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Every house has a story, and the Hubbard House in Gravesend has a particularly unusual one.
Last week the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) landmarked the home, meaning that its facade cannot be altered without permission from the city.
Built around 1830, the one-and-a-half-story house at 2138 McDonald Avenue is one of the few Dutch houses in the city remaining on its original site.
It was built for Nelly Hubbard, the daughter of a farmer of Dutch descent who married a descendant of one of the first English settlers in Gravesend. Its construction is attributed to Lawrence Ryder, a Gravesend carpenter-builder.
In giving the house its designation last week, the LPC described it as a small, simple residence that still has its original curving eaves, gabled roof, window frames and wide-pine clapboard siding.
The house’s current occupant is John Antonides, 55, originally from Indiana, who works as an editor for the Brooklyn Museum.
His interest in the house dates back some years ago after he edited a booklet on the old Dutch houses in the borough.
Then he found another book, written in the 1940s, with photos of these old houses, and began a quest to see how many of these houses were still standing.
What he found was that most were knocked down and then he came to the Hubbard House, which was still standing.
“When I got there, I saw this beautiful little old lady standing in the yard feeding dozens of cats. She was one of the nicest people I ever met and she invited me in to see the place,” recalled Antonides.
Antonides quickly learned the woman’s name was Theresa Lucchelli and she lived in the house her entire life, ever since her family purchased it in 1904.
Within a short time, Antonides, a bachelor, began attending Lucchelli’s birthday parties and other events, along with her step-niece who also lived in the neighborhood.
Theresa was a wealth of information about the neighborhood and knew its history, including the time when there was a horse racing track on the other side of McDonald Avenue, he said.
Antonides said that upon meeting Lucchelli, he also immediately suggested that the LPC be contacted about getting the house landmarked, and she gave him the okay.
That was in 1990 and Antonides conceded that being new to the landmarking process, he didn’t get much further than filing the application.
After Lucchelli died in 1997, the surviving heir was a sister-in-law in Florida, who told Antonides that she entertained several offers to sell the property for a good deal of money as the house is in a district zoned commercial for manufacturing.
However, at the very last second, the LPC announced the landmarking of the house would have a public hearing, and all kinds of people showed up including neighbors, students and teachers, said Antonides.
The LPC decided they would study the issue, which scared off any developers, because once a house is landmarked it can’t be torn down.
So Antonides approached the sister-in-law through the step-niece and said if she would sell it to him he would be willing to fix it up and live in it.
A deal was struck and he purchased the house in 1997 for $100,00.
Upon taking over ownership, Antonides found the house in need of a lot of work, He also found some mummified bodies of cats in crawl spaces.
However, with the help of a loan from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, he has since fixed the house into a small three-bedroom with a bath and a half. As for living there alone, Antonides stopped short of saying he has seen apparitions in the house.
“I don’t recall it being haunted, but I certainly feel the spirt of the Lucchellis and Theresa in particular,” said Antonides. “When I got to the house it was never emptied out. The family left hundreds of photographs documenting the entire 20th century. One sister was a singer in the 30s and 40s, and left sheet music and one demo record. In some ways, as I emptied it out I got to know their family more than my own. So, I sensed their spirits.”
As for the future of the house, Antonides admitted it is a concern and wants to make sure it goes to someone who cares as much about it as he does.
“One idea, is in this whole process, I taught myself Dutch and have befriended a Dutch writer, who suggested that in my will I turn it into a house where Dutch writers and journalists can stay when they come to New York,” he said, adding he does want someone to live in and care for it.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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