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ROUND TWO FOR FORTUNE HOUSE

fortune-house1A ‘for sale’ was planted out front of the T. Thomas Fortune House on Drs. James Parker Boulevard last week. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Four years after a historic Red Bank house was spared a possible meeting with the steel maw of a bulldozer, the T. Thomas Fortune house is back on the market at a sharply reduced price.

Though the house and acre of land it sits on have been available to buyers on and off for years, vandalism prompted the owners to plant a ‘for sale’ sign on the lawn last week, reigniting worries of preservationists. They fear the the three-story, Second Empire-style home to post-Civil War black newspaperman and activist T. Thomas Fortune might be razed.

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HISTORIC MIDDLETOWN HOUSE UP FOR SALE

nathaniel-smith-houseBuilt in Massachusetts in the early 1700s and relocated to Middletown in 1962, the former Nathaniel Smith House features exposed-rafter ceilings, as in the library, below. (Click to enlarge)

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It took historic preservationist Mary Lou Strong more than a week to get back to redbankgreen after we called recently to inquire about her Middletown home going on the market.

She apologized for the delay, and said she simply wanted to be sure she could talk about it without crying.

It’s not just that the house – located on a tongue-tip of land bound by Navesink River Road and the anchorage to the Oceanic Bridge – is where Strong and her husband, George, raised three kids. Or that it’s filled with cherished antiques collected over a lifetime.

It’s that the house, built in Massachusetts before the United States was born, is itself the manifestation of the couple’s shared values when it comes to keeping history alive. And who knows if the next owner will want to bulldoze it into oblivion?

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BASIE WINS NATIONAL HISTORY DESIGNATION

A time-lapse video captured the interior renovation work on the Count Basie Theatre in 2008. Below, a detail of an organ loft grille.

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

More than a year after it lifted the curtain on nearly $8 million in improvements, the Count Basie Theatre should have an easier time moving forward with its ongoing spruce job thanks  its latest accomplishment: making it onto the National Register of Historic Places.

The Red Bank landmark was named to the list two days before Christmas, a culmination of at least a year’s worth of work by the theater’s Board of Trustees to get the 83-year-old former Vaudeville and silent film venue added, said Hugh Ward, a trustee.

“Pretty nice Christmas present, huh?” Ward said.

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IN oRBit: OUNCES OF PREVENTION

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Today’s Red Bank oRBit has a preview of a benefit concert happening Friday night at the Two River Theater — a fundraiser for the Monmouth County-based nonprofit Prevention First and its slate of programs designed to stave off the effects of violence and substance abuse in our local communities.

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Given the organization’s focus on youth, it’s only fitting that they’ve assembled a concert ticket that spotlights some of the most awesomely talented teenaged performers on the Shore’s famous music scene — a ticket headlined by Quincy Mumford (right), the high school senior who’s received raves for musical sophistication and beyond-his-years wisdom. We talked to the busy Quincy (he played three gigs in three places last Saturday), who shares the stage with a pair of Red Bank Regional students — Cara Salimando and recent grad Phoebe Holiday Ryan — both of whom you’ve met in our pixelated pages.

Before all that, however, a reminder about tonight’s special reception and lecture on T. Thomas Fortune, going on at the Red Bank Public Library, where an exhibit of Fortune-related memorabilia continues into September. It’s a rare look at the influential work of the famous African American journalist and editor, who lived in the now-historic Fortune House in the early years of the 20th century, and we’ve got the details up here, where the air is cool and clean, in oRBit!

NO-BIG-MISFORTUNE HOUSE

Fortune_house_808The former home of African-American journalist T. Thomas Fortune is safe — for now, that is.

There’s demolition work underway at the historic Fortune house property on Drs. James Parker Boulevard, but no reason to be alarmed, says unofficial Red Bank historian George Bowden, who’s been fighting to preserve the place.

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THIS ONE TAKES THE CAKE

RbcakeEd Zipprich’s civic-minded dessert, complete with iceboat logo.

Turns out Red Bank’s centennial did not go completely overlooked this weekend.

River Road resident Ed Zipprich and his partner, JP Nicolaides, threw a little party for neighbors and friends that featured the cake shown above.

In response to our posting earlier today — in which we asked “Where’s the cake?” — Zipprich tells us, via an email, “I have the birthday cake.”

(Doesn’t quite have the dark resonance of “I drink your milkshake,” but hey, it’s a party.)

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SLEDGER SPOTLIGHTS FORTUNE HOUSE

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Today’s Sunday Star-Ledger has an extensive piece about the black activist journalist T. (Timothy) Thomas Fortune and the effort to save his longtime Red Bank home from the wrecking ball — or, as the article’s author puts it, “from predatory developers.”

The story’s not online; so far, it appears only in the print version’s Perspective section.

Authored by Claire Serant, a journalism professor at St. John’s University, the article notes that Fortune was born a slave in 1856, wrote for the white-owned New York Sun — “which was no small feat in the late 1800s” — and helped found a predecessor organization to the NAACP.

He also founded three national newspapers. One of them, the New York Age, “was the most widely read black newspaper of the era,” Serant writes. And he used the term “Afro-Americans” to denote black people at the time when ‘colored’ and ‘Negro’ were the standards.

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NO SALE FOR FORTUNE HOUSE, FOR NOW

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A proposed deal that would have put the historic T. Thomas Fortune house into the hands of developers is dead for now, redbankgreen has learned.

Real estate broker Geoff Brothers, who is handling the sale, confirmed that the would-be buyers, who have not been publicly identified, have withdrawn their offer.

George Bowden, chairman of the Red Bank Historic Preservation Commission, said the demise of the deal is, “in many respects, happy news.

“We’ve been sweating that one out for months,” he said.

Preservationists earlier this year won a key historic designation for the house, which was owned and occupied early in the 20th century by Fortune, a pioneering African-American journalist.

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HISTORY v. AFFORDABLE HOUSING?

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The prospective buyers of the historic T. Thomas Fortune house property want to develop the site into affordable housing, according to a press release from the borough Historic Preservation Commission.

The names of the would-be buyers have yet to be disclosed, and this is the first we’re hearing of what they’ve got planned for the site, at 94 Drs. James Parker Boulevard.

If the report is true, though, the plan would appear to pit the historians against preservationists of another stripe: those who want to keep the West Side an affordable place to live.

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ZIPPRICH LANDS NATIONAL ENDORSEMENT

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The race is on.

The first press release (that we know of, at least) in this year’s race for Red Bank council has Democrat Ed Zipprich landing the endorsement of Democracy for America, a Burlington, Vt.-based political action committee founded by former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean. (Download zipprich_dfa_endorsement.doc)

Zipprich is seeking the one-year unexpired term created with the resignation in January of Kaye Ernst, and will line up againts seat holder Grace Cangemi.

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WARM WELCOME AT ICE BOAT CLUBHOUSE

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Preservation Red Bank, a private-sector organization that works to allow old buildings to keep getting older, will hold its annual meeting this Sunday in one of the borough’s oldest — a place that all but creaks with character.

The group will meet at 4p at the clubhouse of the North Shrewsbury Ice Boat and Yacht Club, next door to the Monmouth Boat Club on Union Street.

For nonmembers, a peek inside the clubhouse is a “somewhat unusual” opportunity, says past Commodore William Comella.

“It’s like going back in time to the 1880s,” adds George Bowden, a PRB officer and chairman of the Red Bank Historic Preservation Committee.

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THE ‘ENERGIZER BUNNY’ OF PRESERVATION

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Considering its dire implications, the news earlier this month that a Red Bank house had been had been designated one of New Jersey’s 10 most endangered historic sites was oddly encouraging to a near-octagenarian with a weatherbeaten voice and fu manchu straight out of the ’60s.

Oddly, that is, because inclusion on the list put together by Preservation New Jersey provides no guarantees that the house will be saved. It offers no legal leverage against a present or future owner who might decide to knock the house down. There’s no money in it, either.

In sum, the appellation is as toothless as a newborn.

Yet George Bowden was ecstatic. He’d known that the house, once the home of pioneering African-American newspaperman T. (Timothy) Thomas Fortune, might land on the list, but asked that that not be publicized until it was official, after which “we can blow it sky high,” he told redbankgreen with characteristic enthusiasm.

Once it was announced, Bowden started making plans to leverage the endorsement of historians across the state. He began planning outreach to community groups, leaders of African-American congregations — he’s even reached out to Oprah. Whatever it takes to get the word out.

“You can try to prevent it through the press, or local support,” he says, “but there’s no legal groundwork for preventing demolition.”

“He’s like the Energizer bunny,” says Ed Zipprich, a candidate for council this year who serves on the borough’s Historical Preservation Commission that Bowden heads.

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FORTUNE HOUSE’S GOOD FORTUNE, FOR NOW

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The T. Thomas Fortune House, home to one of America’s first African-American newspaper publishers — and coiner of the term ‘African-American’ — is among New Jersey’s 10 most endangered historic locales, a statewide conservation group said yesterday.

The inclusion of the house by Preservation New Jersey is the latest in a series of designations granted to the structure at 94 Drs. James Parker Boulevard. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and to a comparable New Jersey list three years later.

Still, like the designations that came before it, the latest one conveys no special status should the current or a future owner of the property decide to tear it down. And that possibility has Red Bank history buffs on edge because the house is up for sale by its longtime owners, the Vaccarelli family.

“It doesn’t give us any leverage to stop a demolition,” says George Bowden, chairman of the borough’s Historic Preservation Committee. “But the concern is there. This is one we don’t want to go down the tubes.”

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