Papou’s House in Sheepshead Bay

I love going to the home of my Kostakos grandparents in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Sitting on a very rare double-wide lot, it was spacious and airy inside with beautifully manicured lawns and gardens surrounding it. I have happy childhood memories of exploring all of its nooks and crannies with my cousins.

Last weekend as we were scanning my grandparents’ photos, we came across this rare treasure: a picture of my grandfather, John, standing proudly at the side of his house.

Andrew John Kostakos, standing on the side of his home at 2669 East 26th Street, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY, 1953

Andrew John Kostakos, standing on the side of his home at 2669 East 26th Street, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY, 1953

Looking at a similar view of house today (below), I honestly think it has lost some of its grandeur. The original color was a Williamsburg blue with hardwood siding which lent an air of aristocracy, not evident in the gold cedar shake shingles pictured below.

Sheepshead Bay House, side view, 2016

Sheepshead Bay House, side view, 2016

We calculated that Papou and Yiayia bought their home in 1950. We all agreed with my cousin, John, who said, “it was the most beautiful house I had ever walked into.” This home had amenities not seen in the average residence. On the first floor was a large living room enhanced with a three-dimensional fresco of three horses hanging over the fireplace. The fresco was raised, and it looked as if the horses were jumping out of the wall, headed right towards you. There was a dining room with a butler’s pantry, a breakfast room, a big beautiful kitchen, and as seen on the right above, a sun porch. There was even a wine cellar in the basement. The second floor had three bedrooms – a master bedroom and two smaller ones. John said, “the one thing I couldn’t get over was that the sink and toilet were in separate rooms from the tub,” a most unusual feature in the 1950’s.

Cousin Marianne remembered that there were crawl spaces all over the house; in the attic and even in bedroom closets. One day, she found a stash of Colorforms and Gulliver’s Travels cutouts as she was exploring.

The house sat on an unheard-of double lot situated three blocks from the Sheepshead Bay waterfront. As other homes were encircled in concrete, Papou’s house was surrounded by green, manicured lawns and flower gardens. We cousins sprinted around the property playing all types of games, not realizing as youngsters what a rare treat that was in the city.

John recalled hearing that our grandfather paid $25,000 for the house in 1950, bargaining the owner down from his asking price of $30,000. Looking ahead to the time when the big house would inevitably be too much to care for, Papou built a two-family brick house on the property in 1963. Eventually, this became the home of his daughter, Alice, who cared for both of her parents throughout their lives. My cousin, John, now lives in the apartment upstairs and he watches over Alice who lives on the first level. It is the home where we gathered last weekend for our scanfest.

Sheepshead Bay House (2)

Sheepshead Bay house with 2-story home on property, 2016

This house is my grandfather’s testament of attaining the American dream. As an illiterate 17-year-old orphaned immigrant from a village outside Sparta, Papou traveled on a ship alone, coming to the new world to join his older brother, Vasileios. Papou went from push-cart vendor to Coney Island kiosk owner, to proprietor of a successful seafood restaurant in Williamsburg and owner of many properties in Brooklyn and Long Island. His is a legacy that brings continued pride and inspiration to his many loving descendants.

 

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Scanfest: Saving Yiayia’s Photos

When Hurricane Sandy flooded Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn in October 2012,we worried about the water damage in our aunt’s basement and the reconstruction that would be required.

Gianna Doukas

Gianna Doukas

But, when my cousin’s daughter, Gianna, dashed to the house, she saw that something even more precious was in danger of being destroyed — my grandparents photo albums. She gathered up the water-logged treasures and spread them out on sheets and towels. She tried to separate the ones that had already begun to stick together, and to remove the ones that were in those awful “magnetic” photo albums. Although some photos were lost, thanks to Gianna, over 400 were saved.

My cousin, John, mentioned to me that he was concerned about the state of these pictures. Many had curled when they dried, some were getting black mold, and others were brittle. I offered to come to the house with a flat-bed scanner and digitize every one of them. Last weekend, I made the drive from Maryland to Brooklyn.

Verazzano Narrows Bridge linking New Jersey and New York

Verazzano Narrows Bridge linking New Jersey and New York

Our “scanfest” began on Saturday morning at the Sheepshead Bay home of my Aunt Alice Kostakos. When John retrieved the box of photos, it didn’t look like this would be such a big job, but it took 2 days and over 10 hours!

Kostakos family photos, rescued from the flood

Kostakos family photos, rescued from the flood

We set up shop at Aunt Alice Kostakos’ kitchen table and began by retrieving oldest  black and white photos.

Working hard! l-r: Marianne Doukas, John Stakis, Georgia Kostakos Doukas, Alice Kostakos. Kitchen of Alice's home, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, June 11, 2016

Working hard! l-r: Marianne Doukas, John Stakis, Georgia Kostakos Doukas, Alice Kostakos. Kitchen of Alice’s home, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, June 11, 2016

Thanks to Aunts Georgia and Alice, we were able to identify every person in every photo! We affixed post-it notes to the bottom of each, identifying people, dates and places. The photo and post-it note were then scanned as one image, ensuring that the information would not be separated from the picture. Over the coming months, I will crop each photo and add its identifying information into the metadata. This photo shows my grandparents sitting in front, Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and John Andrew Kostakos — surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and extended family members.

1953; Brooklyn; Kostakos home.

1953; Brooklyn; Kostakos home. My grandparents, Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and John Andrew Kostakos (front), surrounded by family.

Every photo tells a story, and thanks to our Aunts, we heard many great ones. My family moved from Brooklyn when I was five, and one great blessing to me was hearing about many of the relatives in these pictures whose names I had heard, but whom I barely knew. This photo is among the earliest we found, dated 1934: on the left is my father (age 17) and my godfather, Peter Aridas, age 50). You can see how the ink on the back of the photo bled through when the photo was  wet.

My father, Andrew Kostakos (left) and my godfather, Peter Aridas (right), 1935, Brooklyn, NY

My father, Andrew Kostakos (left) and my godfather, Peter Aridas (right), 1934, Brooklyn, NY

We worked for eight hours on Saturday, and even ordered in lunch so we would not have to take time to go out. We enjoyed dinner at a Greek (of course!) restaurant at the waterfront on Saturday evening, and on Sunday morning, regrouped for day two. This time, we set up shop on Aunt Alice’s dining room table which gave us much more room to spread out.

Day two at the dining room table. l-r: Georgia Doukas, Marianne Doukas, Carol Kotakos Petranek, John Stakis, Alice Kostakos. Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. June 12, 2016

Day two at the dining room table. l-r: Georgia Doukas, Marianne Doukas, Carol Kotakos Petranek, John Stakis, Alice Kostakos. Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. June 12, 2016

By using both a flatbed scanner and a portable Flip-Pal scanner, we digitized 400 photos. These raw and unedited images are now online in a private Flickr account, with links sent to all of our cousins. It will take time to crop and electronically tag each photo, but everyone now has access to what we accomplished.

I’m headed to Sparta, Greece, at the end of the month, with the hopes of finding additional documents on my family. My long-term goal is to create a family history book, incorporating many of the photos we scanned and the documents I obtained, along with some family stories. The next generations — Gianna and beyond — will not know their ancestors unless our generation does its part.