Billy & Barbara DeQuaglio Watch Ditmas Park Change Through The Decades

billy and barbara dequaglio

In 1972, Billy and Barbara DeQuaglio moved from an apartment on E 23rd between Ditmas and Newkirk into a dilapidated Queen Anne at 242 Rugby Road. Barbara, a self-proclaimed “Flatbush girl,” has lived around the area all her life. She used to ride her bike through woods where the Glenwood Houses now stand. She says she used to get water from wells around there, too.

“We were trying to move away from this neighborhood,” says Billy. “But the realtor said, ‘I’ve got this place near Beverley Road,’ and we came here, looked at it–and that was it.

“It was a Handyman Special,” he says. “The house was in really tough shape. They had 35 relatives in the estate that had to look at it, physically, before it was sold, and nobody wanted it.”

Billy tells us that what sold him on the place, in addition to a private driveway, was when he first climbed the crumbling stairs to what would end up being the DeQuaglio’s bedroom for decades to come.

“I was facing the window, looking through the cracks in the walls,” he says. “I could see the sun coming through. I said, ‘This is gonna be a trip.'”

billy and barbara dequaglio's house

Intricate flooring in the DeQuaglios’ home

The house, built in either 1901 or 1902, was filled with history. The DeQuaglios found holes in the attic ceiling stuffed with Victorian mourning dresses to stop the leaks. Barbara, who has worked to find evidence of the home’s past, says that where their garage is now, a previous homeowner had grown a rose garden. There used to be a street called Waverley Avenue (which you can see on this map) between their house and the house next door. Even before a house existed, the property number was 10 Waverley Avenue.

Considering the home’s past, Billy felt obligated to preserve what he could. Though their friends and family encouraged them to rebuild the house the easy way, he worked to restore as much of the original detail as possible.

billy dequaglio fixes his house

Billy works in the attic…

“When we first moved in, I called it ‘a wing and a prayer.’ Anything that was broken, I tried to put it back in its original state–but then there was no Home Depot. I had to go down to Fox Lumber on Avenue U to get moulding. It was tremendously expensive,” he says. “Everyone told us to rip the woodwork out, but we worked to put everything back the way it was supposed to be.”

Just as the 1980s approached and they put back the pieces of their home, the neighborhood began to fall apart.

“We knew Cortelyou Road when there were barely any restaurants,” Billy says. “6pm, the gates came down and they’d get tagged with graffiti. They’d go so far as to steal plants, planters. One of the neighbors used to mark his planters so when you saw a guy riding his bike down the street with two plants in his hands, you’d know whose they were.”

“A lot of people started moving away,” Barbara says. “There were a lot of muggings.”

“We’ve seen this place at its lowest point,” Billy says. “But every neighborhood has got its problems.”

During that difficult era, though, something promising did happen. In 1982, the house went up for landmark status–but as you know, to this day, none of the houses in Beverley Square West are landmarked. “Just as soon as the LPC said it, it turned out they didn’t have any money.” He says he thinks landmarking would be easier to achieve if it was still allowed by individual homes and not entire neighborhoods.

billy dequaglio on roof
billy dequaglio on roof

…and up on the roof.

Before and after the 1980s, the DeQuaglios had a strong connection to Cortelyou. They used to love George’s, they say, when it wrapped around the corner of Coney Island Avenue, and nothing else was on the strip. They also used to own 1416 Cortelyou, where Catskill Bagel now stands. Billy’s dream was to one day put an ice cream counter just outside the restaurant that existed when he owned the building, but sanitation wouldn’t allow it, and they ended up selling.

Barbara, in her own way, pushed for more on Cortelyou. She fought alongside other neighborhood residents for eight years to get the library–and that community movement was key. “The neighborhood association helped,” she said. “Families helped.”

She’s equally passionate about the importance of neighborly interaction, even if not for a cause. In the early days of the DeQuaglios’ residency in Ditmas, when the garage sales were apparently more epic than the neighborhood-wide ones today, Barbara says, “The nice thing was, you met your neighbors. It kept you in touch with the neighborhood. You might buy something, but mostly it was for talking.”

She says there’s a modern-day version of it too–just a reflection of more new families moving into the neighborhood. “Now,” she says, “that’s how it is on Halloween. We’ve counted about how many people come to the door, and it’s about 1,000. The parents get dressed up, too. That’s how we’ve met people.”

billy and barbara dequaglio's house

Details preserved in the DeQuaglios’ home today

Along with the other changes in Ditmas, today the DeQuaglio’s house is a whimsical structure honored by its residents. It’s been featured on Brownstoner, Forgotten NY, and in The New York Times as a prime example of Victorian Flatbush architecture. Billy has kept a tiger oak buffet, left in the attic as a doorstop by the previous owner, to put in the dining room. He shows me the fireplace whose mantel was removed, also by the former owner, to better accommodate furniture–but he makes a point of keeping the hearth visible.

Through all of the house’s and neighborhood’s incarnations, Barbara says, one thing has always stayed the same. “We’ve always had good neighbors. No matter what, we’ve always had good neighbors.”

“We knew the house would be a lot of work,” Billy says, “but it was worth it.”

“It’s a beautiful neighborhood,” Barbara says. “I’m glad we stayed. I don’t want to clean the house, but I’m glad we’re here.”

242 rugby billy and barbara diquaglio's house

Know a Ditmas Park neighbor we should write about? Tell us at editor@ditmasparkcorner.com.

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