This House Matters

Tina Trastor, producer and director of the film This House Matters, believes that “Historic preservation is not for sissies.” This 30-minute documentary, shown at the Palisades Community Center on October 16, tells the stories of four old sandstone houses in Rockland County threatened with destruction. One was destroyed; the other three have been saved because of the dedication and hard work of local preservation groups.

The Abraham Lent House, built in 1752 and located in Orangeburg, was torn down on April 4, 2015 to make space for a parking lot. Local preservation groups trying to save it hadn’t yet succeeded in raising the $40,000 it would have cost to move the house and were devastated when the house was destroyed.

The 1819 John Green House, the second oldest house in Nyack, was in bad shape when a group named the John Green Historic Preservation Coalition took on the challenge of saving it. Led by Rick Tannenbaum, the group took the bold step of asking the house’s owner, a local bank and mortgage institution, to donate the house to the coalition. They agreed, and the coalition is now working to stabilize the house and raise funds to restore it.

The Vanderbilt/Budke House in Clarkstown, built circa 1730, is the second oldest house in Rockland County. Although the Town of Clarkstown bought the historic structure in 2011, they didn’t have the funds to restore it and were considering tearing it down. Historic activists showed up at a meeting and persuaded the Town to reconsider, but the future of the house was still in doubt. Then, on September 2 of this year, an announcement was made that two state legislators had secured $500,000 in grants to restore the house.

The Seth House, located in Orangetown on the shores of Lake Tappan, was begun in 1752 and completed 1830. The land it stands on was bought by the developers of an upscale senior housing complex, but the project was delayed for several years. One of the sticking points was the future of the historic Seth house. Preservationists, led by Orangetown Historian Mary Cardenas, lobbied to preserve the structure, which was rapidly deteriorating. The development was finally approved in 2012 and as part of the agreement with the Town of Orangetown the developers will restore and preserve the house, using it as a community center for the development.

The stories of these houses are relevant to our community. Palisades has seven 18th century houses and another fifteen houses built between 1800 and 1850. The Mann house, built in 1784, is an example of a classic Dutch sandstone house that was in bad repair when its owner, Sheila Converse, died a few years ago. Fortunately, Miki and Chul Hyun bought the house, restored the old stone sections, tore down the 19th century frame additions, replacing them with a modern frame section, and moved into the house. We owe them a debt of gratitude for saving the house.

We are about to lose the House in the Woods, a charming and idiosyncratic stone house built in 1925, but there is hope that it may be re-erected on another piece of property in Palisades. Palisades has been fortunate; Washington Spring Road and Closter Road are still lined with a number of older houses, and none of our oldest houses have disappeared since the Palisades Parkway come through Palisades during the 1950s. However, this situation could change at any time. The Big House, built in 1737 and our oldest house, is currently for sale.

A group of Orangetown legislators and local historians has been meeting since June to discuss and possibly propose changes to Orangetown’s historic laws that might protect the character and history of our communities. Although there is no way of ultimately stopping a homeowner of the house from tearing down his property, the Town can delay him in the hopes that an alternative to the teardown might appear. Our committee has been considering ways of doing this and of extending more protection to threatened houses in the Town of Orangetown that are not in the historic district. 10964 will keep you informed about this committee and its recommendations.