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The 411 on 441 Willoughby: Residents Rally to Protect 100-Yr-Old Bed-Stuy Mansion

Here's why lifelong Willoughby Avenue residents are mobilizing around a building deeply rooted in the area's history.
441 Willoughby Ave. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

Made of limestone with French gothic influence, the mansion on the northeast corner of Willoughby Avenue at Nostrand Avenue in Bed-Stuy is a piece of history that needs protecting.

That's why lifelong neighbors of the property are advocating for New York City Landmark Designation to protect its historical, architectural and cultural significance. On Tuesday, around 15 of those neighbors gathered on Zoom to get the ball rolling.

With landmark status the historical building would be protected from demolition, which will ensure no high-rise will be built in its place, protecting the natural sunlight the block receives.

441 Willoughby Ave. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

Landmark status would also ensure that NYC's Landmark Preservation Commission would have to approve any alteration, reconstruction or new construction affecting the building.

With this protected status, the owners of the building are also required by law to keep the building in good condition. The mansion, at over 12,000 square feet, could use some careful restoration.

"There's a rumor that the mansion may have been sold, but it's all speculation right now," Lauren Cawdrey, neighbor and local business owner, said.  

"There's no public information on the potential sale as of yet, but getting landmark status is just something that should happen anyway. It's such a significant building, and there's nothing like it around."

Cawdrey owns and operates Willoughby General, a popular Bed-Stuy shop and cafe right near the historic building.

441 Willoughby

The building was most likely built by German American architect Theobald Engelhardt for a successful German grocer named Jacob Dangler at the turn of the 20th century.

Dangler specialized in provisions like deli meats and cheeses, and, due to his success in business, commissioned the ornate family home for his wife and three sons close to his factory.

The house belonged in Dangler's prominent and involved Brooklyn family until 1941 when it was sold privately. About 20 years later it was sold to the Oriental Grand Chapter of the Eastern Star, a masonic organization founded in 1850 for both men and women, although now it is almost exclusively for women.

441 Willoughby Ave. Photo: Anna Bradley-Smith for BK Reader.

The mansion currently operates as a community center for neighborhood gatherings and its grandeur is a point of pride for the life-long neighbors.

"It's where neighborhood meetings and events are hosted, and parties happen there on the weekends," Cawdrey said. "It's a total scene."

"It's important to note that there are several lifelong members who share in this concern," Mike Porter said on the Zoom meetings. Porter's wife grew up on the block.

Michael Williams, one of the meeting attendees, said he attended boy scout meetings in the mansion as a child.

"The outcry about the rumor has been overwhelming, from what I've seen," Porter said.

One of the meeting attendees said she heard the group constructing the nearby community center at 184 Nostrand were also acquiring the mansion, but the origins of the rumor are unclear.

BK Reader reached out to the Department of Buildings for clarification and found that the DOB has not received any recent applications to significantly alter or change the use of  441 Willoughby Avenue. However, the building does have one active work permit to retrofit and replace light fixtures inside the building.

BK Reader has also reached out to the Department of Finance, which handles ownership and property sales information, as well as the LPC.

Getting landmark status is no small feat. Cawdrey and her neighbors will have to submit an application to the LPC. Once vetted, researched and approved, the neighborhood group can schedule a public hearing to make their case. After the public hearing, LPC will vote.

If the LPC votes to approve the landmark, the Commission then has to write a comprehensive report on the impacts of the designation to pass off to the City Council. Then, the City Council will have final say in whether the designation passes.

Though the block has only just begun the process of petitioning for landmark status, the initiative already has attention and support from local politicians like Chi Ossé, council member-elect for Bed-Stuy's District 36.

"It's been really affirming to have the support. The building â€" it's just worth fighting for," Cawdrey said. "Though we don't even know if it's a fight yet."

Miranda Levingston

About the Author: Miranda Levingston

Miranda Levingston is an award-winning reporter and editor passionate about covering the change-makers in her borough.
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