The opulently decorated ballrooms of Park Slope’s Grand Prospect Hall, the last authentic vaudeville theater in Brooklyn, once harkened back to the gilded age of the borough’s Gold Coast. Built by German immigrant John Kolle as a “temple of music and amusement” in 1892, Grand Prospect Hall was the place for the wealthy of the burgeoning borough to party, attend shows, see movies, watch operas and take part in other cultural events. “We make your dreams come true!” was the well-known claim seen on television advertisements since the 1980s and was a filming location for The Royal Tenenbaums, but its future is looking very dim at the present with demolition underway on the interior and a building demolition permit in the works.
In 2019, Untapped New York had the opportunity to tour (and bring our Insiders members) to Grand Prospect Hall in Park Slope with its charismatic owner Mr. Michael Halkias, or Mr. H. Less than a year later in May 2020, we were saddened to learn of Mr. Halkias’ passing of Covid-19 in the peak of the coronavirus epidemic. By the next month, the hall had closed down and by July 15, 2021, the Real Deal reported on the $30 million sale of Grand Prospect Hall, led by Mr. Halkias’ wife and business partner Mrs. Alice Halkias, to Angelo Ricas, through his limited liability company Gowanus Cubes, as part of a 12-property deal along Prospect Avenue. Within a few days of the closing of the deal in July, interior demolition permits had been issued by the New York City Department of Buildings, as reported by Gothamist which included photos of the gutted interior.
Although Grand Prospect Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this federal designation offers no legal preservation rights. Thus, when Brooklyn Paper reported on the filing of building demolition permits, local New Yorkers rose up in mass to protest. Within a few days of the news breaking, two Brooklyn teenagers Solya Spiegel (age 16) and Toby Pannone, (age 18) spearheaded the effort to save Grand Prospect Hall by first launching an online petition which now has over 8100 signatures and to file a Request for Evaluation to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to “review the possibility of protecting the Grand Prospect Hall from demolition or major reconstruction.” Spiegel and Pannone write in the petition, “This historic venue, host to Brooklyn’s oldest operating elevator, is now at risk of disappearing from existence, destroying its legacy and the location where thousands of weddings, festivals, and concerts have taken place over its 129 year lifespan.”
Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council tells Untapped New York, “Unfortunately, the NYC Landmarks Law is not the right tool to preserve the Grand Prospect Hall. Even if LPC had been able to act to protect its interiors, there would be no guarantee that GPH would be able to maintain its community importance as a popular concert and wedding venue. For every Gage & Tollner that is miraculously saved, there are countless Carnegie Delis and Rizzolis which are lost forever. NYC needs a historic business protection program – it’s the only way we can protect these kind of community landmarks.”
Today, Monday August 30th at noon, Spiegel and Pannone have planned a rally in front of Grand Prospect Hall. You can follow updates on the Twitter handle @savethepgh. They write, “We are hosting a rally [sic] at noon, and we need EVERYONE to be there! Please contact us if you have any connections regarding press or a lawyer, and bring signs that are big enough for TV cameras to see. Please DM us if you can help in any way!” Spiegel tweeted from her personal account, “WE NEED ALL THE HELP WE CAN GET. THE RALLY WILL BE AT NOON. BRING SIGNS, FAMILY, NEIGHBORS, ANYONE WE CAN GET. @savethegph for more information!” Spiegel also reported that as of yesterday, the front awning and exterior light fixtures had already been removed.
Here at Untapped New York, we’d like to showcase in this article what Grand Prospect Hall looked like in 2019 and excerpt from our 2020 tribute to Michael Halkias:
Mr. Halkias personally led the tour of Grand Prospect Hall for our Untapped New York Insiders in summer of 2019. He had a personality that was as grand and vibrant as the historic hall he ran. Halkias died at the age of 82 due to complications from COVID-19.
When our group of Insiders visited Grand Prospect Hall, Mr. Halkias enthusiastically showed us around all of the eclectic ballrooms where he helped New Yorkers’ dreams come true for decades. Mr. Halkias spent more than thirty years lovingly restoring and caring for the hall. His passion for the venue, as well as sharing it with others, was evident as he showed us the space.
While revealing the history of the former vaudeville theater, Mr. Halkias shared fascinating stories of its restoration with first-hand knowledge that we’resure we wouldn’t have been able to get from anyone else. He had an anecdote for every little detail of the space. He pointed out original features, like the bottle bottom glass windows in the Oak Room, and pieces that he salvaged from various places around the city.
Mr. Halkias worked hard to restore the hall’s historic brilliance, but he also wasn’t afraid to make it his own. At the end of the tour we even got to pose with Mr. Halkias on the hall’s iconic marble staircase. He was a one-of-a-kind New Yorker and he gave us a one-of-a-kind New York experience.
Numerous Untapped New York Insiders posted tributes to Mr. Halkias, which we are sharing with you today, along with never-before-published photographs from our tour inside the space.
“He was one the most memorable New York ‘characters’ with an encyclopedic knowledge, great passion, and a thoroughly engaging personality” – Marcy Davis
“I just remember how enthusiastic he was about showing us the space he was clearly so proud of and how much he enjoyed helping people celebrate the important events in their lives. He clearly had a big heart and a great sense of humor.” – Violeta Arcineiga
“I feel so lucky that I got to meet and spend time with him along Untapped New York’s Insiders on a special tour he gave us of his life’s work in Grand Prospect Hall. It’s so sad to hear of his passing and my condolences go out to his family and friends.” – Nicole Saraniero, Untapped New York.