by Rachel Newstead
I have nightly conversations with a friend and fellow blogger, Lisanne Anderson, on a variety of topics, some of which are–not too surprisingly–old music and animation. When I received an uncharacteristically early morning call from her today, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to hear.
At 1811 Voorhies Avenue, not far from Lisanne’s home in Brooklyn, NY, a run-down, vermin-infested boarding house–dubbed “Hell House” by those unfortunate enough to have lived there–could have a date with the wrecking ball, if the building’s owners have their way.
Not all that unusual,
you might say–old houses get torn down every day. But members of the community suspected something might be special about the house, now more than a century old. Special enough, in fact, to warrant status as a historic landmark.
What they needed was proof–and thanks to local historian Joseph Ditta, they found it. The house, he said, belonged to none other than the father of American animation, Winsor McCay.
There’s strong evidence to suggest Ditta is right. McCay and his family did in fact settle in Brooklyn on Voorhies Avenue (the 1910 census records bear this out) and had occupied the house pictured in the sepia-toned photograph above since at least 1907. “Hell House”, in better days, had the same elegant porches seen in the aforementioned photo, and shares the distinctive neoclassical columns that could have come straight from Little Nemo’s “Slumberland.”
At least one of McCay’s pioneering animated films (The Flying House, 1921) is reputed to have been animated there; his Little Nemo comic strip was drawn there. (Correction: according to animation historian John Canemaker, McKay only occupied the house until 1910, after which he moved to another house on the same street.)
McCay’s first animated film, based on that comic strip, appeared in 1911. How bitterly ironic it would be to lose the former home of its creator just as that groundbreaking film is about to mark its centennial.
(Post title changed, as original was misleading). R.