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John Green: This Old House On The Hudson

by Dave Zornow

JGreen_B4“Historic preservation is not for sissies,” says local author and filmmaker Tina Traster. “It takes grit, determination and magical thinking.” The John Green House, a historic 1817 Dutch sandstone structure believed to be the oldest surviving building in Nyack, has been rescued from legal and financial no-man’s land by the John Green Preservation Coalition, a group of community activists dedicated to historic preservation.

“Just as the Tappan Zee Bridge has served as a gateway to Rockland County, the John Greene house can serve as a gateway to Nyack,” said Rick Tannenbaum, president of the coalition. Although the house is in severe disrepair and has been inhabitable for several years, Tannenbaum and his wife Traster hope to re-open the building to the public in 2018 to coincide with the dedication of the new TZB. “It can be a place where residents and visitors can share time and space together, share culture and learn about Nyack’s original residents and its current inhabitants,” he says.

They have a lot of work to do. However, one milestone thought to be impossible — achieved through persistent negotiation and the generosity of an out of state financial institution — has already been achieved. “Given the condition of the property and the importance of the John Green House to the historic Village of Nyack and the Preservation Coalition, donating the property was the right course of action,” said Jill Showell, Senior Vice President of Government and Community Relations at Ocwen Financial Corporation, the bank that acquired the house in lieu of foreclosure 18 months ago. “We are pleased that the house will get the attention it deserves and be restored in a way that it can be enjoyed by the community,” says Showell.

Nyack Sketch Log:
Save Our Green House

“As long as this house stands, we can touch this sandstone and have contact with materials that may have been handled by our anonymous slave ancestors. NSL194_John Green ThumbnailThese stones, quarried from our soil, fueled an economy that was made possible by the bounty of our river, transforming a bunch of homesteads into a community that has survived centuries.

“This stone house holds together the many complex threads of a history that makes Nyack unique. As the oldest building in Nyack, it is a vessel for our collective memory. Sandstone may be obsolete as a building material, but for the role it has played in the development of our village, it is a precious stone.”
— Bill Batson, “Nyack Sketch Log: Save Our Green House,” January 31, 2012

Elected officials who once lambasted banks for their neglect of abandoned and neglected “zombie properties” cheered the news.

“John Green had that vision, much like Rick Tannenbaum and the members here,” said NYS Senator David Carlucci. “They got an agreement that we haven’t seen  before. Hopefully this is a catalyst and it will get the ball rolling so that other historic sites in New York State can be preserved. I’m so glad and so proud of the work that the Village of Nyack and this community has accomplished.”

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Elected officials who attended the September 15 press conference included Carlucci, Nyack Mayor Jen Laird White, a representative of Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart, who noted that the town's slogan is "Rich In History." "Historical preservationists are tenacious and daring -- just like the owners of the property that they hope to be preserved," said Stewart.

Elected officials who attended the September 15 press conference included David Carlucci, Nyack Mayor Jen Laird White, a representative of Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart, who noted that the town’s slogan is “Rich In History.” “Historical preservationists are tenacious and daring — just like the owners of the property that they hope to be preserve,” said Stewart. (From L to R: David Carlucci, Andy Stewart, Tina Traster)

The history of the John Green House dates back to the 19th century when John Green opened a lumber yard and built one of the first docks on the Hudson River in Nyack, NY. The one time slave owner was involved in two transportation initiatives which cemented Nyack’s future as a center of commerce by lobbying for legislation to build the Nyack Turnpike between Suffern and the Hudson River — the modern day Route 59 — as well as mapping the The Nyack Channel, a safe passage for larger vessels to reach the village from the main channel of the Hudson near Tarrytown.

Green was an early trustee of the Nyack Library and a founding member of the Methodist Church, helping erect the Old Stone Meeting House in Upper Nyack on North Broadway. Green died on April 10, 1842 and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Nyack.

What happens next to the house is unclear. The John Green Preservation Coalition says they hope to get grants to fund their ambitious project. “We don’t know how much we need to raise,” said Tannenbaum. “Structural stabilization and engineering is estimated to be about $40,000.” Tannenbaum says they are seeking bids to determine what needs to be done and what it will cost.

Traster says the long term plan for the John Green House is to use the space as a welcome and cultural center. “There will be opportunities to raise revenue with a cafe tenant or by renting the space as a business incubator. We will be focused on long-term plans in the spring, once we have a better understanding of our fund-raising capability and of the total cost of rehabilitation and construction,” she says.

If the not-for-profit John Green Preservation Coalition seeks tax exempt status for the property, the John Green House will join a long list of properties in the one square mile village that are off the tax rolls. More than 40 percent of the taxable properties in the Village of Nyack are tax exempt, according to villages officials. The John Green House is located at 23 Main Street, between two properties whose 2015 Town of Orangetown assessment was $325,600 and $139,600, respectively. Before the John Green coalition assumed control, the John Green House was appraised at $124,200.

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