Richmond Hill may give Democrats 60 to 70 percent of the vote in a typical election nowadays, but at one time, the neighborhood had a definite Republican leaning. The Grand Old Party’s past strength in local politics is represented by the century-old building that sits among the more-modern taller buildings near the confluence of Lefferts Boulevard and Myrtle and Jamaica avenues.
The Richmond Hill Republican Club at 86-15 Lefferts Blvd. hasn’t hosted the political party in two decades, but the vacant building looks to be headed to a future of hosting parties of a different kind.
Ivan Mrakovcic, vice chairman of Community Board 9 and president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, said a group called Siberian Ice, LLC bought the property several years ago and is planning on reopening the building as a catering hall. Their plans for the building will be presented to CB 9 at its Oct. 8 meeting and the board’s executive committee got a sneak peek at the plans Tuesday night during a meeting at Borough Hall. The presentation is required because the owners are opting to file for a special permit under Section 74-711 of the city’s zoning regulations that allows the catering hall to operate at the site that includes the landmarked facade.
CB 9 Chairman Jim Cocovillo said the board was pleased with the plans for the building.
“We basically think it’s great what they’re doing,” he said. “We think it’s great that they’re taking the extra step that would demand higher standards.”
The owners did not have to file for a special permit under the 74-711 because only the facade is landmarked, but they did so because community preservationists wanted the center to be used as an event space of some kind. Nancy Cataldi, the former Richmond Hill Historical Society president who passed away several years ago, had said she wanted to see the hall used as a community center similar to Flushing Town Hall.
Cocovillo said there are several quality-of-life issues, such as noise and parking, that the community board will question the owners about at a later date, likely when they apply for their liquor license. Cocovillo said that would be several months down the line.
“We don’t want to entertain it until they’re ready for that,” he said, noting there is still a large amount of construction work to be done at the site. “Noise is probably the number one issue since it is in a residential area, but parking is also a concern. It’s great to be able to bring people someplace, but we don’t have six-lane highways and 50-foot sidewalks in this part of Richmond Hill.”
He also noted that the owners poured a lot of money into renovating the building.
The club opened in 1908, hosting the area’s Republican Party for more than 80 years, and has been visited by notable Republicans such as Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The building received landmark status from the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2002.
But by that time, the building had fallen into a state of disrepair. Gone were the glass sliding doors facing Lefferts Boulevard and the patriotic bunting that hung from the front of the building. The structure’s iconic words — REPUBLICAN CLUB — were beginning to lose their prominence as the paint chipped away from the facade.
The building’s decay signified a change in the neighborhood that included the demolition of the former Vetter Mansion next door to the Republican Club. The Victorian-style home, built in 1887, housed a funeral home until it was demolished in 2007, after an unsuccessful attempt to have it landmarked, to make way for a modern shopping plaza, which was built several years ago and remains vacant.
At the same time the mansion was being torn down, preservationists were fighting an auction of the Republican Club that they feared could put the building in jeopardy. A judge put a hold on a potential sale that year, but the building has been vacant since.