PRINCE’S BAY — The city is suing the owner of one of Staten Island's oldest houses for letting the property fall into disrepair and then blaming the damage on Hurricane Sandy.
The historic Manee-Seguine Homestead at 509 Seguine Ave., which was built in the 1670s, has a large hole in its roof and a crumbling chimney that the owner has failed to repair, the Landmarks Preservation Commission said in papers filed April 22 in Staten Island Supreme Court.
Leonard Tallo, who owns Intrepid Construction, bought the building in 2009 and told the LPC that he would get the building into shape. But the court papers claim he's failed to do so.
“Defendants have failed to maintain this building in a condition of good repair, despite repeated requests to do so over the past three years by Landmarks,” the suit said.
“Because of the neglect... the structural integrity of this landmark building has been compromised and there is an on-going significant deterioration of its important character-defining architectural features.”
Andrew Lenza, Tallo's lawyer, told the city that the homestead was severely damaged by Sandy, that it was “red-tagged” by the Department of Buildings and that it was slated for demolition, the court papers said.
But when workers from Landmarks went to see the destruction, they found no evidence that the storm surge even reached the historic home, the suit said.
Nick Matranga, 43, who started the Friends of Abraham Manee-Seguine Homestead, said his group has tried since 2010 to coordinate with Tallo to help restore the dilapidated home, free of charge, but Tallo was unresponsive.
“We’ve been doing our best to work with the owner,” Matranga said. “We’ve offered free services. We've offered to help him stabilize the house. It just never materialized.”
A representative from Landmarks said the agency does not comment on pending court cases.
Tallo could not be reached for a comment, and his lawyer declined to comment.
Matranga, who also serves on the board of the Preservation League of Staten Island, said he started a petition in 2006 to try to restore the home because of its historical value.
“It’s an important structure — it would be sad to see that collapse,” he said. “It represents the origins of our commercial fishing industry here in America, and it’s symbolic of the oyster farming industry.”
The house was built by French Huguenot protestants who came to Staten Island to escape religious persecution. It was later left to Abraham Manee.
Manee put an addition on it in the 1700s, and left it to the Seguine family when he died, according to the Landmarks designation.
The Seguine family farmed oysters near the home until pollution hit the waters of Prince’s Bay. The homestead was sold, then used as a hotel during the 19th century.
It was made a landmark building in 1984 and is one of just a few pre-1750 buildings left on Staten Island, the suit said.
Matranga said he wished Landmarks and his group were able to work with Tallo to fix up the house and they didn’t have to sue.
“It’s just a great asset to the community and the neighborhood,” Matranga said. “It would just be a great loss if the house collapsed.”