Captain Abram and Ruth Dissosway Cole House, 4927 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island Rejected for Landmark Status
This just in: the Captain Abram and Ruth Dissosway Cole House, 4927 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island has been turned denied further consideration as an individual New York City Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Observers report that LPC Chair Robert Tienrney stated that the building was too altered and had lost too much of its historic integrity. The building’s owner and local Council member Vincent Ignizio agreed, and both were opposed to the designation. This was reported in amNew York last year as one of NYC’s most endangered.
Here is HDC’s testimony from the June 2008 public hearing.
June 24, 2008
Statement of the Historic Districts Council
Regarding the Proposed Designation of
The Captain Abram and Ruth Dissosway Cole House, 4927 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island
The Historic Districts Council is the citywide advocate for New York’s historic buildings and neighborhoods. All landmarks are unique; one could even say that is a pre-condition of landmark status. As defined by the Landmarks Law, each individual landmark is a structure or physical improvement that possesses “a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the city, state or nation”. Under the Law, there is no definable legal difference between the Ford Foundation Building built in 1967 and the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, built in 1652, they are both designated landmarks. This built-in flexibility, to be able to judge each building on its own merits, is critical to the strength and success of the Landmarks Law and the work of the Landmarks Commission. This flexibility in assessing the significance of any specific site is particularly important when thinking about the proposal to designate the Captain Abram and Ruth Dissosway Cole House as an individual New York City landmark.
The building, as it currently stands, is a rare survivor of Tottenville’s 19th-century maritime development. The Greek Revival style, prevalent on Staten Island in the early and mid-19th century but now quite rare in the borough, is ably represented through the building’s historic window surrounds, door surrounds, lunette gable windows, denticulated cornices, fascia boards and overhanging eaves. Although the building has had numerous alterations over its 160-year lifetime, many of them are historic alterations carried out by members of the Cole family, who owned the house until the 1970’s, and altered it to meet their changing needs. As an article from the Staten Island Advance from 1966 puts it, “the house offers a fine example of architecture….of its day because it has never been allowed to fall into disrepair. Since its construction, it has remained in the same family. Modern conveniences are abundant, but they have been added discretely.” The article goes on to say, “the stately rambling manse watches the Arthur Kill slip by in almost the same trappings as it did [in the 1840s], when a second section was added completing the residence. Actually, the river has changed more than the house.”
Even after the unfortunate 1999 fire, the essence of this house remains intact and it still reads as a building of the 19th century. Yes it has been altered, especially after the recent fire, but no wooden building survives 160 years in this climate untouched and what has been done to the some of the surfaces, can be undone. The Landmarks Commission has seen worse interventions and near-catastrophes reversed, such as the situation at 135 Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights, where damage from decades of neglect and a serious fire was recently repaired by a private owner, who made a worthwhile profit from the project to boot. This building is in nowhere as bad a shape, nor is it as damaged or compromised as other recent proposed landmarks on Staten Island, such as 150 Taylor Street, the former Miss Errington’s School or even the Mariner’s Asylum. This is a house in good condition, in its historic setting with much of its historic fabric and alterations intact.
Mrs. Ralph Blomeley, great-grand daughter of Captain Cole, said in 1966, “people should be conscious of the heritage this country is built on” and that “through the well preserved, older homes, such an awareness could be gained.” Otherwise, she feared, “what will these new houses be 50 or 100 years from now?”. We are now living on the opposite end of the telescope from Mrs. Blomeley and as one can plainly see from a ride around what is left of Tottenville, if we are to have any sense of where we came from, this house is needed more than ever.