Endangered Angel: local artist tries to salvage his iconic home
After three decades and several legal battles, the iconic Broken Angel House may have its wings clipped for good.
Long-time owner Arthur Wood, who built the house with his wife, will be evicted this Friday, March 15.
“It’s very poetic, March 15th is the Ides of March,” Wood quipped, as his son Christopher loaded up a U-Haul truck with his artwork and valued possessions last Friday.
Wood and his wife Cynthia moved into the building at 4 Downing Street in 1979, and lived there for over 30 years before her death from cancer in 2010.
Wood, now 81 years old, blames lawsuits with the city for his wife’s death.
“They dragged us out of this house because of a $100 fine,” Wood declared. “They locked up our house and put us out on the street to die.”
Wood said they were declared ineligible for the city’s shelter system because they technically owned property, even though they were barred from living there.
The trouble apparently started with a fire in 2006 that drew the attention of the Department of Buildings. DOB reportedly determined that the upper portion of the building and the fourth floor needed to be demolished.
Local City Councilmember Letitia James represented Wood in court during this process, and helped arrange the settlement to remove the parts of the structure said to be in violation of building codes.
Wood decided to partner with local developer Shahn Andersen, and they secured $4 million in funding to develop part of the property into condos, but apparently struggled to stay on schedule.
“Arthur is a very creative artist, but trying to get him to work inside the legal framework of the New York City Buildings Code and Zoning Resolution was very difficult,” Andersen said. “Many of the things he wanted us to do could not be done legally.”
The loan was declared in default around the same time as the Lehman Brothers collapse and the general tightening of credit markets. The property was foreclosed on last year.
“I still have a lot of admiration for Arthur,” Andersen insisted. “I have thought about Broken Angel a lot over the years, and when I think of Arthur and that building, I always have the same thought: you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t keep it from drowning itself once it gets there.”
What happens now?
Councilwoman James called the building “a piece of art” and “an iconic structure in the community,” and spoke of Wood as a beloved fixture in the neighborhood.
“It’s unfortunate because he built the Broken Angel with his bare hands,” James said. “We would hope that whoever has taken over the property would work with him so that he could remain on the premises for the rest of his life.”
A recently registered LLC by the name of 4-8 Downing Purchaser bought the property for a little over $2 million this January, according to public records.
According to a spokesperson, Shane Kavanagh, “the owner is now pursuing a remedy through the proper legal process that will allow them to control the property.”
Kavanagh confirmed that “proper legal process” meant Wood’s eviction.
The fate of the property is unclear: 4-8 Downing Purchaser LLC bought the property as an investment from the bank, and will now attempt to re-sell it.
According to the property listing, the vacant lot next to Wood’s building, located at 8 Downing Street, can be “developed” into a two-unit building, but the existing structure at 4 Downing Street can be “converted” into an eight-unit building.
CPEX Real Estate, the firm that listed the property, refused to say whether the existing structure can be demolished, or if it must remain standing to be “converted.”
What does the future hold for Wood?
For his part, Wood is determined to keep up his various legal battles.
“My case is still going strong,” Wood announced. “I’m gonna win it.”
He paused, then looked downward, smiling. “Maybe,” he conceded.
In fact, he prematurely filed with the Supreme Court, despite having not gone through the necessary lower courts.
“The law’s an art and in all art, a new approach — you can try whatever you want,” Wood shrugged. “I arrived at my destination and then I figured out how to get there.”
Wood said he was assured once he had gone through all the lower courts, his appeals case would still be open and waiting.
As the younger Wood walked by carrying a visibly weighty four-foot-tall curlicued steel cross, his father’s eyes lit up.
“I made that,” he said proudly. “I’m going to give it to St. John the Divine.”
Asked where he’ll go come Friday, Wood shrugged.
“I have no idea. I was thinking of going to China.”
DNAinfo.com reported that neighbors will be throwing a send-off block party for Wood this Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. Broken Angel House served as the backdrop for Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, released in 2005.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat