Plaza West, the triangular Art Deco structure in the heart of Freeport, is gone. Late on the night of Nov. 29, a wrecking crew clawed the building down, ending a decades-long chapter of Freeport history.
The vacant six-story structure at 71 Sunrise Highway, beside the Long Island Rail Road station, was once a bank. The Plaza West property also encompasses an adjacent lot and the Church Street triangle.
In April, the village sold the property to the Atlantic Auto Group for $6.4 million, including a $1 million deposit. At the time of the sale, village officials said that selling the property would put it back on the tax rolls. Atlantic Auto Group also agreed to pay all village taxes, with no reductions.
According to Freeport Historical Society records, the Meadow Brook Bank, the village’s second bank, opened in 1911 on the triangular property, near South Grove Street, now Guy Lombardo Avenue. Initially the building was two stories high, made of Indiana limestone designed in Romanesque style.
The building that was torn down was designed and built by the Hoggson Brothers in 1929. The Meadowbrook Bank was six stories high, with a two-story base, and was inspired by the Art Deco Flatiron building in Manhattan. It measured over 17,000 square feet, including a basement. The lobby, finished in Caen marble and bronze, featured a cigar stand and a mail chute. The building’s base was granite topped by limestone and brick, with limestone trim and Mayan-style reliefs decorating the façade, according to Historical Society records.
During World War II, an observation tower was built on the roof for the purpose of spotting enemy planes.
The bank closed in 1990, and the building had been abandoned ever since. The Freeport village administration tried several times to transform it into a housing development, but it was “beyond repair,” according to Village Attorney Howard Colton.
Mayor Robert Kennedy and the board of trustees also tried to revitalize the property, to no avail. “No one wanted to buy it,” Kennedy said.
A number of Freeporters were outraged by sale of the property, and their feelings clear in letters addressed to the Herald Leader and on social media.
One local man, Jason Kanin, wrote that the concept of a Lexus dealership was “silly,” and, like several other Freeporters, he supported the idea of preserving the building by converting it into housing. Kanin added in a Facebook post that the building should have been designated a landmark. In the mid-1990s, the bank clock on the property was so designated, but not the bank itself. In 2014, the Freeport Landmarks Preservation Commission supported granting it landmark status, but the village opposed the idea, commission records show.
Before the property was sold, the village maintained it year-round, shoveling snow and making repairs to prevent injuries to passersby, and keeping the roof from falling apart, Kennedy explained. “It was a burden to the village,” he said.
Kennedy highlighted the efforts to convert the building into affordable housing — but it was too small. He also said that if there had been a chance to save it, the village would have taken it. But after 30 years with no buyers, selling to the Atlantic Auto Group made sense.
Soon a 40,000-square-foot structure will be built in place of the bank. The only evidence of the old Meadowbrook Bank will be the landmark green bank clock, which is expected to operate correctly once more when the dealership opens.