Recycling the Past


Source: The New York Times
Author: by Marc Ferris
Posted: Tuesday, July 11, 2006


WHEN an investor bought the Hillbrook Estate in Harrison two years ago, the cost of fixing the roof alone ran into seven figures, so he decided to demolish the 1916 mansion and build four new buildings on the property. In the short time before the wrecking ball moved in, Recycling the Past, an architectural salvage company in New Jersey, invited buyers to the site and picked the house's carcass clean, carting away an oak staircase with wainscoting and carved panels, a 70-foot limestone balustrade, mantlepieces, marble columns and even door hinges.

Architectural salvage, which once evoked images of the television show "Sanford and Son," where junk was hauled around in a beat-up pickup truck, is becoming the province of antiques mavens, interior decorators and upscale remodelers. One indication of this newfound cachet -- and of the blurring of the line between salvage and traditional antiques -- is the growing use of the term "architectural antiques" to designate items like vintage doors, doorknobs, bathtubs, sinks, shutters and stained-glass windows.

"A lot of antique shops have added material that would once have been called architectural salvage," said Renee Jordan Torre, owner of Architreasures in Bedford Hills, who used to sell salvage at her store but now specializes in designing historical interiors.

"Many people prefer things with history. Anyone can go to Ethan Allen and buy accessories, but it''s more interesting if you search around for just the right piece."

As grand mansions like Hillbrook Estate, Penwood in Bedford and 1920's homes in Scarsdale are reduced to rubble to make way for McMansions, obscure, one-of-a-kind architectural items are available for those who enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Salvagers extract their treasures from about one in 10 homes, because there is only a market for the contents of houses built before 1930, said Stephen Tilly, an architect in Dobbs Ferry and a proponent of recycling building materials.

Matthew White, owner of Recycling the Past in Barnegat, N.J., said: "If I had enough time to find the right buyers, I could strip a historical house down to the ground and literally sell the foundation stone, but there''s logistics involved. It''s not exactly a simple project."

Informal salvaging has always occurred at job sites as contractors rescued light fixtures or ornate sconces from the Dumpster, but house wreckers were generally not in the business of brokering architectural treasures.

"There are a lot of teardowns, but there's a lot of stuff that is lost because there isn't a convenient intermediary," Mr. Tilly said. "Contractors have barns full of stuff and increasingly they get immune to another stained-glass window or oak door and it's more of a hassle than it's worth."

United House Wrecking in Stamford, Conn., is an exception. The business began by demolishing houses to make way for Interstate 95 in the 1950's, but has become solely a dealer of architectural and traditional antiques, and some salvage, because the owners decided it was more profitable than just wrecking.

Unlike the used auto parts business, where buyers can find a particular part almost instantly,<

Recycling The Past - Architectural Salvage
381 North Main Street, Barnegat, NJ 08005

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