The fate of the large blue mansion on Main Street in Matawan is still up in the air, but those interested in preserving the 139-year-old building remain hopeful that the site will be added to the National Register of Historic Places in the near future.
Matawan Historical Commission member Betty Kauffmann, who also serves as the Matawan Historical Society archivist, began the process of nominating the property to be added to the registry in early 2011.
The process is long and arduous, Kauffmann said, adding that she is still working to fine tune the very detailed application to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).
Criteria to add a property to the registry include age, integrity and significance, according to the National Park Service (NPS), a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Properties are typically at least 50 years old and have significance because of unique or historical architechture, historical people or historical events. The integrity of the architechture must have also been preserved.
To be added to the registry, a site must be nominated at the state level with the SHPO, according to the NPS. An application can be filed by the property owner, historical societies, preservation societies, governmental agencies and other individuals and groups.
If the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) approves the nomination, they notify local government, the property owner or owners and anyone else affected by adding the property to the registry. The public and the property owner(s) have the opportunity to comment, and if there is no objection, the application continues on to the next step. However, the property cannot be listed if the property owner objects. In the case of an objection, the application may be forwarded to the National Park Service for a Determination of Eligibility (DOE), according to NPS, who can override the owners' objection.
Kauffmann believes the Second French Empire house, built in 1873 by a successful textile merchant and one-time mayor of Matawan, David Ryer, has historical value for it's age, unique architechture and because Ryer and his family lived there.
"An old house like this is a connection to our past. When we lose an extraordinary building like this, we lose part of our history, especially Matawan history," Kauffmann said. "If you go down Main Street, you see all the beautiful old houses from all styles and all time periods, but [the Ryer house] is really the crowning jewel on the street."
The house has seen more turbulant times in recent history and is in need of serious refurbishment and renovations, Kauffmann said. Noticeable by a brief once-over from the sidewalk is the flaking paint, deteriorating window frames and torn curtains. Multiple windows have also been boarded up.
The neglect began over five years ago, when the previous owner, Dr. Michael Ambrosio, died and the house passed hands to his wife, Anne. With the owner unable to make payments on the mansion, the property fell into foreclosure and disrepair.
Andrew Scibor, a Matawan resident, purchased the property in April 2007. According to Zillow.com, he paid about $450,000 for the 7-bedroom single-family house.
Scibor hoped to operate an office for several small businesses out of the well-recognized mansion, telling the Independent that this would benefit taxpayers by increasing ratables for the borough.
According to the Nov. 3, 2008 Matawan Borough Planning Board approved minutes, an architect identified as "Mr. Aravantinos" argued on behalf of Scibor, stating under oath that he has experience working with historical properties like this one and that he was confident the building could be modified to meet ADA requirements without changing the historical value.
His application was opposed by multiple residents, according to Kauffmann, who recalled that many of the planning board meetings concerning 226 Main Street were packed.
"From what he wanted to do that building would have looked like a big cardboard box, it would not look anything like it looks now. This is what had everyone so worried," Kauffmann said, noting that the original drawing that was proposed included the removal of the bay windows on the side, however that detail was added back during a later proposal.
Scibor told the Independent in a letter in 2009 that the house was not in good shape on the interior, writing, "All the doors are missing and the Tiffany lights are all gone... The walls and ceilings are crumbling and the floors are buckling due to a lack of heat. The heating system is destroyed due to flooding in the house and the pipes have burst as a result of that lacking system."
His letter came after he lost a two year battle to rezone the building. The application was ultimately denied with a 4-2 vote by the Matawan Borough Unified Planning and Zoning Board.
Scibor did not return phone calls made inquiring about his plans for the property, however he told the Independent in 2009 that, "It is not worth it for me to put $300,000 to $400,000 worth of work into a house that can't be used as an office building."
The large blue mansion still stands on Main Street, and according to Zillow.com it was listed by RE/MAX Central as for sale in May of 2010 for $779,000. In November 2010, the listing price was decreased to $715,000 and in January of 2010 the price was again reduced to $699,000. The site indicates that the listing was removed in February of 2011.
Few changes have been made to the historic home, except in recent weeks the majority of trees and ivy have been torn down. For now, the fate of the Matawan landmark still hangs in the balance.