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Thread: Big Houses in Manhattan Beach

  1. #1

    Default Big Houses in Manhattan Beach

    March 11, 2004

    Making It Big (the House, That Is)


    Eye-catching homes in Manhattan Beach include this one on Coleridge Street. However, some longtime residents of the neighborhood say that the scale of the new homes is out of place in the modest neighborhood.

    As a teenager 25 years ago in Communist Odessa, Alex Puzaitzer shared a cramped two-room apartment with his mother and older sister, spending nights on a sofa bed. But as a successful entrepreneur in capitalist Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, he wanted something considerably more comfortable for his family.

    Two years ago, he bought a run-down stucco house in Manhattan Beach, tore it down, and built himself a stately beige Mediterranean - with a veranda, tall metal gates and terra cotta-colored roof tiles - a house that reminded him of houses he had seen on visits to the Riviera. The house is spacious enough for his college-age daughter and teenage son to have their own bathrooms and for 20 relatives to dine together on holidays.

    But not all of Mr. Puzaitzer's neighbors are happy about his hard-won elbow room. They find that the new houses that Mr. Puzaitzer and other prospering immigrants have put up are at odds with their neighborhood's unassuming character - bulkier, ritzier and sometimes considerably more flamboyant than surrounding houses.

    "Each one is outdoing the other to show how big a house they can build, showing their wealth to an extreme degree, and it just doesn't fit in," said Phil Metling, a retired optometrist who has lived in Manhattan Beach since the 1950's.

    And some comments about the new houses are much tarter.

    "It looks like a boat," said Matthew Weinstein, a retired camera shop owner, describing another house with a prow-shaped second floor protruding over the first floor. "You should smack a bottle of Champagne against the front."

    While tempests over the growing number of grand houses, or McMansions, have swirled across the United States, the controversy in Manhattan Beach has a decidedly immigrant tinge. Many people who came from the former Soviet Union have been able to afford substantial houses or have raised children who can afford them. Often the scale of the houses reflect a family's yearning to declare that after years of scratching out a living they have arrived.

    The local critics - many of whom are just a generation or two removed from their own immigrant roots - sniff at the heavy-duty metal gates, tall entrance pillars, outsized windows and paved front yards as an extreme makeover of a neighborhood that has long been defined by classic colonials, Tudors and summer bungalows set back on ample lawns. The owners of the larger new houses respond that their homes are thoroughly American in their ambition, and are increasing the values of their neighbors' homes as well. They detect more than a whiff of envy.

    "They see people accomplishing more than other people and there's always a jealousy issue," said Mr. Puzaitzer, 43, who after immigrating from Ukraine managed a popular local restaurant and nightclub and now is president of ZoneChefs, a diet-meal delivery company that he said has revenues of $8 million a year.

    Beyond their aesthetic objections, longtime residents say the bulky new houses block their light and views and limit the vistas of streets where rows of lawns were once visible for blocks.

    "I refer to them often as railroad stations," said Hersh Libo, a retired pediatrician.

    More than three decades ago, the Russians began reviving what was then the declining apartment-house neighborhood of Brighton Beach, opening up their own bustling restaurant rows and setting up thriving medical practices. The most successful immigrants - not all of them from the Soviet Union - started moving to Manhattan Beach next door.

    They included people like Oscar Kitsis, a 67-year-old builder from Ukraine, who had memories of the grand opera house in Odessa and built a three-story brick home on Coleridge Street with 25 rooms, six bathrooms, and 20-foot pillars that flank an entrance door that alone costs $8,000.

    "We are all human beings and we are supposed to improve ourselves," said Mr. Kitsis, who has since left the neighborhood. "Why should I stay in one room or two because the people around me do the same?"

    Until the Russians arrived in significant numbers, Manhattan Beach had been an outpost of doctors, judges, merchants and educators. Many had lived there for decades. Residents like Ken Irsay, a 61-year-old retired food distributor, have pictures on their walls of immigrant forebears - in his case a short mustachioed grandfather who had been a cantor in Russia. Mr. Irsay proclaims himself neutral in the controversy, but speculates that there may be "a bit of envy buried in" the criticism, imagining neighbors saying to themselves, "Here I am an American working hard all my life, struggling and here come these people throwing up mansions with no effort at all."

    Marina Rubinshtein, 39, a dentist who has lived in Manhattan Beach since the early 1990's, said that whatever comforts that she and her compatriots have acquired have been fairly won. She recalls coming here from Riga, Latvia, at age 15, and putting herself through college and dental school with loans and a series of low-paying jobs at places like Burger King.

    "Not everybody came to America and made a million dollars overnight," she said.

    Rather than classic American home styles, the Russian immigrants have often preferred contemporary and grand, said Victor Angurov, a vice president of the Manhattan Beach Community Group, the leading civic group, because under the Soviet system conspicuous attention to style was discouraged as "capitalist excess."

    "People enjoy the freedom they didn't have over there," said Mr. Angurov, an immigrant from Odessa.

    The Eastern Bloc immigrants who built the larger houses said they needed them for the parents or grown children who lived with them. Along the way, real estate values have escalated, with many houses valued at more than $1 million.

    But longtime residents like Mr. Weinstein treasure the old look of "the Beach," as they call it. Mr. Weinstein, 58, grew up in a house his parents bought for $6,000 during World War II. The old bungalows formed the backdrop of his youth as much as the mournful piping of seagulls over Sheepshead Bay. As adults, he and his wife, Stacey, bought a three-bedroom stucco house next to that of his parents.

    "I'm nostalgic and I don't like to see beautiful old houses ripped down," Mrs. Weinstein said of the new homeowners.

    More than few longtime residents feel the new construction has beautified their blocks and some have developed friendships with the Eastern European-born neighbors. "Most of the Russians stick to themselves because of language and cultural issues," said Esther Schwartz, a science teacher. "But if you make overtures to them and they feel you mean it, they really do reciprocate."

    Ultimately, the proliferation of new houses saddens older residents because it represents the passing of an era, however inevitable. "It doesn't feel like the neighborhood I moved into," Mr. Libo, the retired pediatrician, said.

    Mr. Libo recently sold his brick Tudor. It was bought by a doctor from Russia.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  2. #2
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    West Harlem


    I guarantee at least 1/3 of the new Russian residents in that neighborhood made their fortunes illegally. And that a substantial percent use food stamps while driving their Mercedes.

  3. #3


    hello this is mortan wow....................the picture of house is great.I like it very much.I wish to buy it.

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