mccayplympton mccayplympton

Winsor McCay’s Hell House, Part Deux

Winsor McCay's Home drawn by Bill Plympton

This is a follow-up to a story that we first mentioned here a couple months ago about the decrepit state of cartoon legend and animation pioneer Winsor McCay’s home in Brooklyn. Animation director Bill Plympton recently visited the home to see it for himself. He has a report on his blog Scribble Junkies and it’s not pretty:

What a dump. Unfortunately the 3 storied mansion has long been abandoned so it now houses 8 families of hispanic descent. And as we entered the front door the spanish families hurriedly scattered to their respective apartments in fear. Apparently the famed animator’s home is now a multifamily squatters shelter.

Plympton is optimistic and thinks there’s hope: “You can imagine the glory that it once was back in the early 1900’s. All the architectural details are still there and with a lot of work it can be restored to its former glory.”

Don’t hold your breath though. Cartoons and animation, and by extension cartoonists and animators, have never merited respect in the United States as they have in other parts of the world. Yesterday I was reading about the Hergé Museum near Brussels and marveling at how they have preserved his legacy and art. It is befitting of a part of the world that considers cartoons the “ninth art.” American cartoon fans have to make do with McCay’s hell house at 1811 Voorhies Ave in Brooklyn. Let us know in the comments if you visit too.

  • diego

    come on!!
    how that can be!!
    Winsor McCay is one of the most important artist and pioneers in the history of animation and comics, there’s awards named after him, and is not important just in USA, is important in the world.

    What an embarrassment.

  • My wife and I lived down the street from Winsor McCay’s Brooklyn home for about 10 years. For many of those years, there was a family living there, but we would always see bikes and toys and such scattered around the front yard. From the looks of it, the house was slowly being neglected and it was, as time went on, not a pretty sight.

    When I found out that was McCay’s house, I could not believe it. Here was a master of the comics page, who flights of fancy could lift my spirits like no other artist. My grandmother got me the first oversize collection of the Little Nemo strips for Chanukah when I was but a wee lad. I devoured it. I attended a symposium on McCay at Phil Seuling’s New York Comicon. I sought our Rarebit Fiend and everything McCay I could put my hands on.

    That his Brooklyn house should be in such disarray breaks my heart. Hopefully something can be done so that such misery does not continue to trample over the home of an important artist in the history of the world.

  • It does seem like it would take a superhuman effort to just keep the building standing, let alone restore it and turn it into a museum. But it would great if someone could spearhead an online fund raising effort to get things rolling.

  • Ted

    I continue to fail to understand how people are shocked, shocked! that the house a famous to us artist lived in the better part of a century ago could have since fallen into disrepair and that no one has turned every place they lived into historically protected buildings and fully endowed museums dedicated to the individual in question because they, y’know, slept there.

  • Ellen

    From what I can tell from Bill Plympton’s photos, I’m relieved the graffiti seems to be painted over. Now it looks a lot more manageable to preserve. Why don’t we set up a fund to save and preserve the house? A couple of donations here and there can really help.

    I’ll look up more info to see what I can do to help.

  • Ellen

    There is a listing online of the for sale price of $560,000.

    And also found a flickr set of the house:

    The house is hiding a beautiful stained glass window and recently had a fire that may have left some damage.

  • I biked past there recently as well. Looks like there was a fire recently, not long after your other post.

  • C

    I agree with Ted. I don’t really see the importance to animation history or Winsor McCay’s legacy of work in preserving a house where he used to live. As Plympton notes, it’s not even a practical location for a museum. What NYC needs more than anything else is affordable housing and amenities, and if we made the former home of every notable person off-limits to development or occupancy (especially in a cultural nexus like NYC) there’d fast be no place left for the NEXT Winsor McCay to live or the next architectural gem to be built! What if the McCay house couldn’t have been built because the site was a historical landmark from 100 years prior to THAT? Cities grow and change, that’s just the reality. What we build today will be landmarks to OUR grandchildren, if we let it be built.

    I also find the horror over the house being occupied by poor people—and Hispanic to boot, horror upon horrors!—quite distasteful. And nice description of them “scattering” away—likening them to a bunch of cockroaches or other vermin. Winsor McCay is a monument, don’t get me wrong, but people’s need for a place to live is more important than our rather privileged need to embalm the one-time home of a notable cartoonist.

    • Martin Shellabarger

      I quite agree with C… your comments on the “hispanic” families “scattering” when you went in (do you normally just stride into someone’s abode without being invited in?) was particularly racist and demeaning. You owe everyone reading your comment, and most definitely the people living in the house, an apology.

      As far as restoring the house as an historical monument, I find it to be disheartening that in the US, which has more room and money than almost any place else on earth, takes so little interest or pride in the significant historic structures with which it is graced. Preserving our culture is certainly worth the small price. Maybe the lack of doing that is why we seem to have so little culture compared with Europe, which prides itself on its past and the people who made it interesting.

  • i’ve been planning on biking down there soon, i definitely need to make a pilgrimage.

  • Ellen

    C and Ted I understand your point. It wouldn’t be a shame if the house was turned into a halfway house or shelter. The building looks like it was very beautiful in it’s glory days, and I think that’s worth preserving whether a museum or shelter. I really would hate it if it is torn down and rebuilt as a normal building with no character at all. I see too much of that already, plain suburban buildings and homes.

    Whoever buys it, whether for Mr. McCay or not, I hope they preserve the building.

  • As lovely as it is to preserve locations of historical significance, I think it’s much more important that affordable housing and social services be made available.

    Also, despite the wealth of work McCay left us, let’s not forget that, by modern standards, he was a pedophile.

  • Nikoli

    Someone should restore McCay’s house much like Brad Meltzer did for Jerry Siegel’s home, where Siegel created Superman.

    More information about Meltzer’s project can be found here:

  • I’m of the opinion that we ought to preserve history. McCay is an important artist and to shame his work and memory by letting the house descend further into disarray or be leveled to make way for housing doesn’t feel right to me. McCay is as important to me as Jerry Siegel. Seminal artistic folks, all, and all have influenced me.

  • Mr. Smartypantsl

    1600 B’way (original location of the Fleischer Studios) was leveled for high end condos. This is progress? Monet’s garden at Giverney serves no useful purpose to the people of Paris (itself a crowded megalopolis like NY) but brings in valuable tourist bucks. It’s also not centrally located as are the other major tourist stops: the Louvre, D’orsey, Eiffel Tower etc. Should the attraction be worthwhile (a museum dedicated to NY animation for instance) and properly publicized it could mean revenue for the city. Perhaps McCay himself is not that well known to draw those kind of crowds but NY would benefit by promoting and preserving important elements of it’s rich history. Otherwise why visit? I can visit Starbucks in my own city.

    BTW-McCay was a pedophile?

  • Ted

    If preserving the building is important to you, buy it yourself. You would have bragging rights amongst your cartoon savvy friends. Maybe even enough if properly advertised to rent out space at a premium to the same community. Or get a group of that community together to buy the house together as a project/living space; you could hold art shows, show 16mm cartoons in the living room, be a regular ground zero for a renaissance in New York cartooning.

    But if you’re not willing to do it in spite of the subjective increase in value due to the past occupancy of a historically-significant-to-us-in-the-cartoon-loving-community personage, because it’s a rat trap in a bad neighborhood or because it’s too damaged to make it worthwhile to repair, why would you expect it to be worthwhile for a theoretical someone else who most likely has never heard the name Winsor McCay to deal with it?

  • Santos

    “it now houses 8 families of hispanic descent”!!?? WOW!! I didn’t know BILL was a closet racist.What does their ethnicity have to do with anything??
    “as we entered the front door the spanish families hurriedly scattered to their respective apartments in fear.” He’s lucky they didn’t shoot His ass for tresspassing!

  • John Tebbel

    I was biking around there yesterday. It’s right by the Sheepshead Bay strip of seafood and other restaurants on Emmons Avenue, a block behind the famous Lundy’s site and even closer to the Sheepshead Bay subway stop. 50 minutes from times square by subway, according to Google Maps. You’d never expect squatters a block away to judge from the crowds on Emmons Ave.