Historical Homes

Houses Suggested for Preservation; Owners Protest

By Howard Prosnitz, Staff Writer

Teaneck Suburbanite, January 21, 2010, p. 2

The Historical Preservation Commission has recommended three houses to be added to the township's list of historic sites. but owners of at least two of the houses are protesting the historic designation.

658 Larch Ave.The commission recommended 658 Larch Ave., 755 Pomander Walk and 580 Standish Road. A council ordinance is required for the historic designation. Once a house is disignated, the property owner cannot change the exterior except with approval of the commission.

But at the Jan. 12 council meeting. Councilman Elie Y. Katz said that although he supports the concept of historic preservation and the work of the commission, he opposes having a property designated when the owner objects.

"I cannot support encumbering a private property with restrictions and hardships against the homeowner's wishes," Katz said.

All three properties are included in the 1995 booklet "A Guide to the Historic Landmarks of Teaneck, New Jersey" and in the Bergen County Survey of Historic Sites.

Built in 1941 by Walter and Valerie Jones, 658 Larch Ave. is considered by many architectural historians to be on the best representatives of Art Moderne in the country, according to HPC chair Eugene Coleman, in a letter to the council.

Jones was a mechanical engineer and owner of an Edgewater company that supplied PT boats during World War II. The swimming pool atop the garage was originally a testing place for torpedoes made by his company.

"Designation of this property will preserve a unique part of Teaneck's heritage and history and the history of the United States," Coleman wrote.

But Alan Horowitz, the current owner of the house, said in a statement to the commission in October, that the designation would reduce his ability to realize the full potential of his investment.

"The property of a homeowner is usually his most valuable asset, emotionally and financially," Horowitz said. "It represents a substantial portion of his retirement nest egg. He prides himself in being in control. In these severely tough times, when house prices are at their low, (historical designation) puts an undue hardship on us in the future."

755 Pomander WalkThe house at 755 Pomander Walk, built between 1912 and 1925, is an outstanding example of the Arts and Crafts style that was popular in the early years of the 20th century, Coleman wrote.

"Arts and Crafts houses appealed to working class and middle class Americans who were drawn to their more leasurely and accommodating plans and general simplicity of construction."

But Claudia Tindall, who has owned the property for the past 20 years, believes that a prospective buyer might lose interest upon discovering that the house is restricted by its historic designation. In addition, said Tindall, the designation adds a layer of bureaucracy.

Any alteration that I would want to do that involves a building permit would have to go before the historical commission. I feel that there could a time, perhaps under a different commission, when I may want to do something and the board will say no," she said.

Describing herself as someone with a good eye who appreciates architecture, Tindall said that it was the special qualities of the house that attracted her to it in the first place.

"I take care of it and I have restored things that have been taken away," she said. "I believe in preservation and as long as I own it, I will keep it as lovely as I can."

The Standish Road house is modern in design standing in an area dominated by Tudor revival houses. It is one of only two examples in Teaneck of the International style of architecture, Coleman said.

He said that rather than detract from the property value, studies show that the historic designation increases it.

"People know that a McMansion won't go up next door," he said.

But Tindall said that when the township gives a house historic status, the owner receives nothing in return.

"We are being asked as a group to participate in preservation, but nothing is coming back to us from the town. They can do this whether we want it or not.," Tindall said, noting that she had asked the HPC about property tax relief. But Coleman said that taxation is outside the scope of the HPC. He noted that no municipality in New Jersey offers reduction in property tax for historically designated properties.

The township has 12 historically-designated houses, Coleman said. He noted that property owners can change the interior in any way they wish and can seek approval from the board to alter the exterior.

Not every homeowner protests historic designation: Some seek it.

In May, Anique Taylor requested historic designation for her property at 720 Roemer Road.

The commission at first declined, finding nothing architecturally significant about the 1870 house. But it had been the summer home of James Sutherland, who, under the stage name of Sen. Bob Hart, was one of the most famous 19th century black face minstrels. Based on its history, the house was granted historic status.