Southern Brooklyn

"Hell House" Once Home Of Famed Cartoonist


After seeing our posts about 1811 Voorhies Avenue, now known to some as the “Hell House” for its graffiti and nefarious residents, local historian Joseph Ditta sent us the above photo of the same house published 101 years ago.

According to Ditta, the photo came from a very rare 1909 marketing pamphlet titled Views of Picturesque Sheepshead Bay. The home was occupied at the time by Winsor McCay, a pioneering cartoonist who influenced Walt Disney, Moebius, William Joyce, and Maurice Sendak. His most iconic series was Little Nemo in Slumberland. McCay died in 1934 and was buried at the Cemetery of the Evergreens.

Now, more than a century after it was built and lived in by a historical icon, the property’s owners seek to tear down the structure and replace it with condominiums. Failing that, they’re attempting to subcontract it to the city for a new life as a halfway house or homeless shelter. Such a turn would seal its fate to further destruction, until it’s finally pulled down and forgotten about like so many of Sheepshead Bay’s notable structures.

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What should be done is a full restoration and landmarking. Evidence of Sheepshead Bay’s rich cultural history is fading fast, and homes like the Winsor McCay House ought to be preserved to remind people of our past. Like the other historical homes of Brooklyn, the McCay House could be a museum, cultural center, and pillar of community organizing for generations to come – a far more desired asset in Sheepshead Bay than another condo or halfway house.

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  1. This is exciting. I asked a friend who is an animation historian who has connection to animation historians of very high standing. They might be of some help in establishing provenance.

  2. That house was beautiful. I think it would make an excellent Sheepshead Bay tourism office. The first stop for visitors. We need a grant writer and a board.

  3. wow. i always imagined it as a big bold house bursting with beauty. maybe it had ivy growing on it, maybe its early owners had flowers planted near it, with flower pots on the steps. this old photo not only confirms my suspicions, but surpasses my expectations. sadly though, i really dont see this house becoming landmarked and preserved. probably because of the large immigrant population that has no memory of sheepshead bay being the way it was. as far as they are concerned, this is an eyesore. so getting charity money from the majority of the population living in the area seems to me to be a bit difficult. maybe creating a non profit organization would help, but the idea of restoring this once gorgeous house, maybe a bit unrealistic.

  4. actually i'm going to reply to my own self here: perhaps if one was to create an organization, say 'sheepshead bay preservation org” or whatevs, and make it very widely known as to what the present owners are planning to do with this old house, and project the possibilities that could be done to it, more people would be alot more willing to part with their coins. i dont think that many of the residents actually know of the plans of it becoming a half way house, and those who live with their windows facing the house, are already complaining of the questionable characters living there.

  5. The Winsor McKay connection takes it out of the scope of mere community preservation. It's believed that he did on the work on “The Flying House” here in 1921. perhaps we can establish that he did earlier projects in the house as well. I have informed members of the animation community about this, this may lead to some further publicity and maybe even a buyer for the house.

  6. A cartoonist friend has been giving me a lot of background about McCay today. I've watched several of his animations.

    When I was a kid I knew some of the old timers who were born here around the turn of the last century. They told me that McCay lived in the neighborhood but I don't recall them saying precisely where. Some of these people lived very close to this house. I wish I had wrote things down, but I was too busy enjoying their descriptions of Sheepshead Bay in what is now 100 years ago.

  7. This sounds like a perfect project for THE BAY IMPROVEMENT GROUP. What better project to take on? Preserving and restoring this historic home would actually IMPROVE the BAY. What say you?

  8. I'm all for it, but the house first needs to be acquired by a not for profit or an individual willing to allow restoration according to LPC specs.

    Time is essential. That house is in terrible shape.

  9. I have seen the Lusitania film before, but now I have a “local” connection to it. Funny that this subject came up, because I mentioned to a friend in the area that the house had to have been beautiful once because of its architecture. I was thrilled to see the pic to confirm my suspicions! I am sure there are property and tax records somewhere to confirm his ownership of the home. Also, if he lived there during a census, you will find that online. has some of it but it's also local.

  10. Unfortunately, the data you will get on a national census depends on the census taker of that time. It should also list inhabitants of the house by relation.

  11. THat informmation is there, and matches what we know about McCay's family.

    John Canemaker wrote an excellent biography. He might have information useful in proving the address as well as establishing that McCay did indeed work from his home.

  12. As a lifelong Brooklynite and a fan/collector of the work of the legendary Winsor McCay, I had always wondered if his home in Sheepshead Bay still existed. It's so strange to finally see it here it this terrible condition. What should surely be a landmark home of one of the most influential artists in American history is now a dump. I'm hoping that you can turn around this deplorable situation. If you can use my help in any way please let me know.

  13. John MC Cain filibustered wind energy in 2007, how can he now say he will support it?
    2007: McCain Opposed Legislation Extending The Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit; Recent Study Concluded More than 116,000 Jobs Could be Lost If the Tax Credit is Not Extended. John McCain supported the filibuster of the 2007 energy bill that included an extension of the production tax credit to 2011. While McCain missed the vote to on the bill, according to his staff he did, in fact, support the continuing the filibuster, which eventually killed the bill. In its place, Congress passed another version of the legislation that did not include an extension of the tax credit. A 2008 economic study by Navigant Consulting found that “over 116,000 U.S. jobs and nearly $19 billion in U.S. investment could be lost in just one year if renewable energy tax credits are not renewed by Congress… The study concluded that over 76,000 jobs are put at risk in the wind industry, and approximately 40,000 jobs in the solar industry.” [HR 6, Vote 425, 12/13/07; Forbes, 12/13/07; U.S. News & World Report, 12/14/07; American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association press release, 2/4/08] Are any as concerned as I am over this seeming contradiction? Why are you — Why not?

  14. Sheepshead Bay should be declared a historical area and STOP all this crazy construction that they cant sell or rent. This should have been done years ago when they declared Lundys
    a landmark


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