Preservation efforts have been halted with the recent demolition of the former Swedish Home for the Aged, Sunnyside. This 1860-70 Gothic style home was built for the daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Alitia Vanderbilt and her husband, NYS Senator Nicholas LaBau. Since 1912, it has been used as a home for the elderly, originally managed by the Swedish Embassy , more recently by a not for profit organization.
I, along with the new President of the Preservation League of Staten Island (PLSI) had met with members of the Clove Lake Civic Association over the last few months to work on preserving even a portion of the stone and wood building. It was too little to late.
Back to 2007, then Councilman Mike McMahon, brought the NYC Landmarks Commission to tour the Swedish Home. The board members of the Swedish home, were not interested in landmarking and have publicly stated this time and time again. Neither McMahon, nor the Landmarks Commission notified the public or PLSI, yet we were working closely with the Councilman on preserving other important buildings throughout Staten Island.
Fast forward to 2009, the Staten Island Advance sums up what happened with efforts to landmark. As reported on September 23, 2009:”At the last minute this week, the Landmarks Preservation Commission put off a scheduled vote to calendar the Bristol Avenue building for review. Landmarks staff said they did so at the request of City Councilman Kenneth McMahon (D-North Shore). “I will support the landmarking of a historically and architecturally significant building, even over the objections of the owner, if the surrounding community supports landmarking. But we don’t have that here,” Mitchell said.”
The proposal presented by new owner, Mr. Calcagno and the not for profit board of the Swedish Home is an assisted living facility. At this time there has been no approvals by the State Attorney General for an assisted living facility at this site. It is pending. It will not utilize the historic building and the civic met with the owner, over the summer to discuss plans. 19 neighbors voted to support demolition, yet the civic has many more members. The 19 neighbors were given only two options. Option A: keep the historic building with no assurances to restore the building but get new housing or Option B: demolish the historic mansion and get an assisted living facility with the park-like landscaping, thus keeping the footprint of the site. The 19 neighbors chose Option B and the rest of the Staten Island community were not given any options.
As we met with the 19 neighbors, there was support for preserving the historic building Option C. It was not complete support for demolition, Option B. Our proposal, PLSI’s Option C, included the adaptive reuse of the facade -, porch, tower and stone portion. The two dormitories could be reused and the rear of the mansion demolished. We had the support of a local architect. It was too little to late.
This Blog is my personal opinion and refers to facts publicized at Civic meetings, in the Si Advance and confirmed by NYC Landmarks Committe and elected officials mentioned in the above mentioned blog.