The house, which will receive historic distinction if the city council votes to approve it on Dec. 13, was always the place Robin visited each Sunday.
"While I didn't live here all the time, I visited here every Sunday and lived here for a short time," she recalled.
A history of a place is often defined by the people who live there, and though the house at 104-106 Eighth Street has great significance to the City of Bayonne, for Robin the house is a family legacy.
A long history
Recommended for distinction by the Bayonne Historic Preservation Commission, the house is seen as playing an important role in the Bayonne as one of the three local homes built for the Depestres family - a wealthy Caribbean merchant family who moved to the New York area from Havana in the 1870s.
Edmund DePestre purchased the property in 1971. He apparently had the house built for himself and his family between 1871 and 1973. This was a particularly interesting neighborhood since a descendant of Benjamin Franklin lived across the street and the nearby Eighth Street Train Station allowed DePestre easy access to New York.
From 1915 to 1963, the property was owned by various members of the O'Brien family. Thomas M. O'Brien was a well-known funeral director who owned many lots in Bayonne, and members of the O'Brien family have operated funeral homes in Bayonne for more than a century.
Robin's grandparents, Hyman and Ida Zeik purchased the house in 1963.
The Zeik family was already significant for many reasons. They originated from Minsk in the Russian Empire. One of their family members, Peter Zeik, participated in the construction of the Holland Tunnel and other projects. Hyman's Uncle, Jack Barton, reportedly sponsored Charlie Chaplin's emigration to United States.
Hyman Zeik was a builder who served as Real Estate Director for the city of Bayonne and was also a member of the Industrial Commission - a predecessor to the Bayonne Economic Development Corporation. Ida Picker Zeik was a teacher, principal and cultural leader in Bayonne, who served on the boards of numerous educational organizations in the city, state and nation. This apparently ran in her family, since the Pickers were involved in many commercial enterprises ranging from an X-ray company to diamond mines.
Hyman and Ida died in 1993, leaving the property to Robin's mother, Myra, who made history in her own right. She was selected to act in "Our Gang" and "The Little Rascals" films as a young child, and then later served as a financial advisor to the National Committee to Declare War on Drugs.
"My mother went out to Hollywood," Robin said. "She was a Shirley Temple look-a-like although my mother's curls were real."
Robin said her mother's acting career was cut short by her grandparents, who decided to give Myra "a normal life" here in Bayonne.
When Myra died in 2005, Robin came back to a house full of memories and history.
"I was a little resentful at having to live in the city," she said. "I never wanted to become a slave to the house."
Yet she could not ignore history or the memories, those Sundays when she came to the house to visit her family, and that short time when she and her mother moved back from Liberty Corners with her siblings, 30 basset hounds and horses.
"My mother used to turn the hose on when the dogs started barking at the milkman," she recalled. "I remember one dog, Lemonade, who could not get up the stairs so my brothers rigged up a milk crate for and elevator to bring the dog upstairs and let her down again."
For Robin, historic preservation of the house also means a place in history for her family members.
"They helped build this city and I do not want them to be forgotten," she said.
The Picker family line for instance was one of the first 10 Jewish families to move into Bayonne. Some of her family members built the first hotel in Bayonne. Some owned significant lots of land."
"My grandfather was in show business, and his hotel provided many people in entertainment with a place to live and rehearse," she added. Her family also provided venues for some of the most famous boxers of the time.
The Historic Preservation Commission recommended historic distinction for several important reasons. The house is a fine example of the Second Empire or French Mansard style of architecture, typical of homes built in Bayonne in the 1860s and 1870s for doctors, lawyers, bankers, brokers and merchants. The exterior of the house has retained its original 19th Century features, covered with original cedar shakes and original sawed ornamental gingerbread trim around the roof line, windows and porch. The roof includes the original slate shingles and original skylight. The property also includes the original flagstone and two step ways leading to the property. The brick foundation is also original.
The interior of the house closed resembles that of French-styled cottages that were advertised in the Bayonne Herald in 1871 and the house retains the original hot air and gas pipes as well as marble mantles, ornamental moldings and wooden doors.
Robin said she is working to restore much of the house to what it once was, even doing much of the plastering herself.
"I'm restoring it a little at a time," she said.
The process, of course, keeps her family's memory fresh in her mind, and she recalls those Sundays here and thinks of just how beautiful the neighborhood was.
"It has the feeling of a home by the sea," she said. "Sometimes when I sit in the living room I can almost feel the beach outside."
People from time to time remind her of the value of the house.
"It doesn't matter how much the house is worth because I'm never going to sell it," she said. "My grandmother and mother spent the rest of their lives here. Once I said I would never do that. Now I know I will, and I hope when my daughter is ready, she might live here, too."