One House, Two Women, A Vision Realized

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Bernice Elizabeth Green
When a house on Cambridge Place in the Clinton Hill Historic District recently went up for nearly $4 million, a record for the block, I couldn’t pass up

Photo: Spencer Lasky
Photo: Spencer Lasky

the chance to see it.
It opened the door to an opportunity to answer a decades-old question: what if I had purchased the property for the $22,000 offered then.
This particular house was the best of the ones that got away.
Times have changed: From the market value of houses to the presence of FOR SALE signs in windows inviting casual passersby to call, not to mention the sign makers.
More importantly, back then there were no cell phones. No wireless internet service to prowl real estate information. No Property Shark.
But after about a week of telephone calls, we learned some particulars about the rowhouse with its weed-filled front yard: it was heir property, and the heirs wanted cash for the three-story brick Italianate rowhouse.
But there was more to the house: a church held services on the parlor and ground floors for many years. Remnants left behind included a large, dusty piano; aging Bible and Sunday School books, and what might have been a Sunday School room part of an extension off the back parlor room that was reached by walking up two stairs where the window had been converted into a doorway.

Photo: Spencer Lasky
Photo: Spencer Lasky

The stained glass, mahogany entry way and original built-in bookcases were stunning..
My romancing the house was for just that one day, somehow within the two months that we worked on a plan to save up more money (the heirs wanted all cash) and what to do about the intact but faulty sprinkler system throughout – the property was purchased.
Thankfully, it was a woman we knew — Mrs. Kennedy who fell in love with it and held on to it through the thinnest times for many years.
I wondered about the piano and the room at the back. And the house that got away for some time. Just wondered what would have happened if ….
Fade out: Years later, Mrs. Kennedy sells her property. Fade in: buyer Katherine Glynn, COO, Diana Vreeland Parfums, purchases it, for a good deal, but not as sweet (I was thinking, then) as my coulda-woulda-shoulda would-be deal.
I knew it had been sold, and that was enough. I had my own properties to care for.
The summer of 2015 I met Kathy for the first time. She had been on the block several years by then.
Fast forward to six weeks ago: she’s moving on, selling the property. I assume the property has undergone extensive cosmetic surgery with steel, glass and the trendy accoutrements. I would soon discover that she had done better, mixing the traditional with contemporary conveniences. It still retained its soul.
Enter real estate pro Emerson Atkins, who was, unknowingly, part of the story all along.
Turned out he and his wife were Kathy’s friends; he had known the Kennedy family, before they left Brooklyn; and he was a good friend of realtor Barbara Haynes. He also was a supporter of Barbara’s and my New York Real Connection newspaper, circa 1999, the precursor of OUR TIME At Home (born seven years later in 2006). Atkins brokered the deal that brought Kathy the house.
So it seemed easier to ask him: what makes a house $4m. He invited me take a look not knowing I had any connection to it.
Fabulous indeed; the parlor mahogany doors were still in place, and still magnificent. In the parlor living room was the once-orphaned piano, moved from the ground floor, repaired and restored to its original essence.
When Kathy first saw it, she decided it deserved care. “And there was a feeling that it was the right thing to do …”
In the parlor was the massive wood mantle with its gas fireplace and the built-in cabinets that once held Bibles and song books. They were restored to their original refinement.

Photo: Spencer Lasky
Photo: Spencer Lasky

Gone was the one-room extension to the house that was entered by walking up two steps then through the parlor window on the east side of the house.
I had envisioned it back then as a writing space or library. Kathy said the wood-paneling was loose and the extension was actually held together by weak, collapsing stilt-like structures. She replaced it with a sturdier extension that contains her stainless steel chef’s kitchen, fully appointed with book shelves for cookbooks and a hideaway laundry. Didn’t have those kinds of things way back in the day when I saw the house.
But in the center of her kitchen – my writing-space defunct, stood an antique medium-sized dining table that belonged to Kathy’s grandmother. It was apparent from Kathy’s stories that the table is comfortable there with its other woodmates.
Late Tuesday night, Atkins informed me that an offer on Kathy’s property had been accepted.
A chapter in the life of a house ends; another begins. The house no longer belongs to me in my mind; I can close the door, and someone will open – or build — another.
Tip from Emerson Atkins
“A good deal, these days, is hard to come by in these tough times, and there is one key ingredient to being as successful as you can be in looking for a property: relationship-building. After identifying the neighborhood you want to live in, get to know your neighbors and contribute to the building of the neighborhood. Word of mouth can equal the odds of your finding a prospective seller.”
He also says, ”Sometimes, a house may not be meant for you, but you should not blow an opportunity if it is or miss out on a chance to make it your own.”
For information on this and other properties, contact Emerson Atkins at: 347.404.5686 or 917.249.5029, emersonatkins@gmail.com

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