2007: Although originally prepared to demolish the Polhemus House, the Newark Museum has now made plans to include it as part of a just-announced multi-million dollar expansion around its present buildings. The house will remain in situ and will probably be used as a gallery. As a first step, the museum has received a $50,000 grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust (NJHT), which will be used to prepare a Historic Structure Report.
6/2008: An emergency grant, also from NJHT, is being used to resolve water infiltration issues in the building.
7/2010: The Polhemus House remains vacant, but has received some exterior treatment for protection from the elements. It will be one of the first structures to be treated in the museum’s ambitious expansion plan, announced in 2007. The museum plans to develop some new galleries of decorative arts on the lower floors, and use the upstairs rooms for administration. The exterior will be completely rehabbed and ornamental ironwork restored or replaced, and the fine interior plaster and wood trim will be returned to its original condition. The Polhemus House is seen by many as one of the biggest victories for preservation in Newark in many years.
10/2011: The fate of the Polhemus House has taken a turn for the worst. Last month, the Newark Museum released extensive studies of the Polhemus House completed by Building Conservation Associates and Robert Silman Associates. These studies determined that the Polhemus House is an imminent hazard and must be stabilized immediately. Demolition of an adjacent building revealed severe deterioration at Polhemus. Some conditions are attributed to inadequate maintenance, however, much of the deterioration also results from original construction defects. Emergency stabilization of the building is estimated $2 million – work that cannot wait, but money that the museum currently does not have. The museum applied this month to the NJ Historic Sites Council and the Newark Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission to demolish the Polhemus House. Both applications were reluctantly approved. The NLHPC and the NJ HSC have required mitigation in the form of documentation, an exhibit, and interpretive signage, and have refused to allow demolition prior to review and approval of a landscape plan for the vacant lot and a salvage plan for significant architectural elements. Hence, we can hope that the building will not be forgotten. But nothing can replace a historic building. The demolition of the Polhemus House will constitute a tragic loss to the James Street Commons Historic District and the city of Newark. Read the full story on the PNJ blog>>
Construction began in 1859 on this four-story, brick and brownstone building in downtown Newark. Not ready for occupation until 1864, it may have been the first home in the city with indoor plumbing, gaslight, and a dumbwaiter. The House contains stained glass windows, two handsome staircases, rosewood and mahogany woodwork, and fireplaces throughout. It contributes to the James Street Commons Historic District, which is important to the city as a residential neighborhood proximate to downtown.
The City leases the property to the Newark Museum, who have neglected it. The building remains substantially intact but its brick façade is covered with peeling paint, the wooden cornice has been removed, and pieces are missing from the iron front steps. Speculation is that the museum wants to demolish or remove the building so it can expand.
The Historic James Street Commons Neighborhood Association and the Essex County Executive have called for the building‘s rehabilitation because of its importance in telling Newark’s story.
Doug Eldridge, Newark Landmarks & Preservation Committee
PO Box 1066
Newark, NJ 07101