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Inside the historic Freeport mansion that was literally cut in half

ost people in Freeport probably have passed by the 128-year-old Queen Anne Victorian known as “Woodbine” that sits on a quiet village street. They may have marveled at its elegant Byzantine dome and fish-scale shingles or heard of the burnished paneling and intricate woodwork inside. It’s likely they know it belonged to John J. Randall, the mutton-chopped magnate who pretty much developed the community.

What they probably don’t know is that what they see is only half the story. Literally, just half.

The startling fact that researchers rediscovered years ago is that the home, built by Randall in 1890, actually was cut in two just 30 years later. Right down the middle of the grand central staircase. Passers-by might never guess just how spectacular the home once was, as the missing half was moved to a nearby area, where it later burned down.

🏠The urban legend: 'A nice story, but it's not true'

The reason for this dramatic cleavage is the stuff of urban legend. Namely, that the home was divided because of a divorce between Randall and his wife.

“It’s a nice story, but it’s not true,” says Cynthia Krieg, who, along with Regina Feeney, wrote a history of Freeport filled with pictures from its heyday.

That surprises even the home’s current owner, Marilyn Monroe (no relation to the movie star). “It’s the story I was told and I believed it as well,” she says.

🏠The history: 'The Hamptons before there was a Hamptons'

The tale is indeed linked to the village patriarch, John J. Randall, who arrived in the area in the 1880s and started buying up land, including an 80-acre development he dubbed Randall Park. Later, when he ran out of terra firma to sell, he created more with dirt that was dredged out to build canals. His financing produced many of the village’s waterways, which access the Great South Bay.

Flush with success, he and his businessmen friends constructed mansions in the area, creating something of a Gold Coast on the South Shore. The village later became a resort hot spot and an actors’ mecca that drew showbiz celebs such as Will Rogers, Flo Ziegfeld and Irving Berlin.

“Freeport was the Hamptons before there was a Hamptons,” Feeney says.

Many of the grand homes from that era are gone now — torn down, abandoned or converted to apartments, says Krieg, who was a librarian at the Freeport Memorial Library when she wrote the book about the village with Feeney, who is librarian/archivist there. “This home is unique because it’s still here,” she says. “Well, half of it, anyway.”

Randall’s original jewel was a 27-room masterpiece that included paneled pocket doors separating a formal living room and dining area, back stairways to make the staff less obtrusive and red-and-yellow stained glass windows.

Most of the interior wood is chestnut, a rarity nowadays, since much of the species vanished during a blight, says Mary Westring, a Brooklyn artist who, with her then-husband, offered to buy the house from Randall’s grandson in 1970.

It had been on the market before with no takers, and the grandson was ready to tear it down, she says. The reason soon became clear. The empty house had been vandalized, its copper pipes ripped out, windows smashed. A fire set in the living room was put out by a neighbor in the nick of time.

“It was a wreck,” she says.

Westring and her husband bought it anyway and, over the years, replaced and painted the home’s 5,500 fish-scale shingles and added colorful trim to accent the Victorian lines. The stairway was replicated and the rotting porch restored. Westring, who had first spotted the house while riding her bicycle years earlier, says she knew from the beginning it was only half of the original — mainly because she noticed its twin a block away. “It looked like all you had to do was slide them together,” she says.

She also believed the hearsay that it was divided because of a divorce. But the Randall grandson didn’t offer any information about it, she says.

🏠The real story: 'It might have been too big'

So, what is the real reason it was bisected?

Krieg, now the village historian and president of the Freeport Historical Society, interviewed the grandson 10 years ago, and he at last was ready to talk. What he told her was that the elder Randall didn’t want the home — which was huge for the area — to ever be turned into a boardinghouse. Apparently, he figured that by reducing its size he might save it from that fate.

Certainly, the expense of keeping up a home that size probably was on his mind, said the great-great grandson of the patriarch, John Randall IV, who lives in Locust Valley. “That was a monstrous home, and it might have been too big to maintain,” he says. “So, maybe he thought, ‘I’m either going to sell the whole thing or cut it in two.’ “

The carved-off half was moved in 1920, according to the grandson, but it did, indeed, become a boardinghouse, Feeney says. It was destroyed by fire in 1970.

🏠The mansion today: 'Every day ... I feel happy'

The elder Randall’s dream of preserving Woodbine finally came to fruition through its modern-day owners, Westring and, later, Monroe. Monroe entered the picture in 1997 while searching for a home with lots of interior wood. A real estate agent showed her the Westring home to see if she liked the style. It was exactly what she wanted, but it was not for sale. Three years later, Monroe’s father, a well-known figure in Freeport, was contacted by Westring. She and her husband were living apart and decided to sell the house. Was his daughter still interested? Some legal wrangling delayed the purchase for a while, but eventually Monroe got her dream home.

“I think I was meant to get this house,” she says. “I feel so warm here.”

Monroe, the longtime director of the Center for Excellence & Innovation at Nassau Community College, has added her own touches over the years. For example, she converted the attic — Westring’s former paint-mixing area — into a retreat/meditation room.

The house has been a perfect palette for her talents (she is the founder of Marilyn Monroe Designs) and is decorated with finds collected from her travels throughout the world.

As far as the divorce tale everyone believed all these years? Couldn’t be more wrong. The fact is Randall had three wives, outlived two of them, died before the last one and never divorced any of them. Myth busted.

Divided or not, for Monroe, the house feels whole.

“Every day when I come home from work,” she says, “I feel happy.”

🏠The tour: 'I was meant to get this house'

Marilyn Monroe bought the house in 2000, filling it with finds from her travels around the world. Monroe, who went to design school, says she is “always renovating and making changes” to the home. Here’s a tour through her the house she says she “was meant to get.”

8 things to know before buying your first home

Maybe the idea of buying your first home fills you with excitement (Your own garden! Painting the front door bright red!) and maybe it fills you with dread (How will you find a down payment? How will you find a plumber?). Maybe it’s a little of both.

Long Island’s experts, from real estate agents to recent first-time home buyers, offer tips for hacking the home-buying process.

🏠Education is key (and free!)

Buyers don’t have to start from scratch when shopping for a home. Help is available — and often at no cost.

“Education is the best starting point,” says Carol Yopp, director of counseling and program manager of the Long Island Housing Partnership, a Hauppauge-based nonprofit serving Nassau and Suffolk counties. “Some people put the cart before the horse, and look for a Realtor before getting a housing counselor, but that can be a mistake.”

Yopp suggests visiting to find a nonprofit housing counseling agency, such as the Long Island Housing Parntership or the Community Development Corporation of Long Island. Counselors can help potential buyers find mortgages, understand financial issues, search for real estate agent or attorney and even get financial assistance (see below).

🏠Using an agent: Who's working for whom?

Many first-time home buyers don’t know that there are two types of agents: sellers’ agents (also called listing agents) and buyers’ agents.

“A listing agent, who represents the seller, is trying to get the highest price — when you’re working for the seller, your job is to sell that home,” says Mia Pizzo, a buyer’s agent and Certified Buyer Representative who works out of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty’s Northport offices. “But when you’re working as a buyer’s agent, you’re allowed to point out problems.”

Signing a buyer’s agent contract means committing to one agent in the area. The buyer doesn’t technically pay the agent. Sometimes the buyer’s agent fee is included in the price of the home; sometimes it’s included as part of the listing; sometimes it’s negotiated into the final offering instead. If an agent fee isn’t paid by the seller, sometimes the home price may be reduced to accommodate that fee. It all depends, and all of this gets negotiated between the buyer and the buyer’s agent.

🏠There could be a grant — or multiple grants — right for you

The Nassau County and Suffolk County down payment assistance programs and the State of New York Mortgage Agency all offer grants for first-time buyers. There are income guidelines for such programs, which are based on a percentage of the HUD Median Income Limits. They are also based on household size. All potential buyers must provide tax returns as well as recent pay stubs to make sure they are eligible for the programs.

The State of New York Mortgage Agency’s down payment assistance loan is granted up to $15,000. There are income guidelines for such programs, which are based on a percentage of the HUD Median Income Limits. They are also based on household size. All potential buyers must provide tax returns as well as recent pay stubs to make sure they are eligible for the programs.

But finding these grants requires help. “I always suggest that first-time home buyers work with an institution that has an affiliation with the LIHP, or the CDCLI,” says David Wynne of People’s United Bank, referring to Long Island Housing Partnerships and Community Development Corporation of Long Island. Wynne, senior vice president and director of sales in the residential and consumer lending division at People’s United Bank, adds that housing organizations provide education seminars.

“These institutions act as an ambassador for these grants, and some banks will even reimburse for the fees of these classes, if such fees exist,” he says. “The reason these classes are required for grants is because the rate of default for people who take these classes is less than 1 percent,” says Wynne. “The classes help buyers learn about budgeting and expectations.”

🏠Not all mortgage preapprovals are created equal

Buyers need to understand the different types of mortgage preapproval. According to Pizzo, the strength of the mortgage approval can make a big difference in this competitive market.

“There are three types of preapproval,” says Pizzo. “The first is prequalification, which is just a conversation. Then there’s a preapproval, which involves sending in taxes and paperwork and means someone at the bank knows what you can afford. Then there’s a precommitment, which gets reviewed by underwriters, as if you’re already under contract on a home. Precommitment really speeds up the process of the sale.”

Wynne says that precommitment essentially means a buyer has a bank’s financial approval, and that it’s the strongest kind of financial preapproval a bank can give. “It’s telling the seller you’re making a commitment to buy,” he says. “For a seller, it makes it a pretty attractive offer.”

That said, Wynne says any commitment to lend should be updated every 90 to 120 days to make sure it’s revalidated.

🏠Know the changes to a major state refund

Homeowners in New York State who earn a combined income of less than $500,000 may be eligible for the New York State School Tax Relief Program, also known as the STAR program. But rules changed in 2016, and buyers should know what’s new.

“Every township is different, and STAR deductions have changed recently,” says Wynne. “For the most part, with most townships on Long Island, you used to see an immediate deduction with your tax base requirement.”

Wynne says that changed in 2016. “Now, instead of a reduction in your tax bill deduction, you receive a refund check,” he says. It’s worth figuring out, though, because according to, the average refund is just over $300 per year. Housing help agencies such as Yopp’s can help first-timers figure out what their potential deduction might be.

🏠There's no such thing as a free shed

When anything gets added to a property, whether it’s a deck or a bathroom or an extension to the house, the homeowner needs to file for a permit, and the finished product gets a Certificate of Occupancy, or CO in real estate lingo. That means the new structure or addition has been inspected for safety and code compliance, and is approved for use. Yet sometimes owners decide to improve their homes, and either they don’t realize they need a CO, or they don’t want to face property taxes associated with the improvements. That’s when problems can arise.

“If buyers see a shed, or a pool, or a deck or anything like that, they should ask for a CO,” says Catherine Lindstadt, an agent in the Huntington office of Douglas Elliman Reak Estate. “For instance, lot of people have finished basements, and years ago no one cared about that, but now many towns would like you to have a CO for that.”

Lindstadt says CO issues can arise when a buyer is getting a mortgage, and the bank attorney sees that a currently existing addition wasn’t on the original property survey. Buyers will need to get COs settled before the sale, or face the possibility of fines or additional property taxes down the road.

And beware of real estate lingo. “If the listing agent says the shed is ‘a gift,’ that may mean there’s no CO,’ says Lindstadt.

🏠Know the real price (hint: it's not just the house)

Mortgage costs aren’t the only costs associated with buying a house. “On Long Island, a typical mortgage payment includes property tax, but I tell my clients to make sure they factor everything in,” says Lindstadt. There are bills for utilities, water, homeowner’s insurance and homeowner’s association fees, for instance — not to mention closing costs.

Ask about those expenses as a buyer. “You can even ask for copies of summer and winter bills, so you know what to expect,” she says.

🏠Cover yourself for the unexpected

Buyers should be aware that home warranties exist, and if they want to buy one, make sure they include one in the general cost of owning a home. “A home warranty, which is kind of like insurance, covers a lot of issues in the house,” says Pizzo. “Let’s say your stove breaks one month into owning the home. A home warranty would cover that.”

Pizzo says such warranties run about $600 per year, with a variety of packages available for various companies such as American Home Shield or Sears Home Warranty. It’s best to shop around and compare policies, much like you would do with any other type of insurance policy. Some items covered include HVAC systems, boilers and kitchen appliances. “If you have a big-ticket item that goes, it covers a good portion of the cost,” Pizzo adds.”

360 View: Tour a tiny home on LI

360 view: Tour a tiny home on LI

Watch as Newsday’s Valerie Kellogg takes a tour of a tiny home in Holtsville.

Alt Video TextPlay 360° Video

On Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, Newsday’s Valerie Kellogg toured the Holtsville home of Patrick and Catherine Kelleher. The Kellehers are selling their house, which could be labeled a tiny home, coming in at a mere 669 square feet. Read more about the home here. (Credit: Newsday / Jeffrey Basinger)

Note: On mobile devices, the 360-degree video experience can be viewed only in the YouTube app.

A plague on the city’s communities

The derelict two-story house on 215th Street in Queens Village had been boarded up for months. The backyard was mostly overgrown with brush where it wasn’t dirt or covered in litter. The back door, sealed with plywood, had been forced open and nailed shut again.

It turned out that Felix Toro, who lives next door, had gone with a fellow neighbor to nail the door shut. “Sometimes squatters come in, kids maybe,” he said. “They were ripping the door and going in.”

Since the Great Recession, homeowners facing foreclosure across the country have been walking away from properties, unable to pay for their mortgages. In their wake, they’ve left behind so-called “zombie houses,” with no caretaker to oversee them, existing in a state between life and death. Such homes can remain vacant in New York for months or years because the state’s foreclosure process can take an average of nearly three years.

And there are thousands of these undead vacant homes decaying in plain sight throughout the five boroughs, particularly in struggling communities of color — a fact that is all the more troubling given the city’s acute affordable housing crisis. Because the foreclosure process drags on for so long, the homes decay so much it’s not worth it for an investor to buy them and fix them up.

An analysis of data obtained from RealtyTrac, a national real estate tracking company, revealed the following snapshot of city trends as of May 31, 2015:

  • The city saw an overall 28% increase in the number of zombie houses between January 2014 and May 2015.
  • Kings County had the most zombie houses — 1,050, which was a 22% increase between January 2014 and May 2015; Queens County came in second with 905 zombie homes — a 14% increase between January 2014 and May 2015.
  • The Bronx and Richmond counties had the largest percentage increase in the number of zombie homes, 42% and 62%, respectively.

Zombie homes don’t just rot unnoticed; besides attracting squatters, they are easy targets for looters looking to steal copper wiring and pipes and for drug users to hole up and get high.

Such abandoned properties act like a viral infection, spreading through the area: they lower property values for neighbors; often lead to a cycle of underwater mortgages where the homes are worth less than the mortgages themselves; and can propagate the foreclosure cycle.

The problem — which is growing — has not gone unnoticed by policymakers.

“If you are on a street with a bunch of abandoned properties, you’re also a victim of the crash, your entire community is damaged,” said state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at a news conference in the Bronx in April where he spoke about legislation he sent to the state Legislature to combat the growing plague of zombie homes. “Property values go down. Crime and vandalism go up. It’s a huge burden on local communities.”

In May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Financial Services announced that 11 banks, mortgage lenders and credit unions had voluntarily agreed to adopt “best practices” to maintain homes during the foreclosure process, including conducting inspections, changing locks or boarding up windows. The institutions — which include Bank of America and Wells Fargo — are the lenders of 70% of the state’s mortgage market.

The institutions also agreed to establish a registry of abandoned houses. But that’s not guaranteed to fix the problem: Someone will still need to hold the lenders accountable, and that’s why housing advocates are backing state legislation that would create incentives for them to do so.

But, as long as banks don’t own the deed, it’s the owner’s legal obligation to maintain the buildings. Banks don’t own the property until a foreclosure judgment is issued.

A tour of Blight

A house in Queens Village that was in pre-foreclosure on April 27, 2015. Credit: Cristian Salazar.

Southeast Queens, from Jamaica east through St. Albans and Queens Village, to the border of Elmont in Nassau County, has been called the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis in the city, so it makes sense that it would have some of the highest concentrations of zombie houses per 1,000.

As of May 31, there were 9,103 properties in foreclosure in Queens, and 905 zombie properties, according to RealtyTrac.

Jean Sassine has become alarmed by the proliferation of zombie properties in his neighborhood of Queens Village, where RealtyTrac counted 609 properties in foreclosure, 57 of them zombie houses.

Sassine, 48 and married with two children, is the local chapter chair and a board member of New York Communities for Change, a nonprofit organization that works to help people stay in their homes and stave off foreclosure. He comes to the work through personal experience. At a City Council hearing, he testified he was on the verge of losing his home in 2007 when he lost his job and his wife’s spiraling medical bills forced them into the kind of heartbreaking choice millions of Americans were also making at the time.

“I had to make the decision on whether we were going to continue making mortgage payments or pay our medical bills,” he said in written testimony in April. “Since then, I’ve been in a constant fight with numerous banks and servicers, trying to modify my mortgage so my family and I can stay in our home.”

On a brisk April afternoon, Sassine agreed to lead a tour of abandoned properties in his neighborhood.  It soon became clear that the trick would be figuring out which ones were actual zombies and which ones were abandoned for another reason entirely, since no registry exists. Data compiled by RealtyTrac combines foreclosure filings with U.S. Postal Service data, but even the company admits it’s far from perfect.

But whatever the reason for a house being left vacant to degrade in plain sight, neighbors understandably find themselves helpless as they create blight.

Sassine drove a red SUV, wearing a “The Colbert Report” baseball cap, a gray long-sleeve shirt under an orange short-sleeve T-shirt with the logo of New York Communities for Change and blue jeans. Whenever the tour stopped, he would get out of his truck and talk to neighbors about his work.

The tour didn’t make it far from his home at 103rd Avenue and 217th Lane before the first stop: Just across the street was a two-story home, built in approximately 1940, that was partially boarded up but was occupied by what Sassine said were squatters. The building has been in the foreclosure process for nearly 600 days, according to RealtyTrac. The second stop on the tour was just a few doors down; RealtyTrac said it had been in the foreclosure process for more than 700 days.

Two blocks over, on 215th Street, Sassine stopped his SUV past 104th Avenue and pointed out two seemingly empty properties across from one another. The power at one home seemed to be cut off; the meter was dead.

Leonor Calderon, who lives next door, said the owner had died four years ago and the home had been empty since. “It was abandoned,” Calderon said of the home, speaking in Spanish. “But people got in there. Then they left. Then they returned.” At one point, whoever was living there had thrown garbage in her yard. “There are glasses, bottles, and they’re thrown on my side.”

The owner, Linda Collazo, was listed as deceased as of 2009, according to an electronic death record obtained via the Nexis-Lexis database.

According to records filed in state civil Supreme Court, the house has been in foreclosure since a case was brought against Collazo et al. by BAC Home Loans Servicing LLP. The law firm representing the bank was listed as Ras Boriskin LLC of Westbury. A receptionist for the firm said the mortgage had been transferred to another bank; she confirmed that the case remained opened as of June 1.

Jonathan Cohen, an attorney for the bank, did not return a message.  A woman who identified herself as an assistant told amNewYork that the firm could not release any details. 

Neighbors Keep Watch

Jean Sassine looks at a boarded-up house in Queens Village on April 27, 2015. Credit: Cristian Salazar.

The owner of the house directly across 215th Street that Calderon had complained about had defaulted on his mortgage, according to RealtyTrac, and the bank had filed a formal notice initiating the foreclosure process. The windows on the side of the house were boarded up with plywood; the backyard was filled with debris, including a collapsed swimming pool. But the front windows were covered with black tarp from within, and the unmistakable chorus of Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” could be heard from the home. No one answered the door.

When reached by phone later on, the owner, Garth Johnson, said the house was not in foreclosure and that he lived there. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” he said. “I realize you are definitely not talking to me. We have a piece of wood on the side of the house. I did not do the siding yet.”

“It’s not abandoned,” he continued, adding he had to go. “This is just a little difficult to deal with right now.”

However, a subsequent review of court documents showed that the mortgage holder, Citigroup, had filed a summons seeking foreclosure of the property in September 2014. Johnson did not respond to a message requesting comment.

Experts say it is possible desperate homeowners may continue living in their homes without paying the mortgage. Citigroup didn’t respond to questions about whether they had started the foreclosure process. It did say that, since the homeowner continued to own the property, it had no legal obligation to maintain it.

The tour continued a block north to a house on 215th Street identified by RealtyTrac as a likely zombie house. This was where the backdoor, covered up in plywood, had been nailed shut again by neighbors. Court records showed foreclosure proceedings had been brought against the house in 2008. A message left for the mortgage holder’s attorney did not return a message requesting comment.

Felix Toro, 31, bought the house next door earlier this year after it had been purchased and renovated. Toro pointed out that his home had been in worse condition than the one next door; that was confirmed by an image captured by Google Maps in 2013 that showed his house had been boarded up, too, with the entire front yard fenced with plywood and vegetation growing wildly past the first floor.

People want neighbors, not empty houses,” said Queens Village resident Felix Toro, who lives next door to a boarded-up house.

Toro, who was wearing a tracksuit and works for the Department of Sanitation, said that he had called 311 about the house next door a few weeks back.

“Everyone keeps their eyes on it to make sure that nothing happens,” he said, adding that animals have gotten inside, including raccoons. He said he hoped that it would be rehabbed like the one he purchased. “People want neighbors, not empty houses.”

Sassine, driving away, seemed exhausted by what he’d seen. “This is what the attack on the middle class looks like,” he said.

After visiting nearly a dozen abandoned houses, it was clear that zombie properties represent symbols of the foreclosure crisis that is alive and well in struggling neighborhoods. .

Whoever is on the deed is supposed to maintain the homes. The city’s Department of Buildings, which cites hazardous buildings, said it is not responsible for upkeep. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which is charged with stabilizing the city’s housing stock, didn’t respond to multiple requests for information about its efforts to deal with the zombie home crisis.

Like the banks, it seemed the city agencies were leaving it to homeowners and neighbors to deal with the problem.

The tour came to an end around the corner from Sassine’s house. Again, another boarded up home stood rotting at the center of a residential street. Queens Village, where about 70,000 people live, covers three ZIP codes. But the tour had only visited a few blocks. It was striking how many boarded-up, seemingly neglected, vacant homes infected the community.

“You don’t think of blight when you think of Queens or Queens Village,” Sassine later said. “People are mowing their lawns next to these boarded-up houses. You think it’s picturesque. You think you’re investing in your neighborhood but the life of your community is being sucked out of it by these zombie homes.”

Stopping the Infection

Jean Sassine stands outside a boarded-up house in his Queens Village neighborhood on April 27, 2015. Credit: Cristian Salazar.

While Cuomo’s announcement of an agreement between 11 banks and the state was hailed as a good first step, advocates said a legislative solution is required to codify any reforms. Advocates also point out that the agreement leaves out about 30% of the market.

“I think there’s definitely a need for a more marketwide solution,” said Matt Hassett, director of policy for the Center for NYC Neighborhoods.  “It would be great to have it as a long-lasting law on the books.”

That’s why the Schneiderman’s legislation, which was introduced by state lawmakers Sen. Jeff Klein and Assemb. Helene Weinstein, may be the key to ultimately curing the zombie affliction.

While the Cuomo agreement largely mirrors the legislation, there’s are two major differences: Under the legislation being considered, mortgage lenders would be forced to maintain the homes or face fines of $1,000 a day if they failed to maintain the property or to register it. The fines would cover the cost of hiring more code enforcement officers. And, second, the legislation would apply to all banks. 

The attorney general’s office has said that the legislation is still in play, in spite of Cuomo’s agreement.

Asked about the agreement that the state had announced with the banks, Sassine said he was skeptical that the banks would voluntarily maintain the properties. “If you think about it, they are supposed to voluntarily maintain these properties now and they don’t,” he said.

The City Council has held at least four hearings on the foreclosure crisis, including abandoned homes, and has been considering a variety of policy measures including the use of eminent domain to seize mortgages before homes become blighted.

But the solution to the zombie crisis may lie in stopping the infection before it starts.

Peter Nagy, the deputy director for New York Communities for Change, said that’s what his organization is trying to do. “What we always said is we should try to get to properties before they go into foreclosure, before homeowners get up and leave,” he said.

And there are potentially tens of thousands of homeowners facing the peril of losing their homes: A 2012 study by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development found that 82,175 mortgages were underwater, a sign that the foreclosure crisis is far from over and that many more homes may become zombies if policymakers fail to act.

One person who no longer faces the prospect of losing his home is Sassine. In April of last year, his family finally got a loan modification, saving his family from being out on the street. He got work, running his own company, assisting film production by getting permits, scouting out locations and managing logistics. His wife is working as a sign language teacher.

Things were moving along in a positive direction for the family, Sassine said. “It didn’t have to have a rosy ending.”

Two years after Sandy: NYC recovers


This interactive project highlights dramatic images from the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and how those same sites look two years later. Photos on the left show damage directly after the storm; photos on the right show those areas now. Move the slider — the vertical divider between each set of photos — left or right for the full photo. Mobile users, the original photo will be stacked on top of the current photo.

Breezy Point, Gotham Walk



Photo credit: Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 30, 2012 and Oct. 15, 2014)

First destroyed by fire, then demolished, the Gotham Walk section of Breezy Point has largely been rebuilt.

Manhattan, One New York Plaza



Photo credits: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images (Oct. 30, 2012) / Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 17, 2014)

Water flooded the entrance to The Plaza Shops at One New York Plaza during Sandy.

Staten Island, Kissam Avenue



Photo credit: Getty Images / Paul J. Richards (Nov. 6, 2012) and Chris Ware (Oct. 24, 2014)

A house on Kissam Avenue that had its first floor washed away by the storm was torn down.

Breezy Point, Jamaica Walk



Photo credit: Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 30, 2012) and Chris Ware (Oct. 24, 2014)

Some of the Jamaica Walk houses that caught fire during Sandy have been demolished and others rebuilt.

Manhattan, Fulton Street



Photo credits: Getty Images/Timothy A. Clary (Oct. 30, 2012) / Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 17, 2014)

Water flooded the South Street Seaport, causing extensive damage and knocking out power to many of the businesses.

Manhattan, Avenue C



Photo credit: Getty Images / Christos Pathiakis (Oct. 29, 2013); and Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 17, 2014)

Clear streets today show no signs of the submerged cars on Ave. C and 7th St. after Sandy.

Staten Island, Father Capodanno Boulevard



Photo credit: Charles Eckert (Oct. 31, 2012) and Chris Ware (Oct. 27, 2014)

Joe & John Toto’s Restaurant and Bar was severely damaged by Sandy.

Manhattan, South William Street



Photo credit: Getty Images / Stan Honda (Oct. 31, 2012) and Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 17, 2014)

Submerged cars were trapped at the entrance to a flooded underpass on South William Street, near Broad Street.

Breezy Point, Ocean Avenue



Photo credit: Getty Images / Stan Honda (Oct. 30, 2012) and Chris Ware (Oct. 24, 2014)

Many of the Ocean Avenue houses that burned down during Sandy have been rebuilt.

Rockaway, Neponsit



Photo credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt (Oct. 31, 2012) and Patrick E. McCarthy (Oct. 16, 2014)

Rebuilding has begun in the Neponsit area of Rockaway.

Brooklyn: Then and now

Brooklyn is not undiscovered. It is not a new frontier.

As a new generation transforms it into the embodiment of everything that is hip, a trek through photographs from archival sources reveals the borough in all its dynamism.

See for yourself how Brooklyn has been remade again and again.

How to use this interactive: Photos on the left show Brooklyn in the past; photos on the right show those areas now. Move the slider — the vertical divider between each set of photos — left or right for the full photo.

Coney Island



Photo credits: Municipal Archives (Dec. 19, 1922) / Cristian Salazar (August 2014)

If you were to step out from Brooklyn Rapid Transit station at Coney Island onto Surf Avenue in 1922 and head toward the Boardwalk, you might take Stratton Walk to get there. There were nearly a dozen such “walks,” basically streets, that led to the beach. Now most are gone, with different amusements taking up the land. Stillwell Avenue was extended through Stratton Walk and widened.




Photo credits: Municipal Archives / Cristian Salazar (August 2014)

Long before it was a haven for hipsters — say, back in the early 1900s as seen in the black-and-white photo showing 19-25 Central Ave. — Bushwick was all dirt roads and trolley tracks. Nowadays, of course, the neighborhood is best known as a setting for HBO’s “Girls” and its concentration of hip restaurants, coffee shops and galleries.




Photo credits: Municipal Archives (March 5, 1959) / Cristian Salazar (August 2014)

This street scene in Greenpoint hasn’t changed much since 1959, when the black-and-white photo on the left was taken by a photographer with the Department of Public Works.

Flatbush Avenue



Photo credits: Brian Merlis/ (1914); Cristian Salazar (August 2014)

In 1914, you could take a trolley down Flatbush Avenue or look down on it from the elevated tracks. What hasn’t changed in the years since: What is now considered Atlantic Yards, with Barclays Center as its anchor, is still a bustling nexus of commerce and society.

Albee Square, Fulton Mall



Photo credits: Brian Merlis/ (1974); Cristian Salazar (August 2014)

The picture on the left shows the historic RKO Albee movie theater in downtown Brooklyn’s Albee Square. Demolished in 1977, the AIA Guide to New York City described it as “a neo-Renaissance fantasy of columns and star-twinkling ceilings, a vast place of 2,000 seats.” Today the old RKO Albee site is home to City Point, one of the largest new developments in downtown.

Bay Ridge



Photo credits: Brooklyn Public Library (Oct. 14, 1912) / Cristian Salazar (September 2014)

A horse-drawn carriage is plainly visible in the black-and-white 1912 photograph of Fourth Avenue and 77th Street in Bay Ridge. Today’s Fourth Avenue is one of the busiest thoroughfares in the neighborhood.