Police & Fire

Owners Of 80 Rugby Road Struggle To Return Home After Blaze Devastated Their Landmarked House In 2012


Rugby Road fire house

After a fire tore through a landmarked Victorian home at 80 Rugby Road in November 2012,  its owners, Bishop Wharton Nicholson and Grace Nicholson, have been working what seems like another job to get the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to give its stamp of approval on renovation plans for the home that’s more than a century old, the Brooklyn Eagle recently reported.

Once a beautiful home on the corner of Rugby Road and Church Avenue, the house that is flanked by similarly grand structures now sits with its windows boarded up, its sad state of affairs often drawing curious glances from many a passerby.

The issue for the  husband and wife duo, who have been living in Canarsie since the blaze, has never been a lack of funds – it has been the layers of red tape they’ve faced while trying to get the OK from the Landmarks Preservation Commission to move ahead with their plans – a must for anyone who wants to do construction on a landmarked home.

From the Brooklyn Eagle:

The problem isn’t money. There’s insurance to pay for the fix-up: “The money is in the bank,” said Grace, his wife.

They’ve spent the past year working to get the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s permission to proceed with rehab plans. Finally, after an hour-and-a-half meeting with architects and two of the commissioners six weeks ago, Wharton Nicholson thinks they’ll soon get the preservation agency’s go-ahead to proceed.

The long saga, the Nicholsons said, has been a lesson in what it means to have a landmarked house – which was designated as such with the birth of the Prospect Park South Historic District in 1979. The couple bought the house in 1989.

“This is what you go through if there is a fire in a landmarked house,” Wharton told the Brooklyn Eagle. “When we bought the house 25 years ago, we didn’t know anything about landmarks.”

But, finally, the Nicholsons said they’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – and they’re crossing their fingers that restoration will soon be finished and their neighbors will be able to give a big “welcome home!” at the end of September.

Reading about the plight of the Nicholsons has made us wonder what others have experienced when trying to get approval for renovation plans for landmarked homes. Who else has worked with the Landmarks Preservation Commission? What has that experience been like? Is there something you’d like to see changed about the process? Is there a way to make this process move faster, while still ensuring that a historic home is protected?

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  1. Do we have any more specific details over what the interaction with the LPC has been like? Such as, they rejected one plan after another, has any particular item been disputed, have they just been very slow to respond, etc.

  2. I wish them all the best in restoring their house. I walk by the house frequently and have seen the multitude of debris laden dumpsters that have come out of the house. Get home soon!!

  3. NYC Landmarks do not have enough staff to manage all the districts that they already have. They should not be allowed to take on any more districts until it can somehow be stated that for each additional district, area or even single building that the City has the resources to properly fund the department.
    If have know of many being put in this predicament of not being able to move on and get their home restored and moved back in. The emotional toll as well as the financial toll of delays of time is holding the owners of Landmarked buildings hostage.
    Any one who says that it costs no more to maintain a NYC Landmarked building than a non-landmarked building has never waited in this line!
    Time is much more than just money.

  4. For those of us who have signed on to the effort to get more of the area looped into a sort of uber-landmark-district of Victorian Flatbush, this is a real concern–exactly the sort of horror story that turns many of us, especially older residents, off from landmarking efforts.

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