted on the construction fence provides few details but does show the building retaining a central entrance with what appears to be a stoop. The upper three floors will be expanded from three bays to four bays wide and there will be a set back at the fourth floor.
Plans call for six units on the ground floor, and five on each of the upper floors, with a recreational space for tenants on the roof.
The owner appears to be Ryan Garbo of GB Properties, a small real estate firm on Fulton Street in Clinton Hill, according to public records. The applicant of record is Joseph Badinter, of BGM Engineering LLC.
In another year or two, this post-Civil War home will probably look much like the condo building next door. In 2008, the plain brick building replaced a similar mansard-roofed house of the same era.
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
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