Anyone on the mailing list for the Brooklyn Lyceum, the arts venue on the border of Park Slope and Gowanus at Fourth Avenue and President Street, has probably noticed the increasing agitation from owner Eric Richmond over the building’s foreclosure auction. The auction of the building (at 227-231 Fourth Avenue) is scheduled for today, according to the Kings County Supreme Court.
The Lyceum is housed in a landmarked former public bath that was opened in 1910. It was transformed into a gym in the 1930s and then fell into disrepair from the 1960s to 80s, with Richmond buying the building in 1994 and renovations starting in 1995. (Here is Richmond discussing the Lyceum on Arts Insights in 2012.) But even in its new incarnation as an arts venue it still had a grittiness about it in its vast spaces. Now a long court case (which began five years ago) between Richmond and Jean Miele, his former architect, is deciding the future of the building’s ownership and a lot next door, according to the Brooklyn Paper. The battle concerns a loan Richmond took from Miele in the amount of $500,000, and his giving temporarily the deed for the lot while raising money for the debt, and then Richmond stating that Miele added “bogus fees” between $600,000 and $800,000 once he acquired the money. According to DNAInfo, the legal disbute has over $5 million in liens in interests and costs.
The last email missive from Richmond, sent following a hearing on February 22, went out on February 25: “No Jailtime [sic] for Eric (yet) but the wheels of justice are close to crushing the Lyceum. We need your help.” He went on to describe the hearing in which “the Judge chose to make a finding (from chambers absent my presence) without addressing any of the defenses (the order at issue was never in effect due to a lapse/ failure/ mistake of on the part of the law firm of Troutman Sanders) and that the party seeking relief didn’t bother to notarize and/or sign their affidavit (making it deficient on its face),” and gave a plea for assistance for a bond (in an amount yet to be determined) necessary for a stay in the foreclosure action.
The Lyceum with its 8,000 square feet is definitely one of the largest and most versatile arts venues in its neighborhood, with large-scale parties, immersive theatre events, festivals, and conferences, and its loss would be felt by many of Brooklyn’s performing arts groups. Whether or not it will continue as an arts venue remains to be seen, but as a landmarked building its distinctive old world look that still has entrances etched with “women” and “men” from its days as a bath house will remain a presence on Fourth Avenue.