Students, Neighborhood Activists, and Local Elected Officials Rally to Save Hopper-Gibbons House

The Hopper Gibbons House (339 West 29th St.), where slaves were once given shelter, famous abolitionists met, and the Emancipation Proclamation was celebrated, is imperiled by the developer’s attempt to retain an illegally built 5th story addition.

In advance of the Board of Standards and Appeals hearing on this issue (scheduled for Feb. 12th), those working to save the historic features of this landmarked 4-story row house held a press conference Sunday to demand that this addition be removed.

“This disfiguring illegal 5th story addition obscures the dramatic events that transpired at this house during the Draft Riots.  Because most of the addition was completed after it was landmarked and because the building permit and waiver to expand the building were invalid, this addition must come down,” said Fern Luskin, a professor of art and architectural history at LaGuardia Community College.

Julie Finch, the co-chair of the organization, Friends of Hopper Gibbons House, added, “The owner is a scofflaw and is claiming a hardship which is actually self-created.  He committed fraud on applications and plans, as well as during construction.”

“For years, the community has worked to save this historic building,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried. “The fate of this building is in the BSA’s hands.  It must enforce the order for the owner of 339 West 29th Street to remove the illegal addition, and restore the integrity of the Hopper Gibbons House,” added Mr. Gottfried.

State Senator Brad Hoylman said, “The Hopper Gibbons House has survived 167 years of history, including being burned during the Civil War Draft Riots of 1863, only to be defaced in modern times by an unscrupulous steward.  I’m proud to join preservation advocates, student activists and elected officials in demanding that the illegal addition built atop this building, which was part of the Underground Railroad, be removed immediately.”

Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn stated: “The Hopper-Gibbons building – as well as the other buildings that make up the Lamartine Place Historic District – hold tremendous local and national historical significance. For years, we’ve fought to protect the integrity of this building and to ensure that it is preserved for future generations. It is important that Chelsea residents and visitors understand that we are home to what was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. I am confident that the Board of Standards and Appeals will vote to protect and preserve this building and the Lamartine Place H.D.”

Council Member Jumaane D. Williams stated:  “The Hopper-Gibbons House is a significant building to me and to all New Yorkers. As a member of the Landmarks subcommittee in the City Council, I have a vested interest in seeing our local history preserved and protected for future generations to appreciate. As a legislator of more color, I care about New York City’s role in the abolitionist movement and this house’s role as a stop on the Underground Railroad. It is my sincere hope that the Board of Standards and Appeals will rule in favor of conserving this local treasure.”

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer commented, “The Hopper Gibbons – the only documented site of the Underground Railroad in the Borough of Manhattan – played a crucial role in the Civil Rights history of our borough. I am proud to pledge my continued support for protection of this historic site, and will work with my colleagues in government in the years ahead to ensure its preservation.”  In a similar vein, the Chair of Manhattan CB 4, Corey Johnson and Andrew Berman, Exec. Director of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation respectively stated “no matter what happens on February 12 the Board will continue this fight to the end” and “this underground railroad site is such a rare and precious part of our history, and the City must enforce the law and ensure that it is protected.”

Also participating in this event were the Bronx Lab High School Underground Railroad Riders and Alessandro Viviano, a junior at Friends Seminary, who sang a verse of Gibbons’ “We Are Coming Father Abra’am.”

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READ MORE:  Chelsea brownstone honored as only documented Manhattan stop on underground railroad, NY Daily News, Jan. 16, 2012

Retracing the Elusive Footsteps of a Secretive History, NY Times, Feb. 24, 2008

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