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Archive for July 13th, 2009

A Shunned House

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Shunned House 004 by you.

A Shunned House -photo by Mitch Waxman

When I first began my doctor ordered regime of penitential exercise and clean living, I thought a long walk was to the other side of Astoria. Never a specimen of special fortitude or physical accomplishments- years of debauched revelry in Manhattan, and an overindulgent diet (shocking in retrospect)- had wrecked my body in an expert fashion. Setting out to correct the damage wrought by this neglect, I elected a regimen of walking and began bringing my camera with me. 

Shunned House 006 by you.

A Shunned House -photo by Mitch Waxman

My ambles were short at first, contained entirely within the victorian lanes of Astoria. One afternoon, on the corner where the natural course of forty seventh street was severed by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway – I found the Shunned House. When built- the lane it sat on was called Oakley street, and later 17th avenue in the days of Long Island City’s independence. In 1852, this patch of land was the property of S.A. Halsey, and bordered the Charles Rapelye estate which is the site of a modern day public housing project.

Of course- I was hardly the first to find this enigmatic structure. Joey in astoria, and the Queens Gazette, and QueensCrap (and Aviator Rob) called the place “the Astoria Mystery Mansion. On the Joey in astoria post, a person calling himself “Matt” claimed the place as belonging to his own family and gave it an apocryphal history.

Shunned House 002 by you.

A Shunned House -photo by Mitch Waxman

I never cross a fenceline, of course, and restricted my photographic curiosity to the public sidewalks. Luckily, the sidewalk vantage point offered the panopticon a series of wonders.

The property was adorned with crude and somewhat degenerate statues, seemingly molded from concrete. Referentially, the sculptures were copies of Roman classics, and the motif of the lot was clearly Italian. The design of the Shunned House was italianate villa in inspiration, striving for taste and sophistication. 

Shunned House 003 by you.

A Shunned House -photo by Mitch Waxman

In its time, the place must have had a unique charm. I am quite certain its former custodians, who must have labored tremendously to build and maintain the property, would be thunderstruck by its ruination. An encounter at a local cafe recently (spring 2009) revealed that the person I was engaged in casual conversation with was actually the real estate developer who had recently purchased the Shunned House, and who had executed its demolition. Developer X, as I’ll call him

Shunned House 007 by you.

A Shunned House -photo by Mitch Waxman

Located along Broadway in South Astoria, this cafe I frequent is a gathering place and watering hole for the stout Croats and Serbs who populate (along with a sizeable community of Brazilians) the immediate neighborhood. Many enjoyable evenings spent there have afforded me a certain intimacy with these southern slavs, and conversations between strangers often begin organically.

Developer X explained that the place was falling down, and a wreck, after years of exposure to New York’s weather. Also, in confidence, he related a tale and background story about the house’s history which it is not my business to repeat (like I’ve said before- I’m from Brooklyn). In 2008, fences were thrown up about the Shunned House, and the now isolated structure was doomed.

Shunned House 005 by you.

A Shunned House -photo by Mitch Waxman

The Shunned House was demolished in February of 2009, and had been erected in 1830. Yes, there was a camera directly in front of the walkway, but even so- there was always a feeling… an intuition that some clandestine set of eyes was watching from the shadowed interior. One wonders what Developer X might have unearthed, or set free, at the Shunned House.

Its a parking lot for trucks now.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 13, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Posted in Astoria

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