Historic House Demolition Spurs Film Project

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IMG_9264(1)Blink and another house is bulldozed. Most don’t even notice, so I’d like to tell you the story of what happened in my backyard. Unfortunately, it does not have a happy ending.

In Rosalie Fellows Bailey’s Pre-Revolutionary Dutch Houses and Families in Northern New Jersey and Southern New York, the Lent House (built in 1752) is linked to Abraham de Ryck, one of the earliest settlers in New Amsterdam. The house was built by or for Abraham Lent, who served as Colonel of the First Regiment of Militia of Fort Orangetown during the American Revolution.

The Lent House, located in Orangetown, Rockland County, was an important and exceedingly rare example of a New World Dutch sandstone-walled house. Among the house’s distinctive exterior features were its broad gable roof with extended eaves. The interior had original mid-eighteenth century features – notably the exposed ceiling beams and wide-board flooring – in addition to subsequent historic-era finishes representative of the Federal and Italianate styles. The house’s massive roof was made with hand-hewn oak rafters.

The home was continually occupied from 1752 until 15 years ago, when the last resident died. It was purchased and converted to commercial use by the Graffs, a family with a landscaping business. The house was eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places but no application was ever made.

The house sat on a one-acre parcel next to Orangeburg Commons, a shopping center built by New York-based RD Management in 2012. RD Management wanted to buy Graff’s land. For nearly a year, it was hoped that a small group of activists would come up with roughly $50,000 to carefully disassemble the house and move it to another location. Time ticked by, but Save The Lent House could not raise the money.

Town officials were well aware of the possibility of the house’s destruction, thanks in part to town historian Mary Cardenas and many others. An attorney, Rick Tannenbaum from Rockland County, argued that the town had the authority to temporarily pull the demolition permit until a proper State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) review was undertaken.

Lent House being torn downTannenbaum argued that the developer had skirted the SEQRA review by applying for separate demolition and building permits. State law requires that all of a project’s impacts – including cultural impacts – be reviewed together, not separately. Destroying a historic building and building a new building on the lot are both part of the same project, advocates argued.

If there was a SEQRA review, the town would have had to hold a public hearing which could address the loss of a historic structure. And perhaps — with enough pressure from local residents — the town could require the developer to move the Lent House, rather than just tear it down.

Instead, while advocates sought action form the Planning Board, the house was quickly and quietly bulldozed.

Editors Note: Tina Traster is producing a documentary that explores the complexities of historic preservation based on her experiences with the Lent House. You can learn more about the project at thishousematters.com and make a contribution toward completing the film at IndieGoGo.

Photos of Lent House courtesy Tina Traster.


3 thoughts on “Historic House Demolition Spurs Film Project

  1. Roberta

    The developer always has a bulldozer standing by waiting for the town officials to issue that permit and it seems like the permit is always issued. Money talks.


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