BSA Rejects Owner’s Appeal to Legalize Fifth Story on Underground Railroad House Requires LPC to Review Permits; Lawsuit Threatened

Lamartine Place historic district- Hopper-Gibbons house under scaffolding

Lamartine Place historic district- Hopper-Gibbons house under scaffolding

On Tuesday, the Board of Standards and Appeals unanimously voted that the Hopper Gibbons house must fall under the jurisdiction of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and that the owner would have to get approval from them to keep their addition before re-applying for a waiver to the Multiple Dwelling Law allowing such an expansion.  However, the owner’s attorney, Marvin Mitzner, disagrees with the Board’s position and pugnaciously declared that he will take the case to Court, claiming that the owner, Mr. Mamounas,  has the right to retain the illegal 5th-story addition to this four story row house and to avoid landmarking laws.


It was at the Hopper Gibbons house that enslaved African-Americans were once given shelter, famous abolitionists, including Frederick Douglas, met, and the Emancipation Proclamation was joyously celebrated. It is the only documented station on the Underground Railroad in Manhattan. During the Civil War Draft Riots of 1863, the mob, angry at the Gibbons family because of their abolitionist views, tried to destroy this building, forcing the family to escape by running over the once-level rooftops of the neighboring row houses.  The illegally-built 5th story addition not only disfigures the building, but obscures the dramatic events that transpired there.  Given that the owner’s building permit and waiver to expand the building were invalid, that the bulk of the construction was completed after it was landmarked, we must do everything in our power to insure that this addition is REMOVED, not retained.
Here are links to some of the latest news stories on this 6-year long preservation battle.

NY Daily News: “Locals: Don’t let developer destroy Manhattan’s only stop on the Underground Railroad”

DNAinfo: “Underground Railroad House Owner Loses Appeal to Keep Rooftop Addition”


The next step will probably be in court, probably in April, where the owner will challenge the BSA’s findings. Friends of Lamartine Place will be there defending the property but this is going to expensive.  HDC has been in strong support of this effort for years and recently gave a grant from our Preservation Action Fund to help defray legal costs as well as acting as a fiscal agent to help raise funds for the effort.

Donation can be made for this effort at, by phone at 212-614-9107 to make a donation using a credit card, or by mail (Historic District Council, 232 East 11th Street New York NY 10003). Make sure to put Friends of Lamartine Place in the memo line.

They are also planning a fundraising party-dance on Saturday, March 16th at a private loft in Chelsea – more details as they are finalized.

Posted Under: Chelsea, The Politics of Preservation

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