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BROWNSTONE BATTLE! Long, painful, but ultimately happy saga of 374 Pacific ends

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It took more than 25 years, but one of Boerum Hill’s most majestic brownstones will finally be resurrected.

Neighbors of a once-stunning home on Pacific Street between Bond and Hoyt streets are on the verge of receiving $1 million for their troubles after the owner of the building allowed it to decay into such a state of disrepair that it came to resemble a crack house more than a stately abode.

The building was sold at auction in June, leaving the empty-headed owner empty-handed, despite the property’s potential value.

“He was in some kind of denial on this one,” said Allen Kone, a lawyer for the five neighbors of the extraordinarily dilapidated five-story home. He said he gave up trying to understand the reasoning behind the owner’s neglect long ago.

“He kept telling his lawyer he was going to fix it up, but of course he didn’t,” Kone said.

Efforts to reach the former owner of the five-story house, Bruce Marlow, were to no avail.

Currently, the building’s windows and doors are boarded up, the roof is extremely damaged, and the last available interior shots — posted on the blog Brownstoner — show peeling and stained walls. According to the Department of Buildings, there are still 23 open violations against the property, including several from this year.

One of the neighbors of the sorry structure was thrilled at the prospect of a brownstone next door that wasn’t falling apart.

“I’d been approaching [Marlow] since I bought my house in 1994, asking him to please fix all the things that were getting worse,” said the neighbor, Kenny Gronningsater.

Gronningsater added that an entire portion of the wall he shares with the run-down residence had been overwhelmed with mold, forcing him and his family to temporarily leave the house so that professionals could give it the “Superfund” treatment.

“They determined the mold caused a risk, so we all had to leave the house, and they came in dressed like astronauts to do remediation work,” Gronningsater said.

He noted that the proceeds from the auction — somewhere around $1.3 million — were great, but didn’t make up for all the time spent coping with the neglectful owner next door.

“This is band-aid money relative to the years of frustration,” Gronningsater said.

A partner in the company that bought the building, Forest Park Properties, said he expected a full-restoration was in store.

“We’re in the process of planning exactly what we’re going to do,” said Raymond Mordekhai. “It’s in pretty bad shape — one of the worst you’ll see in that area [of Brooklyn].”

Gronningsater was hopeful the building would soon appear livable once again. “I’d love to see them bring it back to its original grandeur,” he said. “It really was a beautiful building.”

According to both Kone and Gronningsater, the mid-19th century brownstone was one of the first on the block and one of the oldest in the entire Boerum Hill historic district.

The mysterious Marlow bought the building in 1981, and then proceeded to accrue five first mortgages on the property — meaning a mortgage that has priority over all others — another development that baffled Kone.

“How the heck did he get subsequent financing?” Kone wondered.

It was this discovery — as well as the emergence of another party with a lien on the property — that delayed the official transfer of title until late last month.

Now, the five disgruntled neighbors are awaiting the check from the auction — and the future of the dilapidated dwelling looks bright for the first time in decades.

But the reasons why it was allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair given its value will likely remain a mystery.

Kone said that Marlow had walked away from an offer of $2.2 million in 2008 for the building, only to allow it to further deteriorate to the point where his neighbors forced the auction — of which he received nothing.

No one understood Marlow’s logic, and even the judge on the case was incredulous.

“The judge kept insisting I serve another affidavit!” Kone said, adding that Marlow never showed up in court. “He just couldn’t believe that someone would let this happen to the property — he understood the location.

“It’s kind of unbelievab­le.”

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Reader Feedback

M says:
This article should have explained why the money goes to the neighbors, as opposed to, say, the bank.

Anyone know?
Aug. 13, 2010, 7:59 pm
Tig from Bay Ridge says:
This story has inspired my family to keep on moving forward with our mission to get the neglected property/abandoned house next door from us cleaned up (i.e. demolished) so something safe and aesthetically appealing can replace it someday soon. Actually, this house ('Raccoon House') was featured in your paper in 2007: http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/30/19/30_19raccoonhouse.html

We've created a Facebook page for our movement:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Project-Clean-Up-237-79th-Street-Brooklyn-NY/137259819627602?v=app_2309869772#!/pages/Project-Clean-Up-237-79th-Street-Brooklyn-NY/137259819627602?v=wall
Aug. 30, 2010, 10:44 pm
374 Observer from Boerum Hill says:
Most of the stories about 374 Pacific neglect to mention that Bruce Marlow seemed mentally unstable (yet affible and highly intelligent) for years as his property was in decline. He had moved into Boerum Hill long before most of us and had once filled his giant house with valuable antiques. After the last of his girlfriends moved out in the '90s, he just didn't seem to have any family to look after him as he, along with his house, deteriorated. As far as we know, Bruce, wherever he is, may be oblivious of what happened to what was once his home. That said, it had to be hell to live next door to all this.
Nov. 22, 2010, 10:12 am
r from beorum hill says:
There was no bank claiming at the time of the sale. I don't think from my research that there had been a loan on the building for a long time. as for the other lien I believe it was a mechanical lien form an interested party in the aquisition of the property. Everything Bruce had tried to do was unfortunately wrapped up in a mental illness. There were many attempts to help that would have been protective of his equity while compensating the victims of his neglect. There was also a lot of self interest in doing so that Bruce could never reconcile with. In the end I am glad for the compensation to the neighbors. The type aggrevated environmental impact on the neighbors and the neighborhood in general was serious and demanded compensation. I'm not sure Bruce is unaware as much as resigned. It remains to be seen if Forrest Park Properties will treat this house with the respect it deserves as to it's historical details. This house was freestanding when built by a ships captain in the 1850's it is one of the few examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the area. (sited in the AIA guide to NYC) Many of the details of this are still visible in the interior from atypical plaster treatments in the parlor ceilings to etched glass in pocket doors. The exterior has been decimated over the years including the removal of the original Gothic Revival window lentils. I think the neighborhood should take care that the historic significance of the building be preserved by the Forrest Park Properties. The demolition has already seen pieces of this being lifted out. We should care that some of the detail be restored. What is sad is Bruce wanted this also he just couldn't get out of his own disease racked head and deliver it through any less unintelligible means. I hope the discussion can turn to what this building can be in the future instead of its sordid recent history. The new owners should be able to profit nicely as it stands on the biggest lot in Beorum Hill, has a fifth questionable floor, and over 8,000 square feet of salable floor area. The owner should be able to be historic accurate and achieve fare profit for their trouble.
July 30, 2011, 11:09 am

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