Photos by Joe Thomas
The tallest office tower in Downtown Brooklyn officially opened its doors this week. Developed by JEMB Realty and designed by FXCollaborative, One Willoughby Square rises 34 stories and contains 500,000 square feet of office space. Abbreviated as 1WSQ, the tower is also the first new Class-A office building built in the area since the rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn in 2004.
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New York City has officially purchased the property at 227 Duffield Street, a 19th-century rowhouse in Downtown Brooklyn recently designated as a landmark for its ties to the abolitionist movement. The Landmarks Preservation Commission last month granted landmark status to the home, occupied by known abolitionists Harriet and Thomas Truesdell from 1851 to 1863, after years of advocacy and a threat by a developer to raze it and build a mixed-use building in its place. First Lady Chirlane McCray, who has been a vocal advocate for the preservation of the site, announced the purchase during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s briefing on Monday and said the deal ensures the property will be “protected and celebrated for a very long time.”
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227 Duffield Street; Map data © 2020 Google
The Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday voted to designate a Brooklyn property that was home to known abolitionists, likely saving it from demolition. Harriet and Thomas Truesdell, members of the anti-slavery movement before the Civil War, lived at the Greek-Revival row house at 227 Duffield Street from 1851 to 1863. The commission recommended 227 Duffield for designation because it represents a rare surviving home to known abolitionists and marks Brooklyn’s pre-Civil War abolitionist movement. The push for landmarking the site was accelerated in 2019 when a developer filed permits to raze the three-story structure and replace it with a much taller mixed-use building.
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1937). Riverside Drive, no. 857, at 159th Street, Manhattan, courtesy of the New York Public Library.
Preservationists and local politicians are pushing the city to reverse their decision to not landmark a historic home with abolitionist history in Washington Heights. The two-story wood-frame home at 857 Riverside Drive in Upper Manhattan was owned by anti-slavery activist Dennis Harris who may have also been an Underground Railroad conductor. Despite a demolition permit filed by the current owner, the Landmarks Preservation Commission last November still rejected landmark status for the home because of the architectural alterations made to the original structure.
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Update 8/19/19: The owner of 227 Duffield Street told Gothamist on Friday that he will build an African American museum in the basement of the property which has ties to the abolitionist movement. Samiel Hanasab, who applied for a demolition permit earlier this summer, told the website: “I have a high respect for African Americans. This project will be in the basement.” The developer did not provide any additional details for the museum.
Despite a series of last-minute preservation attempts after demolition plans for 227 Duffield Street were filed with the city’s Department of Buildings in June, the 19th-century Downtown Brooklyn house with abolitionist ties remains endangered. Gothamist reported that the owner, Samiel Hansab, has filed an application with the Department of Buildings to erect a 13-story mixed-use building in its place. The application is still under review and no permits have been issued, but as Gothamist noted, the best chance of saving the building would be an intervention by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Image via Google Maps
Just across the street from Willoughby Park, where the city is planning a memorial to commemorate the abolitionist history of Downtown Brooklyn, the townhouse at 227 Duffield Place—once the home of prominent abolitionists Thomas and Harriet Truesdell and believed to be a stop on the Underground Railroad—is facing an uncertain future. As Brownstoner reported, demolition plans were filed with the city’s Department of Buildings on June 5 and an eviction notice has been posted at the site.