Brooklyn’s Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead faces uncertain future

It’s been called the best preserved Dutch Colonial landmark in Brooklyn — a storied farmhouse predating the American Revolution.

Over its more than two and a half centuries, the elegantly proportioned Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead — with its gently curved roof, dormer windows and columned porch perched incongruously amid the humming traffic and bustling apartment blocks of the borough’s Madison section — has housed only three families since 1766.

But to the dismay of local preservationists, that’s now history.

Emptied of its antiques, damaged by vandalism and in a state of disrepair, the historic property, now priced at $4 million, faces an uncertain future as one of the city’s dwindling breed of colonial relics — of which barely a dozen of the oldest remain — threatened by age and development pressures.

The property’s last occupants, Annette and Stuart Mont, a psychotherapist and her business executive husband, bought the 4,000-square-foot house replete with old-world furnishings for $160,000 in 1983 — about $480,000 today — in addition to an 1899 barn, all on a 22,000-square-foot property, comprising half an acre of land at 1669 E. 22nd St., off Kings Highway.

The property is known as one of Brooklyn’s oldest, dating to around 1766.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post

Raising their two children with the original dishes and silverware, swords and flintlock rifles, a horse-drawn sleigh and windows scratched with Hessian graffiti, the Monts tried selling the property to the city several times over the last two decades before talks collapsed in acrimony. Still, the family welcomed schoolchildren and other visitors for educational tours. Annette died in 2013, Stuart three years later. Their son Ira, who didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, and daughter Randi sold it to the current sellers, partners listed in city records as 22nd Street Investors LLC, in October 2021 for $2.4 million.

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the farmhouse a landmark in 1968, but just its exterior is protected from alterations, with nothing else on the property safeguarded. And now, a new generation of occupants stands to make it their own — although exactly who that may be, and what plans may come, remain cloudy.

An archival image of the Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead.
An archival image of the Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead.
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

A yeshiva and a synagogue recently voiced interest in purchasing or renting the homestead, two of the publicity-shy investors confirmed in recent conversations. But that’s now off the table, they said.

A sign on the barn with a phone number says, “LOT FOR SALE 22,000 SQ. FT. (WILL DIVIDE).”

Avraham Dishi, one of the property’s co-owners and president of Elysee Investment Company, a property management agency with extensive holdings in New York and Florida, confirmed they had been in talks with a yeshiva but he said, “they want it to rent, we don’t want to rent.”

He said the partners were open to other purchase offers and uses, complicated by landmark restrictions. “I think you can maybe ask permission for you to move it to a different location,” he said.

(A spokesperson for the landmarks commission, Zodet Negron, said the agency would need to approve any move of the farmhouse on or off the property, and that it would not be granted lightly. The house was already reoriented in the 1890s, when the street grid was cut and it was turned from facing south to west. She said the agency had no say in the ownership or use of the house and property.)

Now, Dishi said, the house and one lot it sat on were being offered for about $1.5 million, and the rest of the property with the barn for $2.5 million. The original asking price for everything totaled $1 million more, but Dishi said, “Nobody can pay 5 for this thing.”

The property's current for sale sign. The offering initially asked $5 million, but now asks $4 million.
The property’s current for sale sign. The offering initially asked $5 million, but now asks $4 million.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post
In addition to falling into disrepair, vandals have tagged the historic structure.
In addition to falling into disrepair, vandals have tagged the historic structure.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post

Dishi, who has been hit by city lawsuits for building violations on other properties and was listed by former Mayor Bill de Blasio as one of the worst landlords — although he is not on the Public Advocate’s current list — voiced doubts about a sale given the landmark restrictions. “We will take as much that we can because we want out,” he said.

An earlier call to the number on the for sale sign reached one of Dishi’s fellow investors, a Brooklyn neighbor who said he lived two blocks away and gave his name only as Isaac. He said “the barn and the property are for sale, not the house.” Asked if they might be sold to a yeshiva, he said: “We don’t know who is a customer. We have no customer yet. A few phone calls, just talk, only talk, nothing happen.” He gave a figure of $250 per square foot which, for 22,000 square feet, equals $5.5 million.

Reached again in November, he repeated that the house was not for sale and that no buyers had come forward.

“Who’s going to buy a landmark?” he said.

Dishi said the house would be fixed up for later sale.

Neighbor Joe Dorfman is among the locals concerned about the property's current condition and ultimate fate.
Neighbor Joe Dorfman is among the locals concerned about the property’s current condition and ultimate fate.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post

The property’s ultimate outcome has raised concerns among neighbors.

One of them, Joe Dorfman, has contacted the Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso’s office for months with urgent questions about its fate. Dorfman recently stopped by the site and met Isaac, who — that time — said he had a buyer “coming in” for $5 million. Isaac mentioned possibly moving the house and said the prospective buyer was already doing “due diligence.”

Another man there, who gave his name as Steve, told Dorfman he represented a yeshiva “that wants to build on this property.” Steve said they wanted “to keep the house and turn this community into a shul.” He told Dorfman, a retired insurance investigator, that he was putting together a letter of intent for the yeshiva’s purchase and had already spoken to the landmarks commission “so I know what we can and can’t do.”

Dorfman has contacted the office of Brooklyn's Borough President Antonio Reynoso for months seeking information.
Dorfman has contacted the office of Brooklyn’s Borough President Antonio Reynoso for months seeking information.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post

Amid the homestead’s uncertain end use, one aspect remains clear: Its overall condition has fallen from grace.

The landmark commission’s Enforcement Department issued the owners two recent citations labeled “Warning Letter” for failing to maintain the site “in good repair.” The first was issued Aug. 9, 2022 for “Failure to maintain fence.” To avoid “possible substantial fines,” it told the owners to apply immediately for a permit to do the work. A second warning, dated Sept. 23, cited a “Failure to maintain facade and roof,” and also requested an application for that work.

The owners have since filed to do the repairs, Negron said, adding that a preservationist from the commission visited the site in November telling the owners what repairs were needed and how to carry them out. They agreed to make the fixes expeditiously and paint the house in the spring, she said.

In addition to the structural issues, Isaac told Dorfman that he had also found empty vodka bottles and syringes on the property, and had boarded up the windows and turned on the lights to deter squatters.

Brooklyn borough historian Ron Schweiger met with Reynoso's office in November to brief them on the home's condition.
Brooklyn borough historian Ron Schweiger met with Reynoso’s office in November to brief them on the home’s condition.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post

Ron Schweiger, Brooklyn’s appointed historian since 2002, said he visited the site and heard from Isaac that the house had been vandalized with broken windows, water flooding, a ceiling collapse, and doors pulled off their hinges — requiring a re-padlocking of the back door to deter intruders.

“He’s handling the sale,” Schweiger said. He said Isaac “hemmed and hawed” on the asking price.

“He asked me if I’m interested,” Schweiger said. “I said if I win the Powerball.”

He recently returned and found some of the windows repaired and dead shrubbery cut but the fence still “deplorable.” He also found a failed inspection notice on the door. He said he met with Reynoso’s office in late November to brief them on the situation and that they said they would alert Mayor Eric Adams’ office.

Schweiger recently returned to the site and found certain improvements were made.
Schweiger recently returned to the site and found certain improvements were made.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post

Dorfman said he had also been emailing Reynoso’s office to share his alarm about the state of the landmark. He included photos of the broken property fence with sections lying on the ground and a screenshot of a 311 message from the city’s Department of Buildings saying it had closed a service request to check illegal work there because it “could not gain access to the location.” (The department posted a notice on the door Nov. 7 saying the inspectors had failed to gain access to insure compliance with construction and zoning codes in response to a complaint.)

In response to Dorfman’s concerns, the borough president’s constituent liaison, Marie Ann Meyr-Carolan, replied to Dorfman on Sept. 20 enclosing a response from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It said: “Not all the lots are on the landmark site. Only the house and one other lot is on the site.”

According to the city’s Department of Finance map, the landmarked house sits on a 100-by-100-foot lot near Avenue P, adjoining two other lots of 40 by 100 feet, and 60 by 100 feet — this one with the barn.

The landmarks commission also told the borough president’s office: “We have been trying to reach the new owner of the building but have not been able to get him to respond to our letters.”

And it concluded with this plea: “If your constituents could photograph the building and forward to us [sic] once in a while we will try to keep reaching out to the new owner.”

The homestead was built sometime before 1766, during America's days as a colony.
The homestead was built sometime before 1766, during America’s days as a colony.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post
A plaque commemorating the homestead's historical significance.
A plaque commemorating the homestead’s historical significance.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post

The house, which a historical marker calls “the best preserved, and considered by many the most beautiful example of Dutch Colonial architecture in Brooklyn,” was built sometime before 1766, according to an inscription on a beam in an old barn, which has since been demolished. The builders were Henry and Abraham Wyckoff whose forebear had arrived in New Amsterdam in 1637. The family name had been Claeson but the British, who took the colony from the Dutch in 1664, anglicized the name to Wyckoff.

In 1835, the farm of a hundred acres with meadows and woodlands was purchased by Cornelius W. Bennett who traced his ancestry to Brooklyn’s earliest settlers in 1636. Bennetts lived in the house until Cornelius’s great-great-granddaughter, Gertrude Ryder Bennett, a poet and memoirist who grew up visiting the Canarsie Indians and watching horse races on Ocean Parkway, died there childless in 1982 — a year before it was bought by the Monts, Brooklynites with European roots torn up in the Holocaust. Among the treasures it brimmed with was an edict of April 3, 1776 ordering householders “to preserve for the KING’s Use” bushels of rye, wheat and barley for redcoat troops.

A look at the home's bones, including this ornate entry.
A look at the home’s bones, including this ornate entry.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post
Another angle showing the columned facade.
Another angle showing the columned facade.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post
A posted document showing the homestead's landmark status.
A posted document showing the homestead’s landmark status.
Stefano Giovannini for NY Post

In 1974, six years after the city landmarked the house, Bennett got it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But her efforts to get the federal government to buy it failed. After the Monts purchased it, they said, the city approached them in 1999 with an offer of $2 million plus extra for the contents. But 10 years later, it dropped its offer to $1.38 million, including the contents, appraised at $92,035, discounting the price, it said, to account for the Monts’ occupancy at $40,000 a year for another prospective 15 years of lifetime.

They spurned the offer. “Let my kids worry about it,” Stuart Mont said in 2010. I’ll die some day.”

After the Monts died, their children took some of the furnishings, and donated and sold others to another Brooklyn landmark going back to 1720, the Hendrick I. Lott House at 1940 E. 36th St. in Marine Park, where Stuart Mont had served on the board, according to Alyssa Loorya, vice president of Friends of the Lott House.

“The people wanted the house swept clean,” she said, referring to the Wyckoff-Bennett investors. Items acquired by the Lott House, she said, included rifles, Revolutionary swords, clothing, a large Dutch chest called a kas, and a two-person sleigh from the late 1800s of the kind portrayed in the Clement Clarke Moore poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas.”

The Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead is far from the only endangered relic in the city. Of some 70 old Dutch houses in New York in the 1950s, barely 10 remain in Brooklyn and only a few elsewhere. They include the city’s first landmark, the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House in Canarsie, built before 1652, and the Dyckman Farmhouse in uptown Manhattan from about 1785.

“It’s a rapidly dying breed,” said Loorya.

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