This is the story of a little house in Queens that broke my heart.
A few years ago, I was working on a movie that sent me to Richmond Hill, Queens, to find a beautiful, one-of-a-kind house. If you’ve never visited, Richmond Hill has a number of gorgeous turn-of-the-century Victorians…
…and in fact, chances are you’ve seen at least one or two Richmond Hill houses before in a film or TV show. Productions are always in the neighborhood for this rare look that’s tough to find:
For this particular film, we were looking for something a bit smaller, and it didn’t take long before I stumbled on this gem, built in 1905.
The exterior was gorgeous, and looked to be in pristine condition…
…and I especially loved the two upper floors, with their wonderful ornamentation and two oval windows. It turned out the house was for sale, and I quickly made an appointment for a tour.
As we were walking around the interior, I was equally impressed by the quality and personal touch in each room. It was clear that whoever used to live here cherished this house.
Out of curiosity, I asked what the house’s background was, and was told that its former owner, Nancy Cataldi, a local preservationist, had recently passed away. And suddenly, it all made sense.
Nancy was a major advocate for historical preservation in Richmond Hill, and had worked tirelessly to preserve the neighborhood she called home. She served as the president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society for nearly a decade, and is a major reason why so much beauty can still be found in Richmond Hill today. In fact, the street we were on was given the co-name “Nancy Cataldi Way” following her death.
As we were walking around looking at what remained of her possessions, I suddenly got a very sad feeling in the pit of my stomach. Nancy was gone, but her soul was all around us – in the worn floorboards, the antique furniture, the intricate wallpaper…But it was like I could feel that soul fading.
Ultimately, we didn’t film in the house due to rewrites moving the characters into a Manhattan apartment. Still, I never forgot the place, and when I was asked to find a house a few weeks ago, I immediately headed out to Richmond Hill to see if it might still be an option.
But as I drove by, something was wrong…
Maybe I didn’t have the correct address? I pulled over and double-checked my notes.
And then I realized:
I was at the right address.
Despite all her efforts and the endless amounts of preservation work she did in Richmond Hill, Nancy was never able to get her own street protected; the Landmarks Preservation Commission rejected her proposal in 2001.
According to this 2010 Daily News article, the new homeowners claim they were forced to renovate due to an invasion of carpenter ants.
You know what? Words are kind of failing me, so I’ll just let my pictures speak for themselves.
We ALL benefit from people like Nancy Cataldi long after they pass, and while it’s cute to name streets after preservationists, it’s a lot more important to carry on their legacy. Hopefully, this is a reminder of that.
Rest in peace, Nancy.