A god-awful plot of land in Brooklyn Heights was lovely back in the day – the 1980s, to be precise – when neighborhood mom Sylvia Blinchik made it into a memorial garden for her dead son.
But Blinchik died two decades ago and the plot – which consists of the rear yards of 128, 130 and 132 Montague Street – became a rat-infested dumping ground.
Recently a Heights restaurant owner set out to rehab the long-abandoned memorial garden and turn it into a dining patio for Taperia, the restaurant he's building at 132 Montague.
But Nando Ghorchian has only been able to rescue part of the garden-turned-junkyard.
“Our idea was to make it nice and green and put a few tables around the whole thing,” Ghorchian said while showing us around the bare-earthed expanse behind 128 and 130 Montague, which remains a grim sight for passersby on Henry Street despite $10,000 spent on cleanup.
“For sure, it's the ugliest piece of land in Brooklyn Heights,” said Brooklyn Heights Association executive director Judy Stanton. “It's the worst eyesore we have. Even after the cleanup, nothing comes close to it.”
The landlords of the other two buildings didn't want to play ball with Ghorchian. So instead of replanting the entire garden plot, he built a cement-floored patio enclosed by a six-foot wood fence that only occupies the outdoor space directly behind Taperia. It's a festive-looking place with a pizza oven, but not garden-like in the least.
The long-disappeared garden – which Heights old-timers remember – was supposed to be a permanent sanctuary to honor Blinchik's son. She created an easement that was meant to keep it that way, which we found in city Finance Department records.
Syblin Realty Corp., which owned the three brownstones and their rear yards, granted Blinchik an easement in June 1986 that gave her "perpetual use and occupancy" of the three yards "for the sole purpose of establishing a memorial to the memory of Mark Allen Blinchik." The easement gave her “the privilege and right” to “establish a garden.”
This was not a tough deal to make; she was Syblin's president.
Real estate exec Bill Ross, who lived in Brooklyn Heights for many years, said the memorial garden was pretty – and Blinchik tended it herself.
"I would see her working in the garden," said Ross, the director of development marketing at Halstead.
"She kept the garden nicely for a few years."
When Blinchik later sold the three brownstones, she sold them with the easement intact, he recalled.
"The memorial garden was more important to her than getting the highest possible price for the buildings," he said. "She really thought she was doing the right thing – and more power to her. Now that I'm older, I find what she did very touching."
As an aside, he recalled that in the 1960s and 1970s, the plot that became the memorial garden was used to sell Christmas trees.
"My family bought their trees there; all our neighbors went there," Ross said.
Blinchik died in 1992, according to records found through Ancestry.com.
"The question is what her estate did with that extremely valuable easement," Ross said.
We were hoping to hear from someone who's likely to know the answer: Blinchik's daughter, Ann, a chiropractor who formerly had an office in Brooklyn Heights.
"I'm very busy," she said politely when we phoned her in New Jersey. "I'll have to call you back."
At deadline, we were still waiting.
The brownstones have changed hands various times over the years. It's unclear what the current landlords make of the easement that was meant to protect the memorial garden.
The Pan family, who own 128 Montague, could not be reached through phone numbers listed in city Buildings Department filings. A spokesman for Thor Equities, which owns 130 Montague, did not get back to us by deadline. Ki Hyo Park, who owns 132 Montague, didn't return Eye on Real Estate's call.
Ghorchian had never heard about the easement until we showed it to him.
"I don't know anything about that," said Ghorchian, who owns Caffe Buon Gusto at nearby 151 Montague St.
"The landlord didn't say anything,” explained Ghorchian, who said his use of the yard behind 132 Montague is included in the rent he pays.
He first came to Brooklyn Heights in 1992 to open Buon Gusto – too late to have seen the memorial garden Blinchik tended.
He asked the landlord of 128 Montague if he could take care of the four-tiered fountain Blinchik left behind – which is filled with soil and sprouting weeds. He said he was told no.
Ghorchian said the landlord of 130 Montague initially agreed to let him use the yard behind that building as an outdoor patio – for $1,500 per month rent – but later decided against doing so.
On our tour of the grim leftovers of Blinchik's garden, Ghorchian pointed out holes that have been covered with wire mesh to keep out rats “that are bigger than cats,” he said.
His business partner Phil Henn said they have agreed with Community Board 2 to close the outdoor patio by 11 p.m. each night. It seats about 30 people. He and Ghorchian are hoping to open the restaurant in August.
Henn had never seen Blinchik's memorial garden easement, either, until we showed it to him.
“Our attorney would have to look at that,” he said.
For the foreseeable future, her fountain for her son will remain behind the brownstones she once owned, sprouting weeds.