The Brooklyn Museum’s Schenck family houses have had a profound personal effect on me. In 1990, I was the editor for a book on the Schenck houses called Dutch by Design, written by curator Kevin Stayton. I found that book and the houses it was about so fascinating that I not only taught myself Dutch but I also wound up buying an old Dutch Brooklyn farmhouse of my own.
The book had five chapters. Kevin had countless fascinating illustrations lined up for chapters 1,2, 4, and 5, the chapters dealing specifically with the houses themselves. But almost no illustrations were planned for the middle chapter, a general history of the Dutch in Brooklyn. I suggested that we find Dutch houses still standing out in the streets of Brooklyn and use photos of them as illustrations. “Sure,” said Kevin. “Go knock yourself out.”
Finding the houses was not as difficult as it might seem. A book published in 1945, Old Dutch Houses of Brooklyn by Maud Esther Dillard, provided pictures and addresses of all the Dutch Brooklyn houses standing then, and I had only to see if they were still there. Most, sadly, were gone, but some, miraculously, had survived—and in the strangest places.
Take 2138 McDonald Ave., the so-called Hubbard House, an 1830 Dutch farmhouse down under the elevated tracks of the F train in Gravesend. There, in 1990, I met Theresa Lucchelli, a wonderful cat-fancying former cocktail waitress who had lived in the house since 1904 and remembered Gravesend as a rural paradise. I asked her if was okay with her if I approached the Landmarks Commission about making the house a landmark. “Sure,” she said. “Go knock yourself out.”
Theresa died at the age of 95 in 1997, and the Landmarks Commission never has done right by her house. But after her death I bought and renovated the place with help of a private group known as the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and now I sometimes sit by the fire there of an evening as the F train rumbles past and reflect that I owe it all to the Schenck family houses at the Brooklyn Museum.