The Saddest House In New York City

This is the story of a little house in Queens that broke my heart.

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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…

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…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:

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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.

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The exterior was gorgeous, and looked to be in pristine condition…

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…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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Maybe I didn’t have the correct address? I pulled over and double-checked my notes.

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And then I realized:

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I was at the right address.

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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.

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According to this 2010 Daily News article, the new homeowners claim they were forced to renovate due to an invasion of carpenter ants.

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You know what? Words are kind of failing me, so I’ll just let my pictures speak for themselves.

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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.

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267 comments

  1. Russian bukharian owners destroying another neighborhood

  2. Sergio Del Pino

    I have seen these types of abortions in my time, this is just one of them. This is just a typical example of bad ethnic taste gone mad. I have read the various ethnicities that this mess has been attributed to, but in reality, I have seen plenty of Italians, Greek, Puerto Rican, Arabs, low class Americans, etc. etc., doing the same thing to these once magnificent homes. Why can’t these tasteless wonders just leave well enough alone? Why do they think they can go into any neighborhood and destroy the historical feel of the home and neighborhood, simply because they own it. Is there no sense of pride, dignity or taste left in these neighborhoods, that will allow tasteless low life’s to come in, buy any home in their neighborhood, destroy it’s character and put up this abortion and no one says anything? These people should have been sued by this town and ran out of town!

    • I have seen this over and over. Just down the street from me sat a beautiful early 20th century craftsman cottage with large beautiful specimens of flowering shrubs around it. I used to detour on my way home in the spring to see the gorgeous flowers blooming around this adorable cottage. When the owner sold it, the new owner proceeded to do away with every aspect of the garden and cover the entire yard with cement. Then he destroyed the lovely screened in porch and covered the cedar shingle cottage with pink brick. The house is no longer recognizable. It is a great loss to the neighborhood.

  3. Sergio Del Pino

    Oh yeah, I forgot all those Russians immigrants coming over here and destroying yet another old American neighborhood, putting up what they think is tasteful homes. someone should inform them they no longer live under Communism.

  4. So, carpenter ants were destroying the lovely garden …r i g h t. That house is hideous, now. Forget about using “original charm” as a future selling point. Bye bye, historical property premium. Short-sighted renovations are a curse! At least the people who did this will have to look at it every day – LOL!

    • Couldn’t have said it better myself. Yes, you are right it isi hideous. I don’t believe it either about the carpenter ants. I suspect that many who distort old homes into something unrecognizable simiply chicken out and use excuses like “insect infestations”. Shame on them indeed!

  5. Wow, that is a sad story. Criminal. Yet, please forgive them, they know not what they’ve done.

  6. This really makes me sad. The original home and treatment was beautiful and is now lost. The bones of the house is still good but oh my, so ostentatious to my mind.

    I hope the original owner does not know what has happened to her lovely home.

  7. Why the complaints? Are you all sad that a brand new beautiful parking lot wasn’t put there instead? There are no pink nude statues in the front yard, are there? There aren’t any midnight visitors there buying drugs, right? One day, yet another owner will change the house again, perhaps restoring it to its former glory, perhaps “updating” it once more. It happens–almost every old home in my hometown has undergone extensive renovation–but at least the house is still there and recognizable. It could have been much worse.

  8. How to ruin good design.
    My late friend Nancy Cataldi’s home. This was a beautiful home that she wanted to have converted into a museum for Richmond Hill (a neighbourhood in Queens, NY) after she passed on, but that wish was not honoured. Unfortunately she died unexpectedly from a brain aneurism in 2008 and there was never an official will drawn up to protect her dreams and ambitions. Instead, her home went up for sale without any stipulation to preserve this gem to the buyer. Whenever I think about this, it saddens me for I knew this was Nancy’s intent. She expressed this to me more than once.
    This home was phenomenal. She spent years and a great deal of money restoring it to its original pristine glory. Right down to finding authentic Victorian leather wallpaper.
    Nancy was extremely pro-active in reviving her neighbourhood. A neighbourhood that reminds me of my hometown, Gananoque, right in the middle of a massive metropolis! All of the photos shown in this blog post, are homes I have been inside of which are owned by Nancy’s friends. They moved to the neighbourhood because of Nancy. Nancy had taken me on a walking tour of her neighbourhood and explained from house to house and business to business how she fought to preserve great places and then she shuddered at homes in the neighbourhood which look exactly like what became of her home. It’s a travesty.
    Nancy’s street was renamed, Nancy Cataldi Way after she passed on. Before she passed on, she received a proclamation to the city from mayor Bloomberg for all of her efforts. She set up a small makeshift museum in the neighbourhood funeral home but expressed to me and so many others that she wanted her home to become a museum one day.
    I flew to NYC for her funeral and growing up in a small town, I never thought that I would experience such a strong sense of community in a large city. The people who came to show their condolences came from all walks of life. Then when we walked behind the hearse to the church and passed an elementary school, all of the teachers and students had stopped their classes to look out the windows. Some waved with sombre faces. She gave so much to this community. She made her home the heart of the neighbourhood. Her heart went into that house completely.
    Indeed, this is the saddest house in NYC and we can thank those who dishonoured her core fundamental beliefs and wishes for that.
    So remember when needing anything design related that good design does matter and the restoration and preservation of good design also matters. But if classic designs are of ones taste, perhaps they should go to a more modern option and leave gems like this to others who will appreciate them…

    • I have known Nancy since 1968. She loved this house and spent many hours working on it. This is so sad & will always be with me until…

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  10. What a beautifully written, thoughtful piece. It tugged at my heartstrings and made me so sad for Nancy and her home on behalf of all of us who love and appreciate the spiritual side of such irreplaceable architecture.

  11. What a disgraceful shame that this once charming home has been distorted through “remuddling”. This galllant and determined woman put so much love and devotion into preserving her lovely Victorian home, not to mention her neighborhood. Too bad she couldn’t preserve her own street. It’s so heartbreaking that her legacy on preserving historic homes wasn’t carried on.

  12. While I agree 100% with everyone’s sentiment, why did we all move away from the neighborhood and allow this to happen..? Realistically, they are the new homeowners and can do what they want. Same thing happened to the house I grew up in, in Richmond Hill. It’s now an eyesore, but when the neighborhood started changing, and the crime rate went up, we urged my mother to move away. Sadly the new residents don’t have the same attachment to the old world charm that we do.

  13. I hope Richmond Hill becomes a Hipster Neighborhood like Williamsburg, Bushwick and Ridgewood now. A lot of people don’t like them but they have respect for old building and would restore these houses instead of destroying them.

    • Sorry George,
      Unfortunately developers have successfully changed the zoning laws here – Richmond Hill, Kew Gardens, etc – in Queens, NY, so that if one of these beautiful old homes is sold the new owner (developers) can tear it down and put up a condo tower – Just like they did in Williamsburg and are doing in Bushwick, great for the “Hipster’s” real estate agents – not so great for those that love this neighborhood and the grandness of the old houses, not to mention the block of single family homes that now have a condo tower smack in the middle of the block. What we need are preservationists not what Willamsburg and Bushwick got.

  14. I actually think the renovation was well done. Many original details still remain. Not sure what all the fuss is about.. My grandparents owned a three family Victorian on Harrison Ave in the Bronx from about 1930 til 1980ish. Whomever my parents sold the house to (after inheriting it ) did a beautiful renovation to ensure it will stand another 100 years. Many of the homes on Harrison avenue are simply gone from the 1970s when I was a kid…

  15. Another example of New-York-style “making it nice.”

    I can only hope Nancy Cataldi is haunting the hell out of the new owner.

  16. I can’t even look at this monstrosity. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is a joke. If this neighborhood is landmarked why didn’t they stop this from happening? If the neighborhood hadn’t been landmarked, why?? There is such little respect for history in this city. No help from administrations, the little people have to go out there and fight to preserve their communities. It is a story all over the city. The people who did this to this house should hold their head in shame.

  17. I grew up in Richmtrd hill am now 35 . What that neighborhood Was then compared to what it is now is mind blowng. …what it was : early 1900s amazing houses . Wrap around pouches woodwork that no one today could come close to. My grandmother still lives there in a house that was built in 1901 and still all original Wood never touched in over 100 years and still standing strong. And still amazing. The spiral Staircase to the thrid floor is remarkable. The house next door bought by Arabs nd remodel now looks like some lonely uptight no taste or respect for the past old man …but no five family’s live there about 10 kids and the house is horrible . LEAVE THE HOUSES ALONE . THE WAY OUR GRAND PARENTS BILUT THEM ,, TO LAST OVER ANOTHER 100 YEARS ……YOUR SHIT HOUSES WILL FALL THE FRIST HEAVY RAIN. ……

  18. Why didn’t they buy an empty lot to erect their monstrosity? If you don’t appreciate what is there why go?

  19. Sadly, this is happening all over the NY area. Newcomers have a different idea about how to live, The bigger, more massive, more imposing, the better, The more bricks, stone and tan stucco, the better. The less the greenery to maintain, the better. The more stainless steel gates, balustrades and steps with columns, the better. The bigger the concrete or paver parking lot, the better.
    There is no charm or character anymore. NY is getting ugly and cold.

    • What most of you don’t know is we have been trying to have this neighborhood landmarked since 1998. NYC keeps denying us. Instead of being angry at the new owner for their lack of taste, get angry at Landmarks Commission and get them to landmark more neighborhoods in Queens. There are many more houses like this in Richmond Hill still intact. Brooklyn and Manhattan have many landmarked neighborhoods. Queens and the other boroughs have very few. If the neighborhood was landmarked, this would not have happened.

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