A house that has been labeled as one of the oldest in Flushing may get a new lease on life as a museum, if a local activist gets his way.
Paul Graziano, president of the newly organized Flushing Historic Trust and a candidate for Julia Harrison’s City Council seat, has set the gears in motion to preserve this former “summer cottage” into a thriving art gallery and exhibit space.
Located at 147-38 Ash Avenue, in a residential neighborhood, the house was built around 1850 as a summer residence for a Manhattan lawyer and his family. Since then, it has been lived in by three other families and served for a time as a rooming house.
When its last owner, Matthew Kabrisky, died last year, Graziano knew it was time to take action before the developer’s bulldozer destroyed the mansion.
“I had been doing a photo survey of Flushing a few years ago and when I came on this house I was amazed,” he said. “The owner was sitting out on the porch and that’s how I learned about the house.”
Kabrisky’s son, also named Matthew, lives in Dayton, Ohio, but has agreed to serve as chairman emeritus of the Flushing Historic Trust and is trying to make arrangements with the group to sell it to them. But both men say time is running out.
Graziano estimates that the group needs $1 million to purchase the house and make necessary repairs and additions.
Although some funding has been promised from State Senator Frank Padavan and a few foundations, some of that money is based on the house first being acquired by the trust. That cost is estimated at around $633,000.
“Kabrisky is being very gracious to us and trying to give us as much time as possible but he does have pressure from his family to sell it,” Graziano said. “He has agreed to keep the house functioning as long as possible.”
Kabrisky, who was in Flushing on Monday during a visit to the house, has said he will keep his father’s housekeeper in the house for as long as she wants to stay.
“People have been hounding me to buy the house,” Kabrisky said. “They want it for the land, not the house.”
Graziano, a land use consultant, has been working diligently with the state to get the house landmarked. Federal landmarking would automatically follow and would allow the trust to get low-interest restoration loans.
He hopes to have that accomplished by the end of the year.
“Landmarking would take the pressure off,” he said, noting that the trust would like to raise $100,000 the first year and raise the rest over a five-year period.
Chipping paint and peeling wallpaper are evident but overall the house is in remarkable condition with the only structural problem a sagging porch support beam that is affecting the ballroom fireplace on the first floor and a bedroom on the second floor.
Fortuitously, the last owner added an elevator to the back of the house, which meets today’s standards for handicap accessibility.
Other items needed are a new heating system, sprinkler and alarm system. The kitchen needs to be upgraded and cosmetic changes are required to restore the home to its original grandeur.
Graziano envisions the first floor, which includes the ballroom, dining room, parlor and kitchen, to be used to display art exhibits. The first floor could also be used for private catered affairs or lectures.
The second floor has four bedrooms and two porches. Each bedroom will be decorated to represent the different families that lived in the house: The Pearl family, circa 1845-1884, the Bullard family, 1884-1909, the Eccles family, 1909-1954 and the Kabrisky family.
The third floor has six rooms and would be converted into office space for the trust, a caretaker’s apartment and possibly an apartment for Graziano, who wants to live there.
The basement will be used for craft and restoration demonstrations. Kabrisky, a successful contractor, left all types of working tools there. There is even a full-size coffee roaster there.
With its five working fireplaces, most of them marble, 11-foot ceilings and unusual round enclosed porches, one of which served as an orchid garden, the house, as Graziano describes it, offers much for the community.
“You can see layer upon layer of history here,” he said.
Graziano expects the Flushing Historic Trust to be incorporated in a week so that contributions can be solicited. People interested in helping save the house should call him at 358-2535.