Self-Taught Architect Behind Brooklyn's 'Broken Angel' Faces Eviction Over the past three decades, artist and sculptor Arthur Wood has turned his four-story home into a towering cathedral built out of salvaged junk. But after a fire in 2006, the New York City Department of Buildings determined that the Clinton Hill landmark was no longer a safe place to live.

Self-Taught Architect Behind Brooklyn's 'Broken Angel' Faces Eviction

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


A New York landmark is in danger of being wiped off the map. It's called Broken Angel. It was an ordinary 19th century brick structure until Arthur Wood started building on top of it. The result was featured in the film "Dave Chappelle's Block Party." But now Wood faces eviction, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The documentary "Block Party" follows comedian Dave Chappelle as he put together a free hip-hop concert in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn in 2004. At one end of the block is a towering structure that looks like a cathedral built out of salvaged junk. That is Broken Angel.


ROSE: Chappelle is invited in by Cynthia and Arthur Wood, who look like time travelers from the Age of Aquarius. Arthur Wood is a self-taught artist and sculptor, and Broken Angel is his masterpiece. It's named after a figure that Cynthia and Arthur discovered broken and scattered in the street. Arthur wood put the pieces back together.

ARTHUR WOOD: So then when I got the building, wrecked and vandalized like it is now, lying in the street and I'm going to put it back together again better than it was. So that's the Broken Angel story.

ROSE: Cynthia and Arthur Wood bought the property in 1979 for $2,100 in cash. They gradually transformed the 19th century brick building into what's been hailed as a work of 21st century art. Carl Zimring teaches at the Pratt Institute, a renowned art school a few blocks away from Broken Angel.

CARL ZIMRING: He took a tenement and he transformed it with a lot of the materials people have classified as discards and tossed away into dumps and turned that into a coherent form of art, of folk art. An art that very much relied on the materials that Brooklyn had to offer.

ROSE: In its heyday, Broken Angel towered nine stories over the street. Arthur Wood took out most of the floors, creating a soaring open space with stained glass windows.

WOOD: This is all made from stuff collected from automobile accidents and broken glass and whatever. These are very pretty when the light hits it and just spreads all around.

ROSE: Not much of Wood's original work is left now. Shortly after the Chappelle film was released, a fire broke out in the tower which had been built without permits or plans. After that, the New York City Department of Buildings cracked down hard. Chris Wood grew up in his parent's creation.

CHRIS WOOD: They were threatening complete demolition of the building and they were saying things like we would need cranes because the structure's unsafe. We can't put people in there. And, you know, there was a lot of B.S.

ROSE: The Buildings Department did not return a call for comment. Hoping to avoid demolition, Arthur Wood struck a deal with a local developer six years ago to turn Broken Angel into condos. The five-story tower was dismantled, but Chris Wood says the developer never held up his end of the bargain and the bank foreclosed. Cynthia Wood died of cancer in 2010. Now, Arthur Wood is facing eviction.

ANGELIQUE DESHIELDS: This scares me. It's losing a landmark.

ROSE: Angelique DeShields grew up next door to Broken Angel back when the neighborhood was ravaged by drugs and crime. She says the Wood family was an inspiration.

DESHIELDS: People come here from all four corners of the earth. People wait, literally wait, outside for hours waiting for Arthur to show up just to talk to him. That's what you're taking. You're taking a bit of history and very much of our future right away from us.

ROSE: Like a lot of Brooklyn, the neighborhood around Broken Angel is gentrifying. The property is on the market for $4.5 million, yet Arthur Wood could walk away with nothing after living in the building for most of the last 34 years.

WOOD: I'm damn mad at America. I don't support any political party. I just support what's right. And what's happened to me is wrong, OK?

ROSE: Arthur Wood has managed to avoid eviction before, but this time it may take divine intervention to keep him from losing Broken Angel. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.