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

 

February 10, 2013 : By Jennifer H. Cunningham

Chelsea officials and neighborhood preservationists are demanding the city block a greedy developer from desecrating the only known Underground Railroad stop in Manhattan.

An obscure city board will decide Tuesday whether to allow the owner of the building on W. 29th St. to add a fifth floor to the landmark townhouse, which sheltered countless runaway slaves and hosted prominent abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.

Co-owner Tony and Nick Mamounas started building the additional floor in violation of city landmark code — then kept building even after the Department of Buildings ordered them to stop in 2010.“For all of these reasons, its especially important that the (city) vote to ... restore the building to the way it was a before he started attacking it,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who was set to rally in front of the building Sunday afternoon.

The 10-unit 19th-century structure was once the home of Quaker abolitionists James Sloan Gibbons and Abby Hopper Gibbons.

The fifth-floor addition was erected on top of the roof that the family used as an escape route to flee an angry mob who torched the house during the 1863 Draft Riots, preservationists said.

“We feel the route over the roof has been ruined,” Julie Finch, co-chairwoman of the of the Friends of Gibbons Underground Railroad Site.

And the building at 339 W. 29th St. is now a covered with scaffolding and tarp — and its facade is no longer visible from the street.

Nick Mamounas died since the controversy flared. His brother’s attorney, Marvin Mitzner, did not return a call for comment.

Community advocates and pols said the structure is a relic of the city’s anti-slavery past and should be left alone.

“Not only has the owner broken the law, by building the addition without a permit, but he is defacing history,” state Sen. Brad Hoylman said. “I would urge the (city) to have the illegal addition removed.”