After months in stasis, the facade of beloved Park Slope institution Grand Prospect Hall was finally demolished this week, marking the likely end of the quest to preserve the historic venue.

"It really brought it home, seeing it," said activist and artist Jim Glaser, who lives two blocks away and shared his photos of the gutted 119-year-old building. "The sun sets on the Grand Prospect Hall facade."

The 19th-century banquet hall and event space was family-owned for decades until it sold last July to Gowanus Cubes, an LLC operated by Angelo Rigas. Shortly after the sale, the new owner got a permit allowing for "interior demolition and non structural element removal," according to the Department of Buildings. When news of construction at the hall spread, residents and activists mobilized to try to preserve part of the building.

The demolition of the space touches on a hotbed of issues for New Yorkers, like how best to preserve and support historic businesses, how the identity of the city has shifted while New Yorkers were enduring the pandemic, the limits of communities rallying together, the flaws in the landmarking process and what happens to a city in flux as local landmarks disappear.

Glaser, who helped put on the City of Gods Halloween parties at the Hall in recent years, was among the people leading the charge to try to save it. Although he's previously worked on national activism campaigns, the fate of Grand Prospect Hall was even more personal for him, and instructive on the importance of trying to preserve city history.

"This has been an opportunity to really connect with the neighborhood," he said. "Here we are, especially Park Slope, with these people that really love New York and really get arts and culture. And to lose a 100-plus-year-old building with so much history just like that is something that we really have to watch out for. We can't let this happen in so many other places."

He added that the loss of places such as Grand Prospect Hall during a pandemic will be difficult to replace.

“And as we go through this global post-COVID reset, New York needs arts and culture, and the revenue from arts, culture, tourism and nightlife to offset the loss of business revenue from less people commuting into the city, and Amazon killing retail," he said. "So we need more Prospect Halls, not less."

Among the neighbors Glaser connected with was Solya Spiegel. Last summer, the 17-year-old high schooler, along with her boyfriend, Toby Pannone, 18, started a petition to save the Hall, garnering thousands of signatures.

"I definitely think it's a huge loss to the neighborhood," said Spiegel, who played several times at the annual Zlatne Uste Golden Festival at the Hall. "It was a very special community center for not just everyone in Prospect Park, but all of NYC and the world. We keep losing community spaces where people can gather together and celebrate special times in their lives."

Her experience trying to save the Hall has inspired her to try to find opportunities to work in preservation and activism.

"I've always had a big heart to speak my truths, and this experience has definitely showed me how even one person can change so much," she said.

A place where your dreams came true

The Halkias family owned the space for over 40 years and it served as the location of countless weddings, parties, musical events, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, graduations and more. Members of the family became local celebrities thanks to their legendary low-budget local commercials, in which they promised potential customers, “We make your dreams come true!”

Then in July, Alice Halkias, who ran the space with her husband, Michael, until he died at the age of 82 from complications due to COVID-19, sold it for $22.5 million to Gowanus Cubes.

Simeon Bankoff, the former executive director of the Historic Districts Council, which advocates for designated historic districts, neighborhoods, and buildings, told Gothamist that this was an avoidable tragedy. At any point over the last 40 years, he said, the Halkias family could have applied for landmark status, and likely gotten approved.

"What elevates this loss into a tragedy is how much effort Mr. Halkias put into making this building a Brooklyn landmark," Bankoff said. "Everyone went there for one reason or another – I was there for community board hearings. Mr. Halkias opened his building to the community, but it was a castle in the air. The stiff breeze of real estate money blew it apart, and now there’s nothing left but a void in the place he had deliberately filled. That’s why people are so upset. Grand Prospect Hall had been positioned as a 'place where your dreams come true,' but it was a place with no foundation.”

Ultimately, because there were no protections in place for the building, Bankoff said it felt “like a betrayal” to longtime patrons.

Scott Lynch/Gothamist

Bill Farrell, a spokesperson for Rigas — who bought the Hall as part of a larger $30 million, 12-property deal—told Gothamist that Rigas plans to turn the building into "a low-scale residential building with an affordable component." According to New York YIMBY, permits were filed with the city earlier this month, with the proposed 50-foot-tall, five-story development containing 147 apartments, 180 underground parking spaces, and multiple recreational spaces, including on the roof.

“We very much appreciate the community’s attachment to the Grand Prospect Hall," Farrell told Gothamist. "After the previous owner was unable to find a buyer for the business, it proved infeasible for it to remain a catering hall and they opted to sell the property outright. The interior fixtures had been removed before current ownership took possession of the site."

The fight for landmark status

There were several stopgap attempts to slow the project down.

A partial stop work order was issued by the DOB on Aug. 16 preventing any work from continuing until a new home was established for a Polish American WWII Veterans Memorial located there. Then, after locals rallied at the building, all demolition was temporarily paused by court order while the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered whether to give it landmark status.

But because the building was already "substantially altered," the LPC ultimately denied the request, with Kate Lemos McHale, director of research at the commission, writing that "it does not have sufficient historic integrity for consideration as a landmark."

Bankoff, the former HDC head who is now consulting on other landmark designation projects around the state, said the LPC was in a no-win position. On the one hand, their decision to reject the designation was based on a "narrow view of architectural integrity," one that did not take into account the site's cultural history.

"Cultural significance is a criteria for consideration under the NYC landmarks law, and is key to addressing the invisible history of New Yorkers who inhabit the city but did not build it," he said. "In this instance, the hall was actually built by and for a newly-arrived population, so that makes it an even more appropriate candidate for landmark designation."

The building was first constructed in 1892 at the behest of local entrepreneur John Kolle, who wanted it to be a “temple of music and amusement.” After a fire in 1900, it was redesigned by architect Ulrich J Huberty and reopened in 1903, looking much like it did up until last summer. When the building was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, it was described as "probably the largest and best-preserved example of its type... the Victorian assembly hall set within a great ethnic community facility, remaining in the country."

However, Bankoff said that even if they had designated it, they would only have had the authority to regulate its physical exterior. With so much work already done, they could not have saved "what people really loved about the building, its interiors and its use as a gathering space."

Jim Glaser protesting in front of GPH on Aug. 30, 2021.

Scott Heins/Gothamist

"An everyday Pennsylvania Station"

Glaser, the local activist, is still holding onto some hope that something could be done to keep the legacy of Grand Prospect Hall alive.

In exchange for turning part of the building into a cultural and community space operated by a nonprofit, he has offered to help the new owners apply for a zoning variance to construct a taller building than what is currently allowed at that site. He has suggested renaming that section of Prospect Avenue as Grand Prospect Avenue. He’s even brought up trying to resurrect Mayor Eric Adams' PX Forward plan, which would reimagine the Prospect Expressway corridor between Windsor Terrace and Park Slope, and potentially increase the property value of nearby places like the Hall.

But Rigas and his intermediaries have not responded to the activists.

"As for moving forward, it's been so difficult because the developer had no interest in coming to a solution that would also benefit the community," Spiegel said. "The overwhelming outpouring of people who were in favor of keeping the Hall clearly didn't sway him."

Glaser said they knew from the beginning there was no way they could force the developer to do anything. But, he felt, "if we could find a business solution, then maybe there was a way — and the business solution is there. I just wish these owners had a creative spark in their souls, to be able to realize there is a better way [to create] a market rate apartment complex."

He said he sees this as another marker of a neighborhood changing for the worse.

"I stand on my roof and I look around, and there's a bunch of these things in our neighborhood that are supposedly sold out, and there are no lights on in them," he said. "It's just folks in other countries parking their cash in empty apartments. And that's what I fear. This new, boring apartment complex will be just another empty shell, where there was such a rich piece of history."

Bankoff said he believes the fate of Grand Prospect Hall contains important takeaways about how the city, the LPC, and activists approach future landmark battles.

"Grand Prospect Hall was a landmark, an everyday Pennsylvania Station, and it is gone," he said. "Similar unprotected landmarks still exist throughout the city. Their loss is not inevitable; it is a choice by city policy, which rewards rampant real estate gambling.”

“The problem with gambling is that someone always loses,” he added. “In this case, it’s usually the public. The city needs to step up, commit to protecting the character of New York’s neighborhoods and figure out how to do that while addressing the multitude of other, very real concerns which come from being the biggest and most important city in America."

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misstated the era during which the hall was built.