Over at the blog devoted to wooden houses in Brooklyn?the most trending of topics, in our humble opinion?is a deconstruction of the rundown hot mess that is 69 Vanderbilt Avenue. In the shadow of the BQE in the pocket of town called Wallabout, this 1850s-era two-story corner unit is actually landmarked but has been blatantly ignored in its later years, resulting in the graffiti-covered, dilapidated state of decay we now witness. Before city officials sealed it up, squatters would break in and start fires in the fireplace. To put matters in perspective, its neighbor has been impeccably maintained, down to a careful paint job and ornamented columned porch. So what went wrong next door?
The root of the problem is neglect by owner Louis Somma, who grew up there but apparently now lives in the Rockaways, and his tenants were forced to vacate in 2009 because the building was deemed unsafe. The former owner of the pretty house next door, Gil Winter, has urged his neighbor to fix up the place, and even convinced Somma to have it inspected, which resulted in a verdict of structural degradation (i.e. it could fall down at just about any moment) in part because of BQE construction, in part because of its location in a flood zone, and in part because no one has cared a whit about it for decades.
After 69 Vandy was included in the 2011 Landmarks Preservation Commission's designation of its Wallabout block, the matter of getting it fixed up fell into the LPC's hands. The agency has asked Somma to voluntarily restore the house?not to make it all accurately antebellum, but to at least shore it up so that it's not a neighborhood hazard. It didn't get a response, so the LPC had to turn to the court system. But based on Somma's inaction over the years, it looks like someone else will need to step in to save this 160-year-old child of neglect. But who?