Renewed Hope for Ryer House

Potential National Register Listing May Save N.J. Mansion

Ryer
Ryer House in Matawan, N.J.

Credit: Betty Kauffmann

In 1873, David G. Ryer, a merchant whose family made their fortune selling produce in New York City, built a towering, three-story house in the French Second Empire style in Matawan, N.J. Still standing today, the house features broad, bay windows, a central tower that seems to pierce the skies, and—in a gesture that perhaps speaks of the pride he had for his manor—an engraving of Ryer's surname remains on the front-facing marble carriage step.

"When I saw the Ryer House for the first time, I had to stop and stare," says Betty Kauffmann, a Matawan resident and archivist for the Matawan Historical Society. "Seeing the pictures is one thing, but seeing it in person is unbelievable."

Kauffmann sees this beauty in a house that's been neglected for years. Following the death of long-time owner Dr. Michael Ambrosio in 2000, the house passed to his wife, Anne Ambrosio before it was sold in 2004. The new owner, however, could not make payments and the property went into foreclosure. Since then, the house's interior Tiffany doors and antique chandeliers have gone missing; the walls are deteriorating, and the floors, buckling. Even the Ryer House's signature bay windows are broken and boarded up.

In 2007, Andrew Scibor bought the manor for $450,000, giving Kauffman and other preservationists hope that the residence at 226 Main Street could be restored. But a few months later, Scibor filed an application request to the town planning and zoning board asking permission for commercial use in a residential zone. Scibor wished to convert the seven-bedroom house into a six-unit office building.

Following two years of deliberations and trials, the board denied Scibor's application in February 2009. Scibor submitted a second request to rezone the entire block—a plan that was also rejected. The only other option, according to Scibor, was to tear the blue clapboard house down.

"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 Independent reported Scibor saying in a 2009 interview. "The house will have to come down if I can't get the proper zoning approvals." Scibor did not return calls for comment.

Earlier this year, Kauffmann discovered the Ryer House is eligible for a place on the National Register. She submitted the request and hopes to have a response before the end of this month. Regina Hawn, who lives two doors away from the Ryer House and is vice president of the historical society, spotted men inspecting the house recently, which added angst and a renewed urgency to preserve the house.

"[The Ryer House] is our pride and joy," Kauffmann says. "It's what the Empire State Building is to New York City. At the planning board meetings, everybody showed up because everybody loves this house. It's our symbol. "

For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.