Two-Story 100-Year-Old Wooden House


Location Red Hook (Brooklyn)

Price $90,000 (1996)

Square feet 1200

Occupant Tina Olsen (creative arts therapist, South Beach Psychiatric Center in Staten Island; artist)

Go ahead, feed the birds. We’re standing on your back deck, not far from the sea. This is a wonderful bird area because it’s not as populated around here. Fewer people live at the end of the road. There are a lot of vacant lots where wild things grow. A purple finch just came over. This garden out back is very fertile because they dumped cotton bolls here. Ships brought cotton up from the South. The ones that got wet and rotten down in the hold, they’d throw them in these yards, partly to fill it up because it was a swamp. A lot of these houses are built on semi-fill.

That music in the air sounds Scottish. No, It’s Pentecostal, from the church. I moved here in 1996. Look at that gorgeous light. It’s like Vermeer light because it’s low. Most of these old houses were used as rooming houses for people who worked on the piers. The beam in the living-room ceiling was put in to hold everything up. These beams got washed up by the sea. The first artist in Red Hook, 1980, used this house as a studio. Now she lives in Nyack, where she’s a therapist and healer. I met her at a peace demonstration there. My boyfriend knows her ex-boyfriend because they were working in a tofu factory where my boyfriend was one of the first tofu makers in the ’70s—he’s Sam Weinreb, one of the original hippies. He had a loft on the Bowery. Got disillusioned with the art scene and said, “Fuck it, I’m going to make tofu.” He delivered to the Park Slope Co-op, the Ananda Ashram in upstate New York. He lives in Nyack now. I just met him four years ago dancing at the Duane Memorial Church in the Village. It’s mostly all old hippies who do this old English dancing. Sam and I have the same values.

I’ve been married a couple of times, two children, they grew up with me in Washington Square Village. Their father is Persian, a professor at NYU. This is kind of amazing. When I came here to look at the house, the man liv ing here was the brother of my best friend from Soho. That was sort of a good omen. My best friend, our children went to P.S. 3, one of the first alternative public schools in the country, open classrooms, no grades. We imported kids from Harlem because we wanted it to be mixed. The kids made puppets. The whole population of the village was different then. Those people were pioneers. Some parents were in Mexico doing mushrooms and the kids were going to P.S. 3 on their own. No, of course not everyone. Most parents were hardworking, very involved.

This photograph of a farmhouse . . . was my father’s family’s. Mennonites. They came over at the invitation of William Penn to farm in Lancaster. Mennonites were being murdered in Germany because they were pacifists.

Does your boyfriend have a country house? Not exactly. He got into this subsidized old people’s housing. Nyack is kind of an arts community. They take care of their old people. Did you see my front door? All peeling. Actually, it was a new door. It took me a lot of time to get it that way.

The scale of houses by the sea, they’re always small, little doors. I like that it’s no bigger than I need. You can see one side to the other. I like that it’s quiet. Because there are no street lights, the light at night is kind of majestic, like what you get in Maine. I go to Maine whenever I can. I like that isolation. I like houses that were inhabited by many people passing through, all ghosts. I really feel the ghosts, in the fallen-down buildings by the water. The deserted quality of industrialization, the half-sunken ship. Like dreams that have crumbled. It’s sort of past so it doesn’t have to intimidate you anymore—the grandiosity is finished, it’s over, like Western civilization falling into the sea.

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