Residents Say Dilapidated Historic Kew Gardens House Is an Eyesore
QUEENS — When a Japanese-style house was built in Kew Gardens in the 1920s, it instantly became a neighborhood attraction as possibly the only house of its kind in the borough.
Now, it's in the spotlight for another reason — the architectural gem has fallen into a state of disrepair.
The windows on the first floor of the house, at 84-62 Beverly Rd., have been sealed with concrete. A number of rooftop tiles are missing and a faded note attached to the front door warns: “Don’t enter. Property Being Watched. You Will be Fully Prosecuted. (…) Stay Away from Here!!!”
The phone number listed on the note is not in service.
As first reported by the Queens Chronicle, the house, which is not landmarked, belongs to Mun Chang, who has owned the property since 1973.
The owner owes at least $20,000 in back property taxes, dating from 2011, according to data provided by the Department of Finance.
The house, which is surrounded by a lawn with a miniature fountain, started to fall apart about a decade ago, said James Melikian, 58, who lived in it from 1956 to 1969, before his family moved to Phoenix, Ariz.
Melikian, whose family works to preserve historic buildings, said that every time he visits New York, he comes by the house and is upset anew by its fall from grace.
“The house is in terrible condition,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s a pity to lose such an historical home.”
The house, described as being built in an Anglo-Japanese style, combines architectural elements of an English cottage with curved lines typical of Japanese rooftops, said Carl Ballenas, a Queens historian who authored a book about the neighborhood, to be published in February.
There is also a Japanese style house in Prospect Park South in Brooklyn, Ballenas said, but the house in Kew Gardens, a residential neighborhood with numerous co-ops and picturesque homes, may be the only example of the style in Queens.
The house was built around 1920 by Joseph Fleischman for his daughter.
Fleischman, a florist, also owned hotels and a three-story Turkish bath on 42nd Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, with a spa, gym, sleeping rooms and roaming peacocks, Ballenas said.
He also built two other houses in the neighborhood, including a mansion that he constructed for himself across the street from the Japanese house, Ballenas said.
The Japanese house is the only one of Fleischman's creations that has survived.
Ballenas said that Fleischman chose the unique architecture for the house in Kew Gardens because he “couldn’t build something plain.”
“He had to build something with flair,” Ballenas said.
Melikian, whose parents bought the property in 1956, said that “the house was built for a family with servants because every room on all three floors had a bell system to call the servants (...).”
But in September 2009, the Department of Buildings declared the house unsafe after receiving complaints that it was unguarded.
A building inspector who came to the site found the house vacant, according to documents provided by the DOB. The front door and garage door were left open, the agency said.
Kelly Magee, a spokeswoman for the DOB, said that the agency got a court order "to seal the building” by pouring concrete into its windows in order to “make it safe for the public."
Neighbors said the owners moved out a long time ago, allowing the house to decay, but that maintenance crews continue to come to mow the lawn and trim the shrubs in front of the property.
Murray Berger, executive chairman of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, Inc., said he has been trying to reach the owner for about three years.
“I would have loved to talk to him and see what his motivation is,” Berger said.
Ballenas said he hopes the house can be taken over by the city and given to an historic organization that would maintain it.
“It should be landmarked,” he said. “It’s a very unique house.”