One of the last living legacies of a demolished beach resort town in southern Brooklyn holds a firm grip on the neighborhood’s history and refuses to let go.
The fading, deep-green Victorian towering at 122 Bay 26th Street in Bath Beach is a legend among locals, according to a closed neighborhood Facebook page. Though the exterior looks worn — with a mesh screen keeping out the elements in one window and another boarded-up completely, it stands as a monument to the affluence and grandeur of an almost-forgotten past.
Many neighbors who grew up with a burning curiosity about the house reminisced about rumors and sightings over the years. Though the owners reportedly value their privacy, one commenter heard that the inside of the house is maintained “like a time capsule” with original wide plank floors, 4 mahogany and marble fireplaces, plasterwork, a grand staircase, and a maid’s quarters.
This home has some of the hallmarks of a Queen Ann style Victorian, including a turret, a large porch, steeply pitched roof shapes, bay windows, and patterned shingles. In some places, you can see even glimpse traces of a wooden frame.
According to PropertyShark, the house’s projected value is more than $2 million. One commenter said the owners have been harassed with constant offers from developers and would-be buyers — but he won’t let most past the front door.
The house most likely dates back to 1889 when developer James Lynch bought the strip of farmland from the Benson family and transformed it into a gated resort complex called Bensonhurst by the Sea.
To complete his paradise, Lynch added water and gas piping, built 1,000 villas, and planted 5,000 shade trees on his newly acquired property. In all, his resort was 350 acres and stretched from 78th Street to Gravesend Bay and from 20th Avenue to 23rd Avenue, according to NYC Parks.
“Bensonhurst by the Sea” is the lengthy but euphonious title of a tract of land on the line with the West End Railroad that in the good old days of husbandry was known as the Benson farm,” a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article from 1888 said of the gated community.
But today, little remains of the resort’s legacy. Though many architectural hallmarks can be spotted, you have to look closely — most of the houses have been altered, subdivided, or demolished in subsequent years, according to a neighbor. Read more about the neighborhood’s history here.
“This [house]is probably the only one left in the neighborhood that has never been altered,” said Mike Gersh, who has been working to get it listed on the historic registry.
Another neighbor we reached out to remains skeptical about the possibility of historic preservation in a heavily altered area. “For a neighborhood to be considered a historic district it has to meet strict requirements put forth by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission,” said Peter Puleo, whose LPC applications for much older structures in Brooklyn were denied years ago.
The Landmark Preservation process can move at a glacial pace, leaving many historic homes vulnerable to hungry developers. For now, the owner seems intent on staying home and sealing his doors, said a commenter on Facebook.
The house sits in an R5 Zoning district so if it were to be razed the new building would need special permits to surpass 40 feet. But neighbors lamented that the Victorian could easily go the way of many others in the neighborhood — razed for higher-density development, or slapped with aluminum siding.
A home just across the street on Bay 26th street was torn down with plans slated for a four-story building to rise in its place. But it looks like that project has stalled indefinitely; a sign slapped on the temporary says ‘anticipated completion Spring 2016’ but this is what the lot looked like in late February 2017:
Many commenters recalled walking by the green Victorian for years without spotting anyone coming in or out, breeding generations of tales that the house was haunted or abandoned.
Perhaps the old house is haunted by the ghost of Dr. Joseph Jaches, a resident in 1912 who dropped dead suddenly — and mysteriously — at the dinner table from “acute indigestion”, writes the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
But it’s definitely not abandoned, as the reclusive owners have made it clear that they don’t like people snooping on their property, confirmed neighbors.