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Questions about the survival of decades-old Victorian homes have also arisen recently after a developer was able to remove part of a historic home and erect a modern two-family building out of character with the neighborhood.
Richmond Hill Historical Society President Nancy Cataldi said she and her members have been working to landmark many of the buildings in the area, but even those efforts have been thwarted by homeowners and developers tempted by profits that come from making new residential or commercial spaces.
"The RKO Keith's is such a historically significant building," Cataldi said. "We have high hopes for any of the buildings downtown."
Irving Schwartz, a spokesman for the Richmond Hill Hall Corporation that manages the RKO Keith's, disputed an earlier claim by a tenant of the site who said the building would be put up for sale. Schwartz insisted that the owners have no plans to sell the building, are working on expanding parking at the site and have extended contracts to keep bingo at the hall.
"They will be playing bingo for the next year," Schwartz said of the extended contracts for bingo vendors at the RKO Keith's.
Rumors, however, about a potential sale led community leaders like Cataldi and others to question what could be put in the theater's place. Cataldi, along with RKO Keith's tenant Day Gaydos, who runs the Museum of Sound Recording, would like to keep the RKO Keith's building and transform it into a multi-use cultural center if it was to change hands. Neither said they want the theater, built in 1929, to be destroyed in favor of something out of character with the Victorian-era neighborhood.
Rochel Raynoff, spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning, said the RKO Keith's building is zoned R-5, C1-2, meaning low-to-medium residential, commercial or mixed-use developments could take its place. She said she was unaware of any current plans to sell or renovate the theater.
"The permitted commercial uses cover a range of possible uses, but nothing auto-related except supply stores," Raynoff said.
Cataldi said preservationists are also getting frustrated with efforts to restore the Republican Club building following years of fighting to make the building a city landmark.
During a public hearing Dec. 17 the city Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to make the building, which was built in 1908, a city landmark, preserving it from demolition or alteration, said Sherida Paulsen, commission chairwoman after the meeting.
The property will stay a city landmark regardless of the owner, according to city law.
Cataldi said harsh summer rains and winter snow are causing the Republican Club's roof to deteriorate. She said the club is in danger of being destroyed simply because months of court delays meant to determine who owns the building have prevented restoration of the building. "Here comes winter and the roof is already bad," she said.
The city of New York sold a tax lien on the Republican Club after club members accumulated more than $330,000 in back taxes. The property then went up for sale in a September 2002 foreclosure auction and was sold to Faizulmunir Kazi.
Many community members were angered when Kazi, a specialist in buying properties and then selling them at profit from his Jackson Heights office, said he wanted to develop the property into four or five retail stores or a party hall.
An order to show cause was issued in January 2002 by someone claiming to be a member of the club, which means there is a temporary hold on the results of the auction, said John Chilson, managing director of JER Revenue Services at the time. A spokeswoman for Councilwoman Melinda Katz's (D-Forest Hills) said the issue has yet to be resolved due to complications in the court process.
Historic homes near the Republican Club building are also in jeopardy. One home, at 86-45 110th St., has already been partly altered after a developer tore off its porch and built two one-family homes.
The city Department of Buildings had ordered work to be stopped on the building because part of its plans had violated city zoning law. This stop was only temporary, Cataldi said, and brick now is being installed on the new homes' facades.
Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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