The Tisdale House was built in 1860s, and before it could be landmarked was illegally demolished in 1985.
The Tisdale House was a 1860s clapboard, wood-frame, 2.5-story, single-family dwelling designed in the Italianate style. It was architecturally significant as a rare remnant of Flushing’s role as a mid-19th century suburb of New York City.1
The Tisdale House was illegally demolished while under consideration for landmark status, and was never officially designated a New York Landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
October 25, 1985: The Executive Session of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously votes to calendar Tisdale House for a public hearing to consider designation
October 31, 1985: Representatives of community groups, the Queens Borough President’s office, and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission meets with property owner Richard Fiorenze of Maple Gardens, Ltd. and his attorney at the site to discuss his lack of a demolition permit, the deteriorating condition of the house, and the pending public hearing
November 1-2, 1985: The Tisdale House is illegally demolished
November 4, 1985: Building Inspector Vincent Maratrizio arrives at the Tisdale House for pre-demolition inspection to find the house already demolished
November 19, 1985: The date when a hearing to consider Tisdale House for designation by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission would have taken place
January 7, 1986: Maple Gardens, Ltd. pleads guilty to illegal action in Queens County Criminal Court
January 14, 1986: The Corporation Counsel of the City of New York files a complaint against Fiorenze in the New York State Supreme Court
In July 1985, the Tisdale House property in Flushing, Queens, was deeded to Richard Fiorenze, President of Maple Gardens, Ltd. Fiorenze intended to construct a multi-story condominium apartment building on the site. At roughly the same time, the Tisdale House Preservation Project formed with the aim of preserving the 1860s house, an effort that was supported by numerous community groups, historical societies, and public officials. Fiorenze indicated that he would donate the structure to the organization if it could be moved from his property, and the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts proposed relocating it to the Kissena Park Corridor to be used as a museum.2 On October 25th, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) agreed to calendar Tisdale House for a public hearing on November 19th to consider designation as a City landmark.
Prior to the house’s demolition, the porte-cochère, back porch, windows, the main staircase, fireplaces, wall paneling, and floors had already been removed without the proper alteration permits.3 On November 1st, an unknown person requested a demolition permit. A site visit for the required pre-demolition report was scheduled for November 4th, and when the building inspector arrived, the house was gone. Community members that witnessed the demolition of the house said it had taken place until after 8:00 p.m. on Friday and into the weekend, generating much noise and dust and damaging the roof of an adjacent building.
Newsday reported that LPC Chairman Gene Norman:
“expressed frustration …about ‘what appears to be a very illegal action.’ He contended that every attempt had been made to accommodate Fiorenze's desire to begin construction before winter. Besides devising the plan for moving the house, the commission agreed to call a special public hearing to cut several weeks off its normal decision time, he said.”
Fiorenze’s attorney, Marjorie Rosenthal, countered that demolition without a permit is not uncommon, and that he had agreed to help pay to move the building, but the City had not done so by his October deadline.4
Maple Gardens, Ltd. pleaded guilty in Queens County Criminal Court and received a fine of $1,000 for “surreptitiously, hazardously, and illegally” demolishing the Tisdale House. They were also convicted of public nuisance, depriving the City of “an invaluable architectural site” and “deliberately circumventing” City processes. The demolition had occurred in violation of New York City Building, Noise, and Health Control Codes, and created “a statutory and common law public nuisance.”5
Papers prepared by Virginia Waters, assistant corporation counsel of New York, cite multiple causes of action in a civil suit filed on January 14, 1986: alterations and demolition without the necessary permits, no notice sent to adjoining property owners, no precautions taken to prevent the health threat of dust and injury to adjoining buildings, and excessive noise for extended periods of time outside of construction working hours of 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays. Furthermore, the loss of a potential landmark caused hardship to the City, in accordance with the New York City Landmarks Law, and caused “an affront to all standards of public obedience to law…distinctly unconscionable because the Tisdale House is irretrievably gone.”6 The suit described Tisdale House’s destruction as a “malicious and wanton act” and called for civil penalties and compensatory and punitive damages totaling over $1 million.7
As part of the settlement agreement, the developer was required to capitalize a revolving loan fund for the restoration and maintenance needs of historic buildings in Queens. As a result, the Queens Historic Properties Fund, a partnership between the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Queens Historical Society, was established in 1987. The Conservancy manages the operations of the Fund, which offers low-interest loans and project management assistance to owners of historic residential, not-for-profit, religious, and commercial buildings in Queens.8
- Virginia Waters, Verified Complaint, Index No. 01733186, The City of New York against Maple Gardens, Ltd., et al. 14 January 1986.
1. Virginia Waters, Verified Complaint, Index No. 01733186, The City of New York against Maple Gardens, Ltd., et al. 14 January 1986, page 4.
2. Ellis Henican, “Demolition Destroys Effort to Save House,” Newsday, 20 November 1985, page 21.
3. Virginia Waters, Verified Complaint, Index No. 01733186, The City of New York against Maple Gardens, Ltd., et al. 14 January 1986, page 5.
4. Ellis Henican, “Demolition Destroys Effort to Save House,” Newsday, 20 November 1985, page 21.
5. Virginia Waters, Verified Complaint, Index No. 01733186, The City of New York against Maple Gardens, Ltd., et al. 14 January 1986.
6. Ibid, page 13.
7. Ibid, pages 13-14.
8. “Queens Historic Properties Fund: Funding Historic Restorations in Queens,” The New York Landmarks Conservancy 25 February 2016.