NYC’s old private homes: Enigma of the past

New York looks forward, and not backward. Unfortunately, that means many of its oldest and most impressive homes — from the old row houses that once filled the Lower East Side to the robber baron mansions that lined Fifth Avenue — have met the wrecking ball.

Others, preserved by fate and community activism, are now public museums. However, there are a few old residential structures left in the city that are still being used as they were intended – as private homes.

“It’s not surprising that relatively few historic homes have survived in New York City as residential properties for 150 to 200 years,” said Deborah Gardner, former member of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

She explains that the buildings that do survive as private residences tend to remain anchored in compatible residential neighborhoods like the East and West Villages, Brooklyn and Chinatown.

“When neighborhoods change from residential to commercial or more dense residential developments like large apartment blocks, single-family homes can become marooned in starkly different cityscapes and become less appealing for domestic life. Families die out or sell out, or arrange for the building to become a museum,” Gardner said.

Here is a look inside the most notable NYC dwellings that have lived through centuries and generations of continued ownership.

Old town road

Peter Stuyvesant’s (inset) heir built the red-brick home 44 Stuyvesant St. in 1795

The Federal brick house at 44 Stuyvesant disappears into the East Village streetscape — where it is overshadowed by the more impressive triangular townhouse in Abe Lebewohl triangle.

Back in 1795, Nicholas William Stuyvesant — the great-great grandson of the 17th-century Dutch colonial officer and governor of New Netherland, which became New York and New Jersey – Peter Stuyvesant, built the house for his wife, Catherine. The couple raised their nine children in the house, and more than 200 years later, it remains Manhattan’s only building from the 18th century used purely and continually as a residence.

The three-story, five-bedroom, 4½-bath house has 3,300 square feet on its namesake street. The house changed hands a couple of times in the past few years, but at a cost of zero dollars, indicating it may have been passed between family members. The last listed owner of the house is David Brian Skerpon.

Going Dutch

Wyckoff-Bennett-Mont Homestead was built in 1766.

The Wyckoff-Bennett-Mont Homestead, built in the colonial year of 1766, is located on a spacious 10,000-square-foot lot at 1669 E 22nd St. It is in the Madison section of Brooklyn, that’s between Mill Basin and Midwood. This 2,976-square-foot, two-story detached wood house has only changed hands four times in the last 256 years.

German officers and their servants fighting for the British lived in the house during the Revolutionary War. Their soldiers camped out on the property. Two of them, Captain Toepfer and Lt. M. Bach of the Hessen Hanau Artillerie, etched their names into one of the window panes of the house, which has since been removed but remains on display on the property.

Today, the historic four-bedroom ranch house retains many of the original features including woodwork, hardwood floors, the original country kitchen, exposed beams, fireplaces, a wide front porch and a cast-iron bathtub. There is also a giant horse barn on the property.

The Homestead was most recently sold last October by the prior owner, Stuart Mont, to real estate mogul and Queen’s

denizen, Avraham Dishi for $2.4 million.

Mobile home

At a modest 958 square feet, white and wooden 121 Charles St. claims to be the “oldest house in the Village.”

Dubbed the “oldest house in the Village,” 121 Charles St. is a 958-square-foot white, wooden clapboard house built in the early 1800s. But it started its life in a different part of the city. It was originally at York and 71st Street in Manhattan‘s Upper East Side. In 1868, William Glass and his wife, both Irish immigrants, bought the home and operated a dairy from it.

When the Great Depression hit and their business suffered, they rented out part of the house and turned another part into a tea room and then, later in the 1940s, a restaurant called Healy’s Dining Room.

Then, in the late 1960s, Sven and Ingrid Bernhard — a Swedish couple who had been renting it uptown and learned it was at risk of being demolished to make way for a nursing home — hauled it downtown. For a cost of $6,500, they loaded the house onto a flatbed truck and carted it 5 miles to a 3,600-square-foot empty lot where it rests today.

The couple lovingly renovated the home and added a bedroom for their son. The Bernhards remained in residence there until a couple named Suri Bieler and Eliot Brodsky purchased it in 1988 for $725,000.

She’s a brick house

The Edward Mooney House at 18 Bowery was built in 1789.

Perched on the corner of Pell Street at 18 Bowery in Chinatown, the three-story red brick building, known as the Edward Mooney House, is the oldest brick row house in the entire city. Built between 1785 and 1789, records are fuzzy on the exact year the Federal-style house with traditional Georgian features was constructed for the wealthy butcher Edward Mooney — after the land the home sits on was seized from a so-called enemy of the state, British Loyalist James Delancey.

The Landmark Preservation Commission wrote in its designation letter: “This is the only known town house surviving in Manhattan which dates from the period of the American Revolution . . . its red brick facade above the street-floor level is in a remarkably good state of preservation.”

The five-unit building was last sold by Chin Po and Diana Liu for $5.3 million in 2013 to unknown buyers, public records show.

Images courtesy of Old House USA, Atlas Obscura, StreetStone, Village Preservation and Untapped Cities

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