Urban legends abound in Park Slope. There are certain buildings, people and places that arouse curiosity and stories—both real and apocryphal.
It is a rare Sloper who doesn’t have a story or a curiosity about the dilapidated building on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Second Street. Dubbed “the house that whimsy built” by The New York Times a few years ago, it is owned by an elderly woman named Dorothy Nash, who at one time lived in the building with her daughters. I don’t think they are still living there.
Last year I heard that Nash had sold the building to a developer but then tried to get out of the deal and was in a protracted lawsuit. I’m not sure what, if anything, came of that or even if any of it was true.
In the Times article, Alison Statement wrote: “The structure radiates a mysterious, haunted quality that encourages local residents to wonder why the place has fallen into such disrepair and what, if anything, is to come of the valuable property.”
I know what she means. For as long as I’ve lived in the neighborhood (nearly 20 years) that building has hovered over Seventh Avenue arousing indignant questions like, “who owns that place and why is it such a mess?”
The first floor storefronts have housed a vintage clothing boutique and a
pub/performance space run by Nash where you could find piles of old toys and dead heads and various local performers.
According to Brook Dramer, a medical writer, who has lived on Sixth Avenue for many years, the corner storefront was called the Iron Horse Tavern and later called the Landmark Tavern.
“Somehow people thought it was oh-so-Boho to sit in an unheated building, listening to Sailorman Jack sing as they banged toys in time to the music and drank cheap beer that was served by one of Dorothy’s beautiful daughters (I think she was about 8-years-old) while the younger daughter slept on a couch next to a heater near the stage,” Dramer said.
Once I walked into the Landmark and a man my husband went to college with was doing stand-up. Other times I heard a howling folk singer or small rock and roll bands as I walked by.
A few years ago the building made news when a glass window fell out and sliced the cover of a parked convertible. Luckily no one was sitting in the car and no one got hurt.
Recently, one of Dorothy’s daughters, Esther Nash, opened the Townhouse Gallery with her mother on the first floor of the building. The gallery features the work of local artist as well as antiques and objects d’art.
"Growing up in New York City, I had to decide early on which path to follow as a career. I want to assist other young people to make the right choice for themselves," said Nash. "If a child has talent it should be developed, this gallery will give those without resources the ability to have their work developed and exposed to the Art World and the public via art studios, workshops and the gallery space. Through the creation of this art space I seek to to encourage ART both as a career path and as a creative outlet."
Indeed, many people in Park Slope have stories about that building and its owner.
“Years ago, Dorothy told people that she dreamed of running and art gallery. I wish her well–and I hope this incarnation of 502 Seventh Avenue generates enough income to finally fix up that building.” Dramer said.
A woman named Margaret, who lives in Park Slope with her husband and two daughters, had the experience of living in that building once.
“Dorothy rented an apartment to me and two college friends way back in 1980! I think we paid $400/a month for a two bedroom. I slept in the dining room. When the pipe in our kitchen sink broke, she ‘fixed’ it with Duct tape.”
Another Sloper remembers visiting the Landmark a few weeks before it closed for good.
“Dorothy’s daughters were beautiful and sweet serving Michelob Lite. Dorothy yelled at all the customers for no particular reason.”
Clearly, the building is run down and possibly dangerous. I know there are people who think it should be sold and developed.
But others appreciate the quirkiness of it and think it adds a touch of eccentricity to a neighborhood that takes itself too seriously, much like the Pepto Bismol-pink brownstone on Garfield Place.
A building that also arouses curiosity is the dilapidated brownstone on Third Street just west of Seventh Avenue. For the last twenty years it has been a vacant eyesore on what is otherwise a very nice block (full disclosure: I live on this block). I remember when my mother-in-law first visited our apartment on Third Street in 1993. She caught sight of that building and wondered if we were, in fact, living in a run down neighborhood.
Before 9/11, a developer was set to renovate it and turn it into a condominium. A sign went up and work began. But after 9/11, all work stopped.
Years ago we were told that the building was caught up in a complex family feud. Divorce was mentioned another year. A real estate agent told me that that there were so many years of unpaid real estate taxes, that it made a sale impossible.
I’m told that there are no floors in that building. Sometimes the wooden fence out front comes down but it is usually quickly replaced. During the metal shortage of a few years ago, people were sneaking into the house and taking out pipes and scrap metal.
There are other mysterious abandoned buildings in Park Slope. An 8-unit corner building on Sixth Street and Prospect Park West has been vacant for more than ten years. According to legend, every now and again a kerosene lamp is spotted inside. Apparently the FDNY and the Police Department sometimes check in on it. Indeed, it is a beautiful limestone that would be worth a great deal of money if it hadn’t been left to crumble and rot.
Few people are aware that there was once a brothel on Lincoln Place between Seventh and Sixth avenues (next door the to the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music’s lovely garden).
Called the Park Slope Hotel, many people thought it was a legitimate hotel. In fact, my mother and a friend once unsuspectingly went in to inquire about their rates and to sneak a peak at the rundown lobby. But ask anyone who lived on the block prior to 2005 or so, and it clear that they rented rooms by the hour and that there was a steady stream customers going in and out at all times of day.
That large, attractive building has since been turned into a plush condominium.