Police Athletic Leagues Lynch Center

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A beige building at the corner of 156th Street and Beck, home to rats and decomposing trash, pits the community, a respected child advocacy organization and historic preservationists in a battle over its future.

The controversy also raises questions about the role preservation should play in a community's campaign to improve its quality of life.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission says the abandoned 130-year-old building, the most nondescript in the Longwood Historic District, has historical significance and cannot be torn down. Its owner, the Police Athletic League, however, says it is too costly to repair. PAL wants to raze the 10,000-square-foot structure and replace it with gardens and huts.

For their part, community residents agree the building should be demolished, but they want it replaced with a permanent building that matches the historic quality of the neighborhood.

"To me, it's not architecturally appealing," said John Robert, district manager of Community Board 2. "It's nothing, a square box with no façade. It's hard to conceive what its historical significance is."

The building, known as the former Lynch Center, is the oldest in Longwood. It was a turn-of-the-century manor home and later a World War II relief center. From the 1940s to the '80s, it served as PAL's youth recreation center. Over the years, haphazard renovations and vandalism took a significant toll, and after PAL moved out in 1986 it became known as the eyesore of the Longwood Historic District. Drug dealers camp out in it, said Orlando Marin, a nearby resident and member of Community Board 2.