Navy Yard

Home Sweet Home in historic Wallabout

Eye On Real Estate: Susan Raskin is the proud owner of 73 Vanderbilt Ave.

September 24, 2014 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Susan Raskin's Wallabout house, 73 Vanderbilt Ave., was built in the 1830s.
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Susan Raskin’s 1830s Wallabout house is a knock-out and she wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else.

But when she first laid eyes on it during a home-buying hunt, she refused to get out of the car.

Mind you, this was in 1978, when numerous Brooklyn neighborhoods with superb housing stock were sketchy, to put it politely.

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The shadowy underpass beneath the roaringly noisy Brooklyn-Queens Expressway was just a Hail Mary pass away from 73 Vanderbilt Ave. To her, the location seemed all wrong for a house purchase.

And at the other end of the block was Myrtle Avenue, which deteriorated badly in the 1970s and wound up with the monicker “Murder Avenue,” an identity that took a long time to shake.

She and her then-husband Ken Friedlander sat in their car outside the Federal-style clapboard house with Greek Revival details. Homeowner Bob Kuehn saw them and invited them in.

“The minute he opened his door, that was it,” Raskin recalled. “This was the one.”

The house has graciously proportioned rooms and period details like pocket doors between the front parlor and dining room, wood floors made of wide planks that run the length of the two rooms and a black marble fireplace in the kitchen.

A 1973 report by the Fort Greene Landmarks Preservation Committee to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission lauded the house as a “magnificent c. 1835 Federal-style frame house — complete with pitched roof and lunette windows …”

Family members in Manhattan didn’t understand her choice: “Everybody thought I was out of my mind,” she said.

She and Friedlander really needed a new place to live because their landlady had abandoned their Alphabet City tenement.

“I was a social worker, advocating for heat and hot water for my clients — and we didn’t have it ourselves,” Raskin said.

The couple paid $43,000 for the house, she recalled.

In that era, banks were red-lining Wallabout, Raskin said. (Readers too young to remember the bad old days should imagine loan officers with maps, drawing red-pencil rings around neighborhoods they deemed unfit to receive their funds.)

The lender she and Friedlander found gave them a mortgage for only part of the money they needed. Dry Dock Savings Bank made the $18,750 loan, city Finance Department records indicate.

Homesellers Bob and Elizabeth Kuehn also gave them a $13,000 mortgage, Finance Department records show. It made the purchase possible.

By the way, when she’s inside the house, Raskin doesn’t hear traffic sounds from the BQE and Park Avenue anymore.

“It’s white noise, I guess,” she said.

Five years after buying 73 Vanderbilt, Raskin and Friedlander paid $20,000 for the vacant lots next door, which had been used as a parking lot. They wanted to make sure a big development wasn’t built right beside their house.

They planted a magnolia tree and created a shady oasis with a slate patio, grassy lawn, potted plants and a collection of garden statues.

Years later, they divorced. Friedlander bought historic Stoothoff-Baxter-Kouwenhoven House in Old Mill Basin, which we spotlighted in a recent column about Brooklyn’s Revolutionary War-era homes.

In the past decade or so, the outside world’s perception of Wallabout has changed, Raskin said.

“People used to say, ‘You live in that neighborhood?’ like it was a badge of shame,” she explained. “Now they say, ‘You live in that neighborhood?’ because they’re in awe of the houses.”


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