A spooky looking 1873 house on Main Street in Matawan, said to be one of only two in New Jersey of its type, is set to be turned into eight apartments –- but hopefully preserved at the same time — now that officials have reached a compromise with the private owner.
Residents say they are cautiously optimistic that the exterior will be preserved.
The house, known in the neighborhood as the “Ryer House,” or “Big Blue House,” was built in 1873 by David Ryer, a onetime mayor of Matawan and a produce merchant from a family of prominent area businessmen and farmers.
The house is, according to the nonprofit group Preservation New Jersey, “a fine example of the [French] Second Empire style, featuring characteristic details such as a Mansard roof, a central tower, an elaborate front porch, ornate molded cornices, and bay windows.”
The Historic Sites Commission in Matawan wrote a letter to the borough’s Planning/Zoning board on February 25 saying, “The Ryer House, 226 Main Street…is one of only two such homes left in New Jersey. The other example is in the historic town of Cape May.”
Current owner Andrew Scibor bought the house for $450,000 in 2007, a few years after longtime owner Dr. Michael Ambrosio passed away. Scibor applied to the township to turn it into offices but was turned down in 2009, as residents feared losing the home’s historic features.
The house sat in limbo while local preservationists attempted to get it added to the National Registry of Historic Sites. Homes may be added because of historical architecture, connection to historical events and people, and age.
This past March, Scibor was quoted as saying in local media that he might have to demolish the house if the town failed to approve his new plan to turn it into eight apartments.
Residents hotly debated the matter in numerous Facebook groups for Matawan issues.
On April 1, the board granted Scibor a use variance so that he can convert the structure to eight small apartments, including two in the basement.
“The house can now be restored,” Scibor was quoted as saying in April. “This is a win-win for the town and for the people who can use it and appreciate it.”
Residents had mixed feelings. “I think it’s a great compromise,” said a woman on the Matawan Historical Society Facebook page. “I would just hate for the apartments to be ‘luxury.’ ”
“They are making this gorgeous piece of history into apartments?” posted another. “That stinks.”
This month, residents said they hadn’t seen much work on the house yet.
Kurtis Roinestad, the chairman of the Historic Sites Commission, said by phone in mid-October that he hopes Scibor keeps the exterior intact but is watching carefully.
“My sentiment from the beginning, and I spoke at the planning and zoning board about the caution of this,” he said, “is, we have over 300 historical houses over 100 years old [in Matawan]. That particular property is not the oldest house in town, but it’s probably the most recognizable house in town. It’s a Queen Anne-style house with a gingerbread trim. The board approved the project under the premise that the exterior of property will remain with its façade. My nervousness [about it] is because I don’t see how it’s feasible to cut up a one-family house into eight apartments. I’ve seen the plans; I’ve seen the layout. It’s going to be precarious.”
He said the apartments may be as small as 600 square feet. He said that he’s met the owner several times and is hopeful, but “My concern is whether he comes back to the town and says, ‘Hey, guys, I thought I could do this but I can’t, so I’m going to have to throw up vinyl siding…and by the way I have to modify 20 other things to make this work.’ ”
“My biggest concern is that he does what he said he’s doing to do,” Roinestad said. “If he does that, then I’m all for it. You’re basically restoring a historic house and making it functional.”
“I would like to see the outside of the building and surrounding property brought back to something that looks as close to the original as possible,” said Justin Dapolito of the Historic Sites Commission this month. “I grew up in this town, my parents grew up in this town; I remember seeing that house as a kid. It’s also one of the only examples of its type left in New Jersey. It would be nice to see it historically correct.”
The Historic Sites Commission oversees several other old houses within the borough. Fans of historic homes in that area can take the “Haunted Matawan Trolley Tours” on October 26. More information on that event is available here.