BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Faced with the sudden potential loss of several historic homes scattered around Rockland County, a Valley Cottage woman has taken on the task of producing a documentary film about the endangered Dutch sandstone structures, in hopes that most, if not all, can be rescued from the wrecking ball and repurposed for a contemporary new use.
The half-hour documentary will be entitled “This House Matters,” and producer Tina Traster has already developed a four minute trailer which she is showing throughout the region to historical societies, preservation groups and civic and service organizations in an effort to build support for what she views as an endangered species, the 200 to 300-year-old Dutch sandstone homestead that is native to Rockland and Bergen Counties, and found nowhere else in the world.
“This is an important film that will bring awareness to the community of preservationists and others about the existence of these historic properties that still remain in Rockland County, Traster says.
So far it has cost her about $2,000 to film, edit and produce the short trailer, which serves as a teaser for the full-length half-hour film to follow. She has raised that money from friends, historians and other supporters of the genre, doing much of the filming, editing and writing herself, with the assistance of her husband, Rick Tannenbaum, and several friends.
For the feature version, however, she wants to employ professional videographers and editors, and estimates the cost will be about $12,000.
To accomplish this, she has created a fund-raising page at the IndieGoGo crowdfunding Web site, where anyone interested can view the full trailer inducement, and then hopefully contribute toward the larger film project.
Traster began her ambitious project this spring, when she realized three early Dutch sandstone homes in Clarkstown and Orangetown were endangered and threatened with destruction. They were the Abraham Lent house in Orangeburg, the Jacob Vanderbilt house in West Nyack and the John Green house in Nyack.
All three structures date from the early to mid 18th century and all were vacant and very deteriorated. All were also threatened with demolition by owners who no longer wanted them, or had other uses in mind for the properties they occupied.
Alarmed because of the demolition a couple of years earlier of the historic Teaberryport house on Strawtown Road in West Nyack, by the United Water Company, Traster decided this should never happen again, and began rallying resources to assist in her preservation campaign.
Unfortunately, while initial filming for the trailer was under way, one of the designated targets of the campaign fell victim to the wrecker’s ball, and was obliviated in about six hours.
That was the Lent house, located between the West Shore Railroad and Route 303 in Orangeburg, just north of the Palisades Interstate Parkway and in the middle of a quickly developing commercial center known as Orangeburg Common. Squeezed between a Marriott hotel and a Stop & Shop supermarket, the site was desired by its owner for an additional strip mall connecting those two recently constructed buildings.
An initial effort to save the house by moving it to another site failed when sufficient funds for the expensive venture couldn’t be raised in time. Without warning, construction equipment suddenly showed up on an early spring morning, and demolition began. Traster and others were notified and got there in time to film the destruction, but were unable to save house itself.
Video Helps Effort
She is using the footage she got of the demolition in her video, however, prominently featuring it in the trailer as a warning of the fate that awaits similar structures in the area.
In the meantime a moribund “Save the Green House” committee was reactivated by the destruction, and Tannenbaum is the new president, leading the effort to save that structure from a similar fate. The Green house is at the bottom end of Main Street in downtown Nyack, and is the oldest house in the village, having been constructed in the 18th century by an early shipbuilder and merchant.
The Vanderbilt house, on Germonds Road in West Nyack, now appears safe. Owned by the Town of Clarkstown, it is adjacent to that town’s sprawling Germonds Park. Initially the town intended to either demolish or sell the two homes on the property and use it for park purposes as well.
Under pressure from historians and preservationists, however, the town has now changed direction and will restore both buildings, in cooperation with several non-profit organizations such as the Rockland Farm Alliance and Heritage of West Nyack, which will occupy the restored structures.
And because the video stresses the salvation of three Dutch sandstone homes, but only two remain, Traster quickly replaced the Lent house on her list with the Seth house, located on the shore of the Lake Tappan Reservoir off South Blue Hill Road in Pearl River.
Another 18th century structure, it was built in stages between 1740 and 1850, and has sat vacant for more than a decade following the death of the last owner, William Seth.
The property was eventually purchased by a New Jersey developer and plans submitted to Orangetown for the home’s demolition and the site’s redevelopment as an upscale gated senior housing complex to be called The View at Lake Tappan.
The charge to save the Seth House was led by Orangetown Historian Mary Cardenas and was ultimately successful, with the developer agreeing to restore the heavily deteriorated home to its previous glory, and use it as part of an office-clubhouse complex serving the residents of the project.
While Traster says “It was a tragedy to lose the Lent house,” she sees a bright future for similarly endangered homes in the area, “If people can just be made aware of their existence and their threatened status.”
She is hopeful her documentary film will do just that. She has already entered the trailer in several local and regional film festivals, and plans on entering the completed half-hour version in several national and even international festivals.
“The three houses in this film tell the story of the need for funding for the restoration of this endangered style of housing,” Traster says. “It shows a pride of creativity, family longevity and heritage through century-long ownership and occupancy, and a part of American history that is quickly disappearing and cannot be replicated.”
The three featured houses have a lot in common, Traster notes, from being of early 18th century construction by the area’s first Dutch settlers to using local red sandstone as the primary building material and the fact that if preserved, “they will give ourselves and future generations living museums and examples of early American history rather than having to rely solely on static museums, photographs and artifacts of that time period.”
Traster says she got her historic home bug as a New Yorker who came to Rockland looking for something more tranquil, historic and beautiful than her previous city apartment. She found it in a mid-19th century house in bad repair in Valley Cottage, which she has been restoring ever since.
An award-winning journalist and author and amateur videographer, she said her concept for the film “came from a passionate pull to tell a story that wasn’t being told by anybody else, and was virtually invisible to most Americans; that their heritage was being destroyed around them and no one took any notice.”
She says she hopes her film will “shed a light on the possibilities we have right now to save these three houses for future generations, and from there similar houses everywhere.”
Part of the problem historic preservationists have right now is “getting the public to become aware of the challenges we face in saving them,” Traster says passionately, adding that her best contribution right now will be a film, “because film is the ideal medium to show the largest amount of people in the quickest time of the threat these historic homes face, and what can and must be done to save them. Everyone can relate to a film.”
To see the four-minute trailer of “This House Matters” contact Traster for a personal showing, or view it on the internet by going to http://igg.me/at/thishousematters or at www.indiegogo.co/projects/this-house-matters-a-documentary02/x/1148792.
She will also show the trailer at local clubs and organizations, along with a talk on the importance of saving the three homes and others like them. She also continues seeking the $12,000 needed to complete the full half-hour documentary, the funds to be used to hire professional filmmakers, editors and other experts.