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Rockville Centre aims to preserve historical charm of neighborhood homes

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Folklorist and architectural historian Nancy Solomon has viewed many historical homes in communities around Long Island, but Rockville Centre has the largest percentage of well-preserved older homes that she has ever seen. Solomon, director of Long Island Traditions, recently completed the first phase of a reconnaissance-level survey to identify properties worthy of historic preservation, and will present her findings at the village library on Jan. 21.

“Usually, about 30 percent of the historical homes I survey in a community are in good condition,” Solomon said. “In Rockville Centre, about 90 percent of the homes’ façades looked just as good as when they were built. I knew there would be a huge number of historic structures here, but I had no idea how many.”

As part of the survey, which is covered by an $11,200 grant awarded to the Village of Rockville Centre from the Preservation League of New York in July 2018, Solomon examined nearly 850 sites in the village. The survey focused on the area north of Lakeview Avenue and from Peninsula Boulevard to Long Beach Road, ranging from early Victorian-style homes to 1950s Cape Cod-style homes. Many of the homes included are Tudor Revival and Colonial Revival homes built in the 1920s and ‘30s.

“You really see the influence of national trends on a local level,” Solomon said.

The survey also included 10 oral history interviews with current owners and historians. When she visited homes, she said, some people were knowledgeable about their residences, so she asked if she could interview them. “Their stories are fabulous,” Solomon said. “They know a lot about the history of these homes and care about preserving them.”

Solomon examined roughly 50 homes in detail, including the ownership history, historic maps and property records. While conducting the survey, she did her research on the village, reading “A Brief History of Rockville Centre” by Marilyn Devlin, “The History of Rockville Centre” by Preston R. Bassett and Arthur L. Hodges, as well as Doris Kearns Goodwin’s memoir, “Wait Till Next Year,” which details her life growing up in the village in the 1950s.

“Rockville Centre was interesting to me because I knew the Levitt brothers had developed [the Tudor homes] of Strathmore,” Solomon said, referring to the upscale developments found in areas of Rockville Centre, Great Neck and Manhasset. 

Levitt & Sons built about 18 homes in Rockville Centre by 1929, nearly two decades before the creation of Levittown’s mass-produced suburban homes.

Based in Port Washington, Long Island Traditions is a nonprofit organization that documents local architecture and seeks to preserve buildings as well as cultures through documentation, education and advocacy. Houses built at least 50 years ago were considered for the survey on the basis of façade, floor plans and features such as windows and roofs.

The goal, Solomon said, is to determine how many historical homes the village has, and then develop a strategy for preservation that reflects the community’s social and economic history. The second phase will focus on the area south of Lakeview Avenue. 

“This is just the first phase of a long-term project,” Solomon said. 

On Tuesday, at 7 p.m., Solomon will present her findings — which will include historic and contemporary photographs of the village, excerpts from selected interviews and recommendations for community involvement in the village’s preservation task force  — at the Rockville Centre Library community room.

The Preserve New York Grant Program is a signature grant program of the New York State Council on the Arts and the Preservation League of New York State. The grant program enables the Preservation League to support arts centers, historic sites, music halls, theaters, libraries and other cultural not-for-profit or municipal entities that steward historic buildings in each of New York’s 62 counties.

“This grant not only serves as a form of civic pride, but it plays a critical role in helping our village to live on, by maintaining architectural and cultural resources in a way that celebrates our history,” Mayor Francis X. Murray said. “I encourage all residents to come out and learn more about our great village that will help us work towards a sustainable future that protects the important reminders of our past and educates future generations.”