The Fort Lee Historical Society Creates Petition Against Demolition of Saloon

Rambo's Saloon, better known to locals as Gus Becker's, faces demolition.

The Fort Lee Historical Society met Tuesday to discuss petitioning the Mayor and Council and the Fort Lee Zoning Board of Adjustment to save Rambo's Saloon, a house dating back to the Civil War era, from demolition. Rambo's, better known to locals as Gus Becker's, is located on First Street in the Coytesville section of Fort Lee.

Because of its prominent role as a site location in the early film industry that once dominated Fort Lee, the saloon is listed on the Bergen County Register of Historic Buildings. However, according to Tom Meyers, founder and Executive Director of the Fort Lee Film Commission and founder of The Fort Lee Historic Committee and member of The Fort Lee Historical Society, that designation offers no real protection from demolition.

"Despite its designation as an historical building on the County's register, the only way that building could have been preserved is through more stringent local zoning laws," Meyers said.

Still, The Fort Lee Historical Society met Tuesday to talk about the petition they have created to try and save the building from demolition. The petition, created by Historical Society President Donna Brennan, will be delivered to both the Mayor and Council and the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Meyers said that the significance of the building lies in the fact that it was used as a film location in many films, a dressing room area, and meeting place for many of the early film pioneers and studios when Fort Lee was the first American film town.  

D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, Mack Sennett and many other film pioneers developed the American film industry in their work on this property and inside this structure, Meyers said. 

"This is the most important surviving building in the Borough of Fort Lee that was used during Fort Lee's days as the first American film town and this building helped give birth to the American film industry," the petition reads.

The building is in the midst of a private sale with a developer who has filed plans with the Fort Lee Building Department to demolish the structure in order to erect a two-family house.   

Members of The Fort Lee Historical Society said that they will be present at Thursday's meeting of the Mayor and Council to bring this matter to their attention.

Editor's update: The attorney of record is Robert Montecallo and the applicant is Joseph Romano. They are scheduled to appear at the March 19 meeting of the Zoning Board at 7:30 pm in the council chambers of Borough Hall.

The property is located in an R 3-A zone which is a residential zone primarily consisting of one and two family attached and semi-detached homes. Among the variances being sought by the applicant are height, building coverage, and side and rear yard variances.

Click here to sign the petition.

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Martha Cohen March 13, 2013 at 03:07 PM
Here are a few key questions. Is this area already zoned for two family homes? Who is the developer that has filed? Who is the attorney representing the developer? Do you know the bank that will finance this?
Jerry Wish March 13, 2013 at 03:14 PM
Martha the developer is probably one of the mayor's clients, like the rest of the applicant that appear before the local boards. More importantly, why are we saving a house that has been renovated and does not even look like the original structure, Even the location of the front has been moved, If you save this house the town will lose income from the taxes.
Tom Meyers March 13, 2013 at 03:38 PM
The fact remains this house though renovated re the exterior is the original structure. It was built in 1867. Film historian Paul Gierucki recently sent us a film he found from 1912, one fo the first Keystone Studio films that was shot on the exterior of this building.."A Grocery Clerk's Romance." The building remains on the County Register of Historic Sites re the County of Bergen. And removing this house and replacing it with a mammoth 2-family duplex in five years will create a negative ratable meaning the borough will be spending more on services for this property than receiving in taxes. We have toured many European and American film histrians and documentary filmmakers a round this property and they have shot footage of the exterior, most recently a French film company this past November. This building remains one of the most important sites re early American film history in this nation that still stands and the fact that it sits across the street from a school it would make sense to save it as it could become a wonderful spot to bring students to educate them about this important part of our history. The applicant would need a variance to construct this 2-family even in this zone according to the plans available for the public to view in Borough Hall.
The Thorn March 13, 2013 at 04:06 PM
The house is currently a two family home. The bar doesn't even exist anymore. Tommy give it up already, Fort Lee is never going to be a Hollywood.
Steve Pumilia March 13, 2013 at 04:34 PM
Let the people decide, does Fort Lee really need another 2 family home? The history must be preserved, once lost it can never be recovered. The history and enrichment will only be kept in people's memory until they are gone and then it is lost forever. Don't let "the thorns" of the world throw our forefathers hard work and actions to the curb forever.
Steve Pumilia March 13, 2013 at 04:41 PM
For those of you wanting to sign the petition you can do it below http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/for-anyone-who-loves-film-and-film-history/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=Petition
Fort Lee Truth March 13, 2013 at 05:59 PM
Considering the age, the house does still look very much as it does in the photo above, contrary to one of the posts. While I understood why the Barrymore house and the Fort Lee Athletic Club couldn't be "saved", I fully support the Historical Society in their efforts to save this house. These monstrosities that are being built in town look awful....do we really need another one? Let's actually try to preserve one piece of Fort Lee history while we can. Tom, please keep us posted on any developments (positive or negative). PS- All of Martha Cohen's questions are legit, and would have liked to have seen them in the article. If the editor can this info in a subsequent post, it would be greatly appreciated (or if a fellow poster is aware).
Cindy M March 13, 2013 at 07:34 PM
Give 'em hell Tommy!
Tom Meyers March 13, 2013 at 07:55 PM
Will keep all updated via posts as will Donna Brennan the President of the Fort Lee Historical Society who created the online petition. We hope to have people speak at upcoming Mayor & Council meetings on the value of saving this history and also in amending the borough Master Plan to prevent what little history we have left from being bulldozed, and that includes the current Fort Lee Museum building in the old Judge Moore House. Though the town owns it future governing bodies could decide to ell or demolish that 1922 palisade bluestone building unless we amend the MAster Plane and local zoning laws to protect this structure. Regardless of National Register or County Register designations, buildings can only be saved via local zoning laws unless federal dollars are involved in the structure. The Fort Lee Historic Committee has been working for the last several years to get such a change in our zoning and the matter will soon be before the Mayor & Council.
Ann Piccirillo March 13, 2013 at 09:25 PM
Thank you Fort Lee Truth. I have been trying to obtain this information since yesterday and I have just been able to do so. I have also had an opportunity to review the plans and I will be posting photos of them shortly. The attorney of record is Robert Montecallo and the applicant is Joseph Romano. They are scheduled to appear at the March 19 meeting of the Zoning Board at 7:30 pm in the council chambers of Borough Hall.
Fort Lee Truth March 13, 2013 at 10:06 PM
@Ann, Thank you for the follow-up information, it is greatly appreciated.
Rona March 13, 2013 at 11:53 PM
Tend to agree with your comments regarding the house/ex saloon. One thing I would like to add is all the variance allowances the town has forever given to developers for 2 family duplexes is ridiculous. The town has codes for a reason if your going to build them at least conform to the codes as written. If not, all we're doing is adding barely landscaped houses with no side front or backyards that double density per site, add more kids to our already overburdened schools, and give developers huge gross profits averaging 30-40% of their sales prices. If developers want to get variances let the town charge an impact fee tax on them. What does the town get from the new structures otherwise?
William Mays March 14, 2013 at 12:36 AM
Don't we already have enough Duplexes? How greedy can these developers get?
Rona March 14, 2013 at 04:58 AM
As greedy as the zoning & planning boards allow them to be. Time to take some back if they get built the town should get impact fees. But I suspect too many "comfortable arrangements" exist.
Thomas A Bennett March 14, 2013 at 12:44 PM
I don't want to keep talking about my losing try for Council but, the current situation demands that I do say something. When I ran, one of the questions were about when will the building stop. My reply remains the same now as it was then. We have at least four members of the Mayor and Council who in involved in real estate. As long as they are there we will have more and more building. As to the Rambo or Gus Beckers property, I am one who actually has been in Gus Beckers and han an ice cold beer there. Bars are bars and I wouldn't save just any bar but this one is steeped in history of our town. The Fort Lee Mayor and Council is slowly removing our history piece by piece for money. It seems that, if the developers don't want to spend the money, no problem. The borough will buy it and give it to them. Just like they did with property on Main Street. Now the taxes are up and they are surprised. First, Martha Washington Way next Rambo's and who knows, maybe they will develope Monument Park or Firemen's Park, or even Constitution Park. Piece by piece they are selling off Fort Lee's history and the people are letting them, don't let them.
Graham March 14, 2013 at 04:33 PM
Seriously when does it end? When every parcel of land in Fort Lee has a cookie cutter duplex sitting on it? So we're going to lose the tax income this one property produces? SO WHAT? Whatever tax revenue another piece of crap duplex generates cannot possibly justify destroying one of the few remaining pieces of our history we have left. Hell, even if there was no historical value to this structure, I still wouldn't want to see it go if only because it breaks the monotony. The people of Fort Lee should fight this tooth and nail. We need to draw the line.
Tom Meyers March 14, 2013 at 09:14 PM
Here is our chance for our voices to be heard to save Fort Lee history - please attend any of these meetings you can! And also petition for a change in the zoning laws to protect the few remaining historic structures in town including the Fort Lee Museum. Help us Save the historic Rambo's Hotel on First Street in Fort Lee - a key film history site. This house will be demolished unless we work now and attend the meetings below - upcoming meeting dates are: Mayor & Council: Public Meetings - all in municipal courtroom at Borough Hall 309 Main Street, 1st floor - parking in rear of building. March 14 (tonight) @ 8 PM April 11th @ 8 PM May 9th @ 8 PM June 13th @ 8 PM Fort Lee Zoning Board of Adjustment - meets at 7 :30 PM all in municipal courtroom at Borough Hall 309 Main Street, 1st floor - parking in rear of building. March 19th April 9th April 23rd May 14th May 28th June 11 June 25
JohnJay March 15, 2013 at 05:47 AM
I FEEL AS THE THORN IS ANOTHER WORD FOR PAIN IN THE ASS, Some people believe in keeping historic landmarks as they will and should be preserved why else DOES THE STATE HAVE HISTORIC sites throughout the state let alone the country ?? Why is the Lincoln memorial in D OF C Historic ?
JohnJay March 15, 2013 at 05:51 AM
Exactly, I think years ago I threw a thorn under a # 9 bus on Linwood ave and it was fun, I didn't realize its still here ?
JohnJay March 15, 2013 at 05:53 AM
Except for the awesome old refrigerated Coke machine by the door, with the old style bottle cap popper.
Shawn Kelly March 15, 2013 at 11:29 PM
Its a shame but I think the people who are against saving this building must not remember what the town used to look like. Perhaps they have no roots there? The last few decades I have watched piece by piece be leveled and carted away in a dumpster. A lot of them my own families houses. While I understand you can't save the world how about saving some of the towns history? This is critical. Other towns have lost buildings here and there but by God Fort Lee is damn near vanishing! And it usually is not for the better. Look at the Rupp house on Main St...or the beautiful stone carriage house behind Frank Patti's? You think those areas look better? Truthfully...I almost question how shocked I would be if they pulled out the headstones in Madonna Cemetery and planted townhouses. Some things change over the years but what has happened to Fort Lee in the last 30+ years is a disgrace. It is losing its identity. Sometimes there is a value higher than the dollar. Put a stop to it now...its almost too late.


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