On Monday, Nov. 2, despite pleas from environmentalists and preservationists, the new owner of the historic Nicolls house, John Ioannou, had the 17th century building demolished. A private security guard had earlier told George Treiber, a Manhasset resident, "You can't come in because there's heavy equipment on the property but in three days we'll be out of here." Although Mr. Ioannou, who bought the property from Mrs. Louise Allen Dean in a bankruptcy sale in Florida, told the court that he planned to live on the property for which he paid $1.25 million, he immediately put the property up for sale with an asking price of $3.2 million and stated that the property could be subdivided into half-acre plots.
Prior to the bulldozing of the building, the Manhasset Press had planned to print an article by Dr. George Williams, Chairman of the North Hempstead Landmarks Commission, giving reasons for saving it. Although the Nicolls house is gone, we believe that Dr. Williams' article deserves attention as a warning for future situations. This particular horse may have been stolen but if we lock the barn door we may save others.
Some communities, such as Roslyn, Sands Point and Flower Hill, have made efforts to preserve 17th, 18th and 19th century buildings and sites. They have enacted Historic Landmark Preservation Ordinances to protect buildings which they feel are architecturally significant, enhancing and stabilizing a community and at the same time are historically important, preserving the heritage of the community. Unfortunately, pre-1850 houses in Manhasset and Plandome (Village of Plandome, Plandome Heights and Plandome Manor) are rare and are all the more in need of being preserved, Protection is given to landmarks in the unincorporated areas of North Hempstead, such as Manhasset, because the town has an excellent preservation law, but most of the villages in North Hempstead do not. They need to adopt a Historic Landmark Preservation Ordinance.,
Recently an application was submitted to the Village of Plandome Manor by a new owner to demolish the Plandome Manor House (circa 1700) and six other buildings, including the manor house kitchen (called a cottage), which is a 17th century structure, a carriage house, a forge, a colonial ice house where ammunition was stored during the American Revolution and later used for hiding fugitive slaves, the trellised well and smoke house. They were part of the Nicolls-Lathem-Mitchill plantation which included all of Lower Cow Neck (Manhasset and Plandome).
In the 1670s, Matthias Nicolls (d. 1687) secured land in Plandome Manor and eventually acquired 1,200 acres. He was a mayor of New York City and the secretary of the Colony, who built his home in Plandome Manor. He was the great-grandfather of William Floyd, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His son, William, sold the plantation which included the house and the Plandome Grist Mill to Joseph Latham. Living in the manor house during the past 200 years were United States Senator Samuel Latham Mitchill, whose numerous accomplishments are noted in the prestigious Dictionary of American Biography; Singleton Mitchill, North Hempstead Town Supervisor; and U.S. Congressman Martin Little Wiley. Wiley was one of America's best known lawyers and orators at the beginning of this century. These were men known for their political contributions to American society. Samuel Latham Mitchill was the close personal friend of Thomas Jefferson, DeWitt Clinton and James Audubon. DeWitt Clinton incised his name in one of the Plandome Manor windows where it is still preserved.
The New York State Office of Historic Preservation recently noted that the manor house had made "a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history" and was "eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places."
The need is for village trustees to become familiar with landmark preservation laws and to visit sites which are being protected to see how they benefit the community. Houses that are designated landmarks by the Town of North Hempstead include the Magid home in Searingtown (a Dutch colonial house formerly known as the Sackler House); the Horatio Onderdonk Greek Revival House in North Strathmore on Northern Boulevard in Manhasset; the 1721 Dodge House on the Mill Pond in Port Washington, and the Denton House (c.1860) on Jericho Turnpike in New Hyde Park.
The Denton House, Italianate style, had been used as a steak house in the 1960s. It burned and was destined to be destroyed. Under the leadership of architect Angelo Corva, chair of the Hempstead Historic Landmark Commission and acting chair in the 1980s of the North Hempstead Commission, the house was saved. It serves as a reminder of our agricultural past, adding to the aesthetics of the area. It was restored by and is used by McDonald's, which at first was adamant in its determination to destroy the house.
The Denton House is a fine example of restoration. There are also some notable ones in Roslyn and Roslyn Heights. In 1974 the Allen Tenant House (circa 1830) located at 36 Main Street, Roslyn, burned. The late Dr. Roger Gerry, president of the Roslyn Landmark Society, had it restored. Another structure, the Roslyn House (circa 1870) at 69 Roslyn Road, directly across the street from Roslyn High School, had been torched twice and was in derelict condition when it was purchased in 1983 by the Roslyn Preservation Corporation. It has been beautifully restored.
I personally have been in the Plandome Manor House for extensive periods on several occasions this year. Besides the exquisite antique floors, the colonial fireplace and an elegant Empire style fireplace, the house had two lovely bedrooms facing south as well as decorator designed master bedroom, dining room and spacious living room. These were stately rooms.
Obviously the condition of the Plandome Manor house was nowhere near the dilapidated condition of the Roslyn House in 1983 or the Allen Tenant Houses in 1973. The Plandome Manor House should be restored, not demolished, as requested by the new owner. What is most unfortunate today is that the magnificent flooring and fireplaces have been removed, along with the exterior embellished "S" scroll brackets which now gives the house a very sorry and deliberately shabby appearance. The 20 huge trees on the property, also scheduled for demolition, should be preserved. They are hundreds of years old. While five of the trees are diseased, they should be treated and fed to see if they can be saved.
The Village of Plandome Manor should immediately establish a moratorium on building (similar to what the Village of Flower Hill proposes) and establish a six-month moratorium on demolition. During that time the village should enact a Historic Landmark Preservation Ordinance.
The new owner who wished to demolish these historic structures has purchased a magnificent house. He should appreciate and restore it. He will never regret it. Landmark Preservation works.