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After years of drama and controversy, the rent-regulated apartments at 406 Albee Square downtown stand empty, ready for the bulldozers. They were acquired by the city as part of a bigger package for $40,000,000 and will be turned into a park, as per the downtown rezoning plan established over a decade ago, in 2004.

The tenements, which have seen more than 100 years of humanity pass through its doors, occupy a clearing in the middle of high-rise development downtown. Directly across the street is the City Point mega-project, where towers as high as 60 stories will eventually be built. Behind it, on the next block over, the 35-story Ava DoBro is under construction at 100 Willoughby Street.

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The tall tower JEMB Realty is developing at 420 Albee Square in Downtown Brooklyn will be a mere 35 stories instead of 65, according to the latest permit filings, first spied by New York YIMBY. Meanwhile, we see the developer just closed on an adjacent site with a historically significant building on it and is planning a demolition.

An old three-story 19th century wood frame building at 233 Duffield Street is one of three historic stops on the Underground Railroad on the block the Landmarks Preservation Commission tried to save from demolition back in 2007, as we reported at the time.

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That was quick. Demolition of 231 Duffield Street, one of the houses in Downtown Brooklyn thought to have a connection to the Underground Railroad, began at the beginning of last week and by Friday morning, when we snapped this photo, it was a done deal.
Demolition of 231 Duffield Street Begins [Brownstoner] GMAP P*Shark
Live from the 231 Duffield Street Dismantling [Curbed] DOB
Demolition Begins of Historic Duffield Street Building [Duffield Street Blog]
Demolition continues of 231 Duffield [Duffield Street Blog]

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After a demolition permit was issued on February 25, V3, the same company that’s putting up the Karl Fischer-designed Hotel Indigo at 237 Duffield Street, began dismantling 231 Duffield Street, one of several houses on the Downtown Brooklyn block that has been linked to the Underground Railroad. As the Duffield Street blog notes this morning, while 227 Duffield has gotten most of the attention and is planned to be a museum for the abolitionist movement, there’s good reason to think that 231 Duffield has historical significance to the abolitionist movement. According to the EDC report on the subject, houses owners at the time–the Hawes and the Hilles–were involved with abolitionist groups, although there is no documented evidence of their involvement with the railroad itself. The basement photo, at right, shows a passageway underneath Number 231 that many think was used to transport escaped slaves.
Demolition Begins of Historic Duffield Street Building [Duffield Street Blog]
Demolition continues of 231 Duffield [Duffield Street Blog] GMAP P*Shark DOB

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Just last year, the city planned to raze some Duffield Street houses that may have been part of the underground railroad. Now, a piece of that street is co-named “Abolitionist Place,” and “a multi-faceted proposal to memorialize the history of abolitionism, the anti-slavery movement, and the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn,” called “In Pursuit of Freedom” is on the horizon. The $2 million effort is courtesy of a coalition of heavies in the Brooklyn cultural scene, including New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and the Commemoration Advisory Panel, who selected the proposal from the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Weeksville Heritage Center and the Irondale Ensemble Project. The project will include a theatrical performance, an interactive exhibit and a self-guided walking tour. Good thing the houses are still here!
Tour, Play, Exhibit Mark Brooklyn Underground Railroad [NY Observer]

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The Bloomberg administration announced yesterday that it was creating a six-person panel charged with formulating a plan to honor Brooklyn’s role in the abolitionist movement. The formation of the $2 million panel is largely a response to the controversy surrounding the EDC’s plan to seize and demolish six Duffield Street row houses that are believed to have ties to the Underground Railroad, but it leaves the future of those houses unclear. In fact, the city’s press release yesterday affirms that an EDC-funded study did not directly connect Underground Railroad activity to the houses, but it did confirm a great deal of abolitionist activity in the area. While the city’s announcement is unlikely to stanch community outcry about the EDC’s plans, blogger Duffield Street Underground notes that If the new panel has some real power, then there is hope to develop Downtown Brooklyn through the promoting of the Abolitionist history at 227 Duffield. Sounds to us like the city’s just throwing a bone, albeit a $2 million bone, to the pesky preservationists to push them out of the way. Do you think this has a chance of silencing the protesters?
Mayor Appeases on Underground Railroad Rancor [NY Observer]
Panel to Honor Brooklyn’s Role in Abolition [City Room]
Honoring Brooklyn’s Role in Ending Slavery [Duffield St. Underground]
Busy Day for Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad History [Gowanus Lounge]
Underground Movement on Duffield [NY Post]
Duffield Preservationists Fight Back with Lawsuit [Brownstoner]
LPC Turns Its Back on Underground Railroad Houses [Brownstoner]
Undergound RR: Consultants Caught In Another Lie [Brownstoner]
LPC Head Tries To Save Underground RR Site [Brownstoner]

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In one of the bigger disses we’ve seen recently, Landmarks Preservation Commission head Robert Tierney sent an “unusually prompt and decisive” letter (reproduced on the jump) to the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy indicating that LPC would not support the preservation of 227, 231 and 233 Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn. The buildings have been the subject of an ongoing struggle between preservationists who argue that they should be saved because of their role Brooklyn’s Underground Railroad and the city which wants to seize them via eminent domain to tear them down to make way for a hotel parking lot. Tierney doesn’t even suggest any intermediate steps like pushing for more research or documentation or suggesting the houses be moved to an alternate site. What’s his solution? A plaque. “I believe the commemoration of the important role Brooklyn has played in the history of abolitionism will be better served by the program of memorialization referenced by EDC and the City Council than by preserving the thee building,” he wrote. Isn’t LPC supposed to be a non-political group? Sounds to us like Bloomberg’s got Tierney by the balls on this one.
LPC Rebuffs Underground Railroad Houses [Gowanus Lounge]
Undergound RR: Consultants Caught In Another Lie [Brownstoner]
LPC Head Tries To Save Underground RR Site [Brownstoner]

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When it rains Duffield Street news, it pours…and this is stuff you can’t make up. According to a Brooklyn Eagle article at the end of last week, 227 Duffield Street, home to one of the most advocates of Underground Railroad crusade, Joy Chatel, has been put on the market by for $4.5 million. How did we get here? Well, in 2004, Chatel signed the deed over to her mother, Arnelda Monroe, who in turn sold a 50 percent interest in the building to investor Errol Bartholomew in 2005 to avoid foreclosure. Chatel told the Eagle that her lawyer, Angelyn Johnson, listed the property three weeks ago without her knowledge. The mother wants it sold, said Johnson. At this point they’ll do anything because they’re kind of in a pickle. Foreclosure perhaps? To cap it all off, Johnson was charged with fraud in February by the Queens DA and is under investigation for other frauds. Nice. BTW, click on the GMAP icon and check out the new Street View feature that lets you do a 360-degree pan of the street. In this case, it’s a great way to get a feel for layout on Duffield Street (which Google calls Oratory Place).
Alleged Underground RR Home On Market for $4.5 Million [Brooklyn Eagle] GMAP