Friday, May 11, 2007

‘Raccoon House’ vexes neighbors

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

The Brooklyn Paper / Matthew Lysiak
From his rooftop, Gus Gouras looks down at the holes in the roof of the Raccoon House, which lead all the way down to the basement. The owners of Raccoon House haven’t showed in years, according to locals.

A mysterious abandoned house on 79th Street has become a hot topic for speculative treasure hunters — but for the family next door, it is a neglected menace.

The shack in question, located between Third Avenue and Ridge Boulevard, hasn’t housed anyone (at least any humans) for a decade or more. It is an uninhabitable mess of wood and nails, a blistering sore on the beautiful tree-lined block — and Mecca for curiosity seekers looking for the Bay Ridge version of “Flip My House.”

“Everyday in the summer,” said Maryanne Gouras, whose house connects to the troubled structure, “someone will ring the bell to ask me if I know who the owner of that house is.”

Gouras says they are all looking for a steal by taking the shambled shack off the owner’s hands, and then turning it around for a quick profit.

But for Gouras, enthused opportunists knocking at the door is the least of her problems; the dilapidation of the structure is causing serious damage to her own house.

“It has deteriorated to such an extent that when it rains, the water comes in through its roof, down to its basement, and through the connecting wall into our basement (our house’s foundation),” the family wrote in a letter to the city.

The offending building has been dubbed “Raccoon House” by locals because, as a 13-year-old neighbor pointed out, “It is kind of like the headquarters for all the raccoons in Bay Ridge.”

Like most things Brooklyn, it has an eclectic history.

The drama dates back to 1981, when a former prosecutor sold the house to Frank Landy and his bride. But the newliweds had barely finished unpacking before they started to become problem neighbors, according to Gouras. “We could hear the screaming at all hours of the night,” said Gouras. “Then they just divorced and moved out.”

The divorced duo did more than move out; they refused to sell or rent the property, and over the next two years as their visits grew fewer, the house began to suffer. Eventually, the structure was simply abandoned.

The last time Gouras saw Frank Landry, about 15 years ago, she asked him what his plans with the house were — and she learned that hell hath no fury like a man scorned.

“He said that he can’t sell the house, because then his ex-wife would get half,” Gouras said. “He doesn’t want her to get anything, so the house just rots.”

The Gouras family tried to maintain the yard, but by 2000, when the roof collapsed and the water damage began, they contacted local pols. Gouras called state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge), Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) and city officials “at least 100 times” in hopes that someone could do something — but no one would help.

And they prayed for drought.

“The foundation of our house just keeps getting warped and there is nothing we can do,” Gouras said. “I don’t know how in this day and age, someone is allowed to just damage our property, and no one will stop them.”

In 2002, the Gouras family thought they may have finally gotten a break, when Golden sent a letter to the Department of Buildings requesting that they take a look into the situation, but the inspector miraculously cleared the “Raccoon House.”

“As requested, an inspector was sent to 237 79th St.,” said agency spokesman Kenneth Lazzar. “The inspector reported that no action was necessary based upon his physical observation.”

But all that changed when The Stoop started asking about the haunted house. Within an hour of our call, Building Inspector Vasil Capito showed up and wrote several tickets.

“All I can do is write violations,” Capito said. “I am going to write a lot of violations for everything from the roof to the cracks in the structure.”

The real story about Raccoon House — one of neighborly neglect and bureaucratic wheel-spinning — hasn’t gotten in the way of a neighborhood legend that kids on the block insist is true.

The local kids tell the same story: in a jealous rage, the husband tried to burn the house down, but failed, before settling for the murder-suicide option.

“The owners died in a violent way,” the 13-year-old neighbor said. “The house is haunted by the husband’s spirit, who will never allow it to be sold. You can just feel that something lives there; that something evil lives in that house.”

Perhaps, but reports of Frank Landy’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

In fact, the 54-year-old still pays property taxes on the building, though city records show that he stopped paying his water bill years ago.

The water was cut off. But the rain still bothers Landy’s neighbors.

Ghost of Nixon is Eaton Craig

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

The Kings County Republican Committee announced this week that Bay Ridge’s Craig Eaton is the new chairman. Yellow Hooker has only one question — why?

Eaton, 46, has a beautiful wife, three kids, and lives in one of those nice houses with a yard; the man, who’s a practicing attorney, practically has his whole life in front of him. He could spend the rest of his days hitting the slots with Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge) aide Bob Capano.

But as Republican Chairman, Eaton instead chose to take on the one job in Brooklyn where you are simultaneously ignored and hated. I mean, Democrats outnumber Republicans like cars outnumber bikes on the Gowanus Expressway. Outside of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, Republicans appear as some kind of alien beings, with Bay Ridge Manor as their home planet. So, let’s just say, Eaton has his work cut out for him.

“I believe in the Republican Party and the principles for which it stands,” said Eaton, who will succeed Hy Singer. “Limited government; personal liberties; lower taxes; strong job growth, and a strong national defense.”

Limited government in Brooklyn? In a day and age when it has become difficult to walk down a Brooklyn street and find someone who isn’t working for the government, how can anyone believe victory could be found in downsizing Brooklyn’s largest employer? Can it really be done?

Republican political operative Gerry O’Brien says it can, and that Eaton has the formula for turning Brooklyn blue into Republican red, and it starts one vote at a time.

“All politics are local,” O’Brien said. “We are going to start at the infrastructure, and we are going to bring the blue-collar Republicans back to the party.”

Eaton is well known to Bay Ridge from his days as head of Community Board 10, where he served from 2004 to 2006. In that position, he had to deal with zoning, stoplights, and community gadfly Allen Bortnick. But now he is stepping up a pay grade, and will have to deal with the likes of Conservative Party icon Michael Long from the right and Assemblyman William Colton (D–Bensonhurst) from the left.

O’Brien admits it won’t be easy, but says at least some of the blame can be pinned on Richard Nixon.

“The New York Republican Party has been decimated since Watergate,” O’Brien said. “Our infrastructure was killed, and all these years later we are still fighting our way back.”

Richard Nixon was a long time ago, perhaps the Checkers Speech just didn’t go over as well in Brooklyn living rooms as it did in some others. But now it’s up to Craig Eaton to clean up Nixon’s mess?

What would provoke a man who seemingly had the good life, to jump head first into the lion’s den of Brooklyn politics? Did Eaton lose a bet to Fossella on the over/under for pork-barrel spending?

“No,” answered O’Brien. “The man loves a good challenge.”

I sure hope so, because resurrecting a dead elephant is a lot for one man to deal with, but as they used to say at CB10, if you can deal Allen Bortnick, you can deal with anything.

The Kitchen Sink
“To the lowlife piece of garbage who stole my plant,” read a sign posted on the now-closed Griswold’s Pub front window. “Come see me if you have any guts.” The threat was signed by owner Billy Eisenhardt, who has our sympathies for his missing shrubs. But come on, Billy, Yellow Hooker thinks that the nice large check Valley National Bank gave you to sell our favorite rib shrine is more than enough to cover that tab. …

Congregants of churches slated for the wrecking ball should take note: the April 21 thrift sale at the New Utrecht Reform Church in Bensonhurst was a huge success. In a matter of hours, the church made $2,300 to be used toward restoration of its building, a Brooklyn landmark since 1828. …

What Bay Ridgite is on the verge of becoming a larger-than-life TV star? The man must remain anonymous until the show begins, but Yellow Hooker can say that it will be a new weight-loss reality show on ABC that will be unlike anything you have ever seen. …

State Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge), secured over $60,000 in the budget to support 25 baseball and sports programs throughout the neighborhood. The funding will underwrite the purchase of supplies and equipment for the various teams. …

Mambo Italiano’s, at 8803 Third Ave., wins Yellow Hooker’s undying affection for its half-priced family portions of lasagna on Thursday nights (and the $4 apple martini), but the bananas in our source’s brownie ice cream desert platter were already brown. Then again, at half price, our source was definitely not complaining. …

Councilman Vince Gentile wants to create criminal penalties for damaging religious articles on private property. It’s unclear whether such a law could be applied to individuals destroying their own items of religious worship, you know, like the parishioners at the soon-to-be-demolished Green Church are doing.

No contest! Miss Polonia pageant fixed!

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

This year’s winner of the Miss Polonia contest, Inez Zuska (right), was actually last year’s runner up. Coincidence? Hmm…

Inez Zuska, the 21-year-old pride of Bay Ridge, was crowned Miss Polonia at Sirico’s restaurant on April 22 — but the decision wasn’t exactly a cliffhanger since organizers eliminated the formal judging that was once a Miss Polonia tradition.

Is this some kind of Polonia joke?

In years past, the Miss Polonia contest was a hotly fought over honor. Contestants, all of whom are single and have at least one Polish parent, had to first survive a first round. Next, they’d face a panel of Polish-American Simon Cowells, who rated them on their Polish heritage, future goals, how well they speak their native language, and, of course, beauty.

But this year’s event conjured up conspiratorial images of closed doors and smoke-filled rooms. Seven contestants — or eight, depending on whom you ask — showed up, but were quickly told that Zuska would walk off with the coveted tiara.

Contest organizer Margaret Zebro defended the Zuska coronation.

“We decided to make it more a presentation, then a pageant,” said Zebro. “The judging in front of all of those people can be difficult for a young girl.”

Then again, organizers claim, even if the judging had been fair, Zuska would’ve won anyway.

“The truth is she would have won if there were a hundred girls up there,” Zebro said.

Fellow pageant organizer Irene Rudis agreed: “Inez is just a beautiful person inside and out. She is just a perfect fit by every measure. We are all very proud of her.”

Like in most good conspiracies, this one is shrouded in silence: Zuska remains “unavailable for comment.”

Zuska will now have the honor of representing Bay Ridge at the Pulaski Memorial Day Parade in Manhattan on Oct. 7 — and fix or no fix, some are just happy to have beautiful Polish-American on a float at all.

Last February, organizers openly fretted that the rapid decline in Brooklyn’s Polish population would spell the end of the contest.

Viking ship lands in Ridge

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Hide the woman and children; a band of Vikings is headed our way. But don’t worry, they’re not here to pillage — they’re just promoting Scandinavian heritage.

Owls Head Park will be the site of this year’s Viking Festival on May 19. The free event will showcase not one, but two, re-enactment organizations donning full Viking garb (don’t expect horned helmets; they’re a myth, it turns out), rides for young plunderers, food (what in the name of Eric the Red did Vikings eat, anyway?), and tables selling handmade Scandinavian crafts.

This year’s theme, “Touched by the Vikings,” will include music and dance inspired by countries from North America to the Middle East, that had the pleasurable (and sometimes most un-pleasurable) experience of a close encounter of the Viking kind.

But what would a Viking festival be without a mighty wooden vessel? A replica Viking ship will even be on hand for the event.

“The ship is over 20-feet-long,” said Helena Bakke who owns Nordic Delicacies at 6909 Third Ave. “The children love to sit in the ship just like the Vikings did.”

Bakke, who has lived in Brooklyn since 1958, remembers Bay Ridge when it was filled with Norwegian immigrants who had escaped their then-impoverished homeland.

“When I first arrived, people spoke Norweigian everywhere,” Bakke said. “But since they knocked down all those houses to put the Verrazano Bridge up, the number of Nordics in Bay Ridge has been in steady decline.

“The fact that Norway is doing well today is another reason people aren’t immigrating here anymore,” Bakke added.

The Scandinavian East Coast Museum heritage festival will be held in Owls Head Park (Colonial Road and 68th Street entrance) on May 19 from noon to 5 pm. Call (718) 748-5950 for information.

Golden ‘running’

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

The state senator from Bay Ridge — who is flirting with a run for mayor — will be on hand for the May 20 “5K Run for Fun,” sponsored by the Brooklyn Road Runners Club and Harbor Fitness.

The 3.1-mile jaunt benefits the New York Fire Department, honors some fallen heroes and helps those flabby winter waistlines.

Most important, of course, are the heroes: William Lake, from Bay Ridge’s Rescue 2, and Jimmy Riches, from Ladder 114 at 5209 Fifth Ave. Both were killed on 9-11 — and both were long-time members of the Bay Ridge fitness club. Organizers feel the run is one way they can give back.

“It costs $15 to run, and all the proceeds go to the charity,” said Chris Ganim, who works at Harbor Fitness and is organizing the event. “It is a real good time and a real good cause and everyone is welcome; people even bring their strollers and walkers.”

Of course, as with his run for mayor, it’s unclear whether Golden is up to the full challenge.

“Marty uses a bullhorn to start the race,” Ganim said. “But I don’t think he will be doing any running.” — Lysiak

The run starts at 10:30 am at Harbor Fitness (9215 Fourth Ave.) and proceeds down Fourth Avenue to 101st Street, then heads north on the Shore Road Bike Path before turning back around at 79th Street for the homestretch. The finish line waits under the Verrazano Bridge. Call (718) 238-9400 for information.

Bay Ridge pharmacy raided in steroid probe

By Gersh Kuntzman and Matthew Lysiak
for The Brooklyn Paper

State drug enforcement authorities raided a popular Bay Ridge mom-and-pop pharmacy on Wednesday, seizing hundreds of thousand of dollars worth of steroids and growth hormones.

Workers at Lowen’s Pharmacy were stunned as investigators from the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement entered the store and began a search that yielded $200,000 worth of the illegal performance-enhancing medications.

The investigation was first reported Thursday by the New York Daily News. The raid was confirmed by the Albany County District Attorney’s office.

Officials aren’t calling it a “raid,” per se, because narcotics officers are allowed to randomly search any state-regulated pharmacy without a warrant if there is reasonable cause to suspect something untoward is going on.

Those fears were apparently generated by an unrelated investigation by the Albany DA into a pharmacy chain based in Florida.

The Lowen’s “name had come up frequently” in that investigation, Assistant District Attorney Chris Baynes told the News.

Investigators took stacks of papers, which Baynes said would likely contain the names of professional athletes who are using steroids.

“Reason holds that there would be [names], based on prior experience,” he said.

Prior raids in Florida have resulted in indictments against 21 people for selling steroids over the Internet.

Baynes said Lowen’s had filled the gap — and the prescriptions — after the Florida chain was cracked.

Baynes told the News that the Lowen’s fax machine was buzzing with new orders coming in from all over the country, even as the investigators were doing their work.

On Thursday, it was business as usual at Lowen’s, whose stately, old-style building is at the corner of Third Avenue and 69th Street.

“Why should I comment to you? We have no comment,” said the pharmacist.

A regular customer told The Brooklyn Paper that Lowen’s “has a fantastic reputation in the community.”

“I imagine this is all a misunderstanding,” she added.

With the store open, customers browsed the aisles like any normal day, filling prescriptions, stocking up on sunscreen and getting a last-minute card for Mother’s Day.

There was no outward sign that anything had changed.

It’s not the first time Lowen’s has been linked to a big news story.

Days after the 9-11 attacks, several Bay Ridge residents claimed that hijacker Mohammad Atta was a regular customer at the store.

Welcome to Lysiak's Resource Guide!

Welcome to Lysiak's Resource Guide!
Lysiak exposing the lack of security at the Towers pipeline