Monday, March 5, 2012

Before it was the Capote House, It was the Van Sinderen House

70 Willow St.
It has been reported by the Brooklyn Eagle, the Daily News and other news outlets that the house at 70 Willow St. in Brooklyn Heights has sold for $12 million — the biggest price tag for a single-family home in Brooklyn history.

This house is often referred to as the Truman Capote house, because the author lived and worked there for a number of years. Capote even wrote about the house and his love for Brooklyn Heights in an essay called “A House on the Heights,” in which he  —  much to the gratification of all Brooklynites  — opened the essay by declaring "I live in Brooklyn. By choice."

As Capote is the author of revered works like In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany's, its not surprising that his time in the house has defined the property somewhat. But Capote wasn't the owner of the house. He rented the basement apartment from owner Oliver Smith, who was himself a revered fellow in the art world.

Smith was touted as "one of the most prolific and imaginative designers in the history of American theater" by The New York Times. He designed the sets for such Broadway hits as "West Side Story," "Hello, Dolly!" and "My Fair Lady." He was also co-director of the American Ballet Theatre for decades.

Smith lovingly restored the circa-1839 mansion at 70 Willow, so maybe it should be called the Oliver Smith House.

But then, if you lived in the 19th century, you would have called it the Adrian Van Sinderen house, which is how it is still referred to in architectural guide books. Van Sinderen was one of the respectable Dutch folks that lived in early Brooklyn and had the grand house built. But the name Adrian Van Sinderen became associated with scandal later in the century, through no fault of the old man's.

Van Sinderen's son, also named Adrian Van Sinderen, was a lawyer practicing in Brooklyn and Manhattan. In 1867 he became executor of the estate of his late friend William Lawrence and for many years Lawrence's family received income from the estate as planned. In 1886, one of the heirs discovered some "irregularities" in Van Sinderen's accounting and applied to the court to have him removed as executor. It was soon discovered that the entire estate had been squandered and Van Sinderen was indicted for grand larceny. He promptly fled to Europe, leaving his family behind.

But the scandal doesn't end there! He had not been seen or heard from in a few years when in 1891 it was reported that he died — not in Europe, but in New Lots, here in Brooklyn, right under his victims' noses! BUT THEN, in 1893 the Eagle reported that Van Sinderen was indeed alive and living in disguise in Berlin. Alas there was no extradition treaty between Germany and the U.S., so not much could be done about it.

So much excitement, all tied in one way or another to the Adrian Van Sinderen-Oliver Smith-Truman Capote house.

1 comment:

maheswari said...

the house of looking beautiful specially i like this color and painting is wonderful to see...Bedford Vans