In every desperate New York house hunt, there is at least One That Got Away—a place that would've been perfect, "if only." If only you hadn't been outbid. If only it weren't next door to a slaughterhouse. If only...
In our hunt for the Crazy Stable 30 years ago, we had two "Ones That Got Away." We put a binder on one, a roach-filled frame house behind Our Lady of Refuge church, but pulled out of the deal when an inspector found a deeply split joist; we were game for a good exterminator, but not for a house collapse.
The other? For three decades, it has haunted me: The sort-of-Dutch Farmhouse somewhere in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, a neighborhood of mostly row houses east of our current one. It was a solidly Caribbean area of pristine side streets giving onto economically depressed avenues full of empty stores behind graffiti'd roll-down gates. But this was no row house: In memory, it is a tidy frame, with charming original door hardware. In the living room, the fireplace is surrounded by what appear to be original blue-and-white Delft tiles. There is a small, shaded back yard, a driveway and a garage, but the garage is a barn, with a hayloft and rusty farm tools. Was it built before any of its neighbors, when Flatbush was still farmland?
If only...if only it had not been squashed up against a big brick apartment building, whose side wall loomed tightly next door, blocking out light. If only the avenue around the corner had not been so despondent and menacing. We sought a "mother/daughter," and I couldn't picture the persnickety Irish mother faring forth along that commercial strip, whose sole bright outpost among the bodegas and hair salons was a Caribbean bakery and Catholic church a few blocks down. We let it pass, and wound up in the Crazy Stable—a house in vastly worse shape, but in a better location nearer the park.
But I never forgot the Delft tiles and the rusty plough. I kept scattered records of our house-hunt and no photos (people just didn't take pictures of everything back then), and could never remember where the house was. I even looked for it a few times, and began to suspect I'd dreamed it. But just now, in some old notes, there it was: 366 Rutland Road, between Nostrand and New York Avenues. I raced to Google Maps, and it's still there—looks almost the same, faded but dear, hunkered in the shadow of the apartment house. And that stretch of Nostrand still looks pretty sad, although there's a fancy-looking bakery around the corner now; gentrification is not on fire here yet, but the sparks will catch. Are the farm tools still in the garage? When was it built? How much land did the owners till?
I'll probably never know. The house sits just east of the site of the old Lefferts' farmstead (from which the Lefferts Historic House was moved to nearby Prospect Park). As of 1909, it was home base for two builders named Larsen and Anderson, who designed other Flatbush homes, according to this account; real-estate sites claim it was built in 1910, but I suspect it might be much older. I'm just glad it's still there. I hope whoever bought it has had as many happy years within as we have had here. And I hope they kept the farm tools.