Historic Hopper-Gibbons house owner loses appeal over penthouse

The landmarked Underground Railroad site has been contested for years
By Tess Hofmann | February 25, 2015 06:00PM

The owner of a landmarked townhouse that may be the last remaining Underground Railroad site in Manhattan lost a court battle Tuesday over a penthouse addition that he continued to work on despite his permits being revoked.

Preservationists have struggled for years against Tony Mamounas, the owner of the Hopper-Gibbons house at 339 West 29th Street in Chelsea, who was aiming to build an addition atop the townhouse without seeking landmarks approval.

Tuesday’s decision affirms that the Board of Standards and Appeals was correct to determine that Mamounas needed approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to build after his permits were revoked, but that he failed to do so.

Mamounas argued that the permit issued by the Department of Buildings prior to the site’s historic designation was valid and didn’t initially require Landmarks approval, even though that permit was revoked in 2009 mid-construction for a reason unrelated to the historic district.

The property was once home to Quaker abolitionists James Sloan Gibbons and Abby Hopper Gibbons, who opened their home as a stop on the Underground Railroad in the 19th Century and hosted the likes of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.

“We are gratified that the appellate court has upheld the historic integrity of the last existing monument to the abolitionist movement,” said Jack Lester, a lawyer representing the preservationists in the case.

Lester said he believes the most probable outcome is that Landmarks will refuse to grant retroactive approval to the illegal addition and that it will be torn down.

However, Mamounas has not given up the fight, according to his attorney, Marvin Mitzner. He is now considering his remaining options, including taking the fight to the New York Court of Appeals, or going to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.