The Lauriston Estate in Rumson Borough is an 1870 Colonial Revival mansion, designed by New York and Red Bank architect Leon Cubberly as the summer home for banker Henry A. Caesar and his wife, Laura Unger Caesar. It is the only residential building in Rumson listed on the National Historic Register of Historic Places, and it is also registered with the Rumson Borough Historic Preservation Commission. The house represents a formative era in Rumson when wealthy New York bankers and industrialists began taking the train or steamboat to summer in the Borough.
The 10,000-square-foot seasonal home named for Laura Caesar was built on 39-acres between Osprey Lane and Tuxedo Road, and remained in the family until Laura Caesar’s death in 1942. The estate then moved through several owners, was subdivided in the 1950s, and currently sits among six acres of well-landscaped gardens. Cubberly designed the rectangular home in the predominant Colonial Revival style of that era, while also incorporating Italianate elements, giving the building the overarching style of Italian Renaissance Revival. It is grand and includes a marble foyer and spacious entrance hall leading to a unique dual bowed staircase – just one of many outstanding architectural features. The ceilings, wood paneling, molding, the porches and oversized windows, the large spaces for entertaining, including an oversized banquet room, all reflect the grandeur of the era it was constructed. In the living room, a built-in, glass-fronted, locking bookcase to display artwork and a large marble fireplace.
Lauriston is currently at the center of an affordable housing settlement agreement that has given rise to a non-profit group formed in February – Rumson Open Space and Affordable Housing Inc. (ROSAH) – that is backed by Rumson homeowners. In a lawsuit in state Superior Court in Monmouth County ROSAH sued Rumson Borough, accusing it of violating state open meetings laws when it negotiated a controversial affordable housing plan the council adopted in January 2020. One element of the adopted plan would allow replacement of the 10,635-square-foot, 12-bedroom mansion with six new structures resembling carriage houses that together would contain up to 16 luxury townhouses. The developer involved in the settlement said he considered adapting Lauriston, but stated that the home has greatly deteriorated; thus refurbishing and adapting it into separate units is not economically feasible.
The plight of the Lauriston Estate is reflective of a larger issue related to the State’s refusal to actively manage its obligation to ensure the creation of adequate and safe affordable housing. Under former Governor Christie’s administration, the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) repeatedly failed to adopt sufficient rules to govern municipal compliance with affordable housing law. Preservation New Jersey fully supports the creation of affordable housing, and believes that Rumson should provide its fair share. Without a functioning COAH office or rules; however, developers and municipalities are now beholden to the courts to regulate affordable housing obligations. As with Lauriston Estate, this has led to haphazard implementation that is not based in sound planning, and is often not in compliance with the municipality’s Master Plan and ordinances. So long as the State of New Jersey continues to allow the courts to implement affordable housing policy, Preservation New Jersey fears that other historic resources will be at risk of demolition.