Friday, March 23, 2012
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The memories of childhood are clouded and skewed, and I doubted that we would find such a house or, if we did, how long it would take. But her instincts were good, and what I truly anticipated to be a long and likely fruitless search mission turned out to be a very quick drive, almost like she was guided by a secret hand straight to our destination.
But nothing would prepare either of us for what we saw. As I turned up 83rd Street and pointed out a "nice" house, she cried for joy, "That's it." It was much larger than her memory served her, and she was elated, to say the least. The home is extraordinary and, as I surmised, no secret at all. It was designated a historic landmark by New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission. It is known internationally and referred to variously as the Mushroom House, the Witch's House, the Hansel and Gretel House, and, most commonly, The Gingerbread House. The AIA Guide to New York City calls it:
A mansion disguised as a witch's hideaway. Black Forest Art Nouveau. Bumpety stone and pseudothatchery make this Arts and Crafts revival one of Brooklyn's greatest fantasies.
The mansion sports 6 bedrooms and 6 baths and is 5743 square feet and sits on 10 acres - unfathomable for New York City. It is constructed of uncut stone. The roof, with its rolled edges, is covered in special asphalt shingles the color of thatch, recalling the thatched roofs of English country manors. Inside, it exudes old world charm with beautiful woodwork, pictorials set into walls, enormous fireplaces, and decorative elements using medieval stained glass from Europe.
The home is located at 8220 Narrows Avenue and spans between 82nd and 83rd Street. It was built between 1916-17 for Howard E. and Jesse Jones House and designed by James Sarsfield Kennedy. Howard Jones was a shipping tycoon, president of James W. Elwell & Co. and also a director and later vice president of the Maritime Association Board of New York. The house has changed hands only a few times and made big news when it was put up for sale in 2009 for $12 million dollars by the owners, Jerry and Diane Fishman, who lived there for 25 years. From the New York Post:
But Jerry Fishman said it has held a fairy-tale-like spell over him his entire life growing up in the neighborhood, where he was born and raised. "My mother used to push me in my stroller past the house and one time I got out of the stroller and tried to get into the house," recalled Fishman, 62.
When he was a student at Fort Hamilton HS -- across the street from the Gingerbread House -- Fishman said he would sit in his English class staring out the window at the house as if in a trance. "My grades suffered," he recalled. And on his first date with Diane, Jerry remembers driving her by the home and telling her, "One day I'm going to own that house."
And he did. From the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Fishman, who grew up two blocks away from the house in the Bay Ridge neighborhood, had his eye on the house all his life. “As the legend goes,” he says, “I knew of this house when I was six months old, and I was attracted to it like it was candy.” As he got older, his fascination with the Arts and Crafts-style house only grew. “I would walk by it, drive by it on purpose just to look at it,” he says. His first date with his future wife, Diane, included a drive past the house and a vow. “I told her, ‘I’m going to own this house,” says Mr. Fishman, now 61.
Built around 1917 when Bay Ridge was, as the New York Post puts it, “an oceanfront getaway for the city’s rich and famous,” the Gingerbread House has only changed hands a few times. In 1980, just after the Fishmans bought a home nearby, it came on the market. “We ran over here, and we looked at the house,” Mr. Fishman says, But he was disappointed. Two elderly women had lived in the home since the 1930s, Mr. Fishman says, and many sections of the home needed extensive work that he and his wife could not afford at that time.
When the home came on the market again in 1985, they pounced, even entering a bidding war. The day the Fishmans closed on the house, paying under $1 million, “was the most memorable day of my life,” Mr. Fishman says. “We had the Gingerbread House.”
The Fishmans sold the house in order to relocate near their parents in Florida. The fairy tale home that cast a spell on at least two people from childhood. For them, the chapter is finally closed - Jerry Fishman and my friend both found their Childhood Dream :)
More homes: Big Secret on Little Street, Love Is All Around, Part 1, Grisly Business, Todt Hill, The Feeling Passes, Head for the Hills, All the Way..., Affront to Dignity, Manhattan Beach, Itsy Bitsy, Bloomberg, Terrapin Chelsea Art Gallery