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Given the real estate values in New York City, it is completely baffling to see properties unoccupied for years. Perhaps some of the best examples in Manhattan are properties in the estate of Bill Gottlieb. I had the privilege of meeting this eccentric man in the 1980s when I was looking for commercial space for my business. I had been enamored with the prospect of renting a small one-story garage and was intrigued that all of them bore the name of Bill Gottlieb as agent/owner. I met him and toured a number of properties in his signature old station wagon with cracked windows taped together. Little did I know that this man’s estate was valued in the hundreds of millions.

Recently, I read about the Spook House of Williamsburg on the Forgotten New York website. So, curious to see the place for myself, I took an excursion to 539 Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The storefront appears to have been abandoned for some time and is framed with a weathered wood exterior. A flag graces the front door and venetian blinds cover all the windows. Little seems to be known about the property, and most online searches trace back to the Forgotten New York website, where information is sketchy. It’s another mysterious case in New York City real estate of unexplained Vacancy

13 Responses to Vacancy

  1. This is such a great story!

  2. Aren’t owners of property a matter of record with the city? Any tax liens?

  3. For six years I lived just a couple of blocks away on Grand St. Walked past this place many times going to and from McCarren Park. There used to be a few strange places in Williamsburg, but fewer and fewer nowadays. There was an interesting place on the corner of Driggs and Grand that had bizarre junk shop type displays in the windows. I was horrified to find when visiting last year that it’s being turned into a multiplex theatre.

  4. Brian Dubé says:

    Mary – you are right. This thought occurred to me. I wonder why we see so many articles where people are puzzled as to the current ownership, particularly with online access to public records? When I did the story on the Castellano White House in Staten Island, I found the current owner through online records. Yet I could find NO other article that mentioned the current owner.

  5. I remember reading somewhere that property owners can deduct as a loss unearned rent. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it would help to explain why buildings can sit vacant for so long.

  6. Leslie Gold says:

    I was curious to see if this guy was still alive…and found a ton of property, and a small amount of family/inheritance, information on this page. Mucho interesting!
    “The specifics: late megalandlord William Gottlieb left his property portfolio to his sister, Mollie Bender, who died in July 2007. In one version of her will, she divided the portfolio equally among her two children and two grandchildren, one of whom is Michael Corbett. But the final version of her will leaves all of the property to her son Neil Bender instead. Corbett claims Bender used “undue influence and fraud” to get his mother to disinherit the rest of the family…”

  7. Brian– On Wythe Avenue in Greenpoint there used to be as two story wooden free standing building that looked just like this on the ground floor, except it was weathered gray. It was a lovely old building with no modern appurtenances. It seemed to be in perfect condition. One day it just collapsed into a pile of lumber. It had seemed to be unoccupied. I hope it was when it collapsed. There were no signs or anything either before or after its collapse. The lumber just remained there on the lot, in a pile, for a long time. I think I haven’t seen it in a while, but I haven’t been going that way lately. –Mary

  8. therealguyfaux says:

    Fortunately, Mr Gottlieb’s property appears not to have become the stuff of urban legend, as a similar property in Los Angeles, the Spanish Kitchen, a high-end Mexican restaurant, did. In that instance, all sorts of lurid stories emerged, to the point where it even became the plot of an episode of the Lou Grant TV series, when in fact all that happened was that the woman who owned it (and the building in which it was operated, and who lived upstairs from it), closed the business down to nurse her husband who was in failing health, and never reopened it after his death a few years later, as all her employees had gone on to other jobs and she could not be bothered to start from scratch again, so to speak. She was well-enough off financially not to need to do so, and lived out the rest of her life in a self-imposed semi-seclusion, figuring her “business” (or lack thereof) was nobody else’s business.
    (Though, to be honest, I see a storefront like this, I’m thinking, GoodFellas, as many Mob hangouts used to look like this, to discourage lookie-lou’s)

  9. therealguyfaux – it’s hard not to let your imagination run wild when you see abandoned properties. Surprised to hear of the lack of urban legends, especially with no online records of the owner and a name like “Spook House.”

  10. Mark colonomos says:

    It is indeed strange that with a few mouse clicks ,while searching for ” Quantum Leap natural foods” that I come across my old friends Brian and Leslie. The web has become a sailing ship for grand explorers

  11. Now his anger had poisoned all relationships, no one could be put in the two empty beds in the room. —Peter Pouncey, 2005

  12. It will also be worthy to note that using wooden venetian blinds are low costing then some of the examples of shabby chic decorations.
    There are various designs found in the shops and can be made to fit your budget, style and protection from sun to
    you and cost you less in your cooling and heating expenses.
    Drilling the holes will really depend on what you venetian blinds have been considering changing the window treatments.

  13. A short film was made about this building and its current owner in 2011:

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