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The Curious Case of A Demolished Washington Heights House

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At the beginning of the month, author Matthew Gallaway shared photos of a now-demolished townhouse on his blog, wondering why it was torn down. The house, located at 558 West 161st Street, was part of a row of 20 matching houses that had existed since the early 20th century. Many on the block had recently been renovated, so what happened with 558? A story in the Journal answers that question. A man named James Kelley purchased the house back in 1972, and in the late '90s, it was turned over to Kelley's children, who decided to renovate it in 2006. It had been vacant and deteriorating for some time, and the contractor they hired, Jessie Bonaparte, gutted the interior. But then he abandoned the job.

The Kelleys could not qualify for a mortgage, so Bonaparte had told them to sign the deed over to him and he would obtain a mortgage for them in his name. But the Kelleys' lawyer says he never got any financing for the house and abandoned the project after he gutted the interior. Bonaparte says he didn't get a mortgage because the Kelleys stopped cooperating, so he stopped working.

While they were fighting in court, the Department of Buildings told the contractor that he needed to fix "immediately hazardous" conditions or the house would be torn down. We know how that ended. Now the DOB will bill the owners the $259,000 it cost for demolition, and if no one pays it, it will be filed as a lien against the property. Considering the Kelleys an Bonaparte are still fighting it court, it's doubtful that anyone will willingly foot the bill.
· Townhouse's Demolition Sets Discord [WSJ]
· The City Streets Project (Architectural Tragedies in Washington Heights) [Matthew Gallaway]
Photo via Matthew Gallaway