PRESERVATION NEW JERSEY ANNOUNCES THE 10 MOST ENDANGERED HISTORIC PLACES LIST FOR 2019
Courtenay Mercer, Executive Director
TRENTON, NJ – In recognition of national Preservation Month, Preservation New Jersey, Inc. (PNJ) announced its annual list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in New Jersey at a press conference in the courtyard of the State House Annex in Trenton, New Jersey at 10:00 AM on Thursday, May 16, 2019. PNJ was joined by the advocates for this year’s endangered historic places at a rally to support New Jersey’s threatened cultural and architectural heritage.
The 10 Most Endangered Historic Places program spotlights irreplaceable historic, architectural, cultural, and archaeological resources in New Jersey that are in imminent danger of being lost. The act of listing these resources acknowledges their importance to the heritage of New Jersey and draws attention to the predicaments that endanger their survival and the survival of historic resources statewide. The list, generated from nominations by the public, aims to attract new perspectives and ideas to sites in desperate need of creative solutions.
Several challenges face properties on this year’s endangered sites list, including neglect and deferred maintenance, threats incurred by redevelopment and new construction, difficulties raising adequate historic preservation funding, and the need for creative adaptive reuse proposals. Half of the sites on this year’s list are owned by government, highlighting a recurring theme of neglect by entities entrusted by the public with the care of our historic resources. The causes of endangerment among government properties vary from prolonged deferred maintenance, to damage by forces of nature, to a general lack of awareness or respect for the resource. In all cases, insufficient financial resources are a root problem, hindering government from adequately maintaining and protecting their historic resources.
As we acknowledge each year, selections to the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list are based on the likelihood that historic buildings and places can be brought back to useful and productive life. PNJ proudly points to many properties previously listed among the 10 Most Endangered that have now been saved and preserved or rehabilitated and have once again become character-defining and economy-boosting assets to New Jersey’s communities. As we announce this year’s list, we are encouraged by the Borough of Metuchen’s recent announcement that it is under contract to buy the Forum Theatre, which was included on our list in 2016. The borough plans to incorporate a rehabilitated Forum Theatre into a new Metuchen Arts District that will include a restaurant and other spaces to enjoy the arts. Although PNJ’s 10 Most Endangered Properties list is published once per year, the fight for the preservation of our historic and cultural resources is daily, and the news of the Metuchen Theatre is evidence that bringing awareness of such threats can bring about creative solutions.
Selections to the 2019 10 Most Endangered list are based on three criteria:
- historic significance and architectural integrity,
- the critical nature of the threat identified, and
- the likelihood that inclusion on the list will have a positive impact on efforts to protect the resource
The 2019 Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in NJ List:
East Point Lighthouse, Township of Maurice River, Cumberland County
- East Point Lighthouse, built in 1849, is the second oldest existing lighthouse in New Jersey. While it underwent a full restoration just two years ago with state and federal funding assistance, it is under threat by the ravages of nature. Sitting on an outcropping of land where the Maurice River enters the Delaware Bay in Cumberland County, unfortunately, the mouth of the river and the adjacent bayshore are rapidly eroding and tidal waters are now threatening the lighthouse. The erosion has already washed out the protective dunes and the stewards of the lighthouse are left with sandbag brigades in a futile attempt to hold back tidal waters and storm surge. While the site owner, the State of New Jersey, is currently studying mitigation alternatives, they need to act more expediently to protect this National and State Register of Historic Places listed site before it is gone forever.
- Historic firehouses are unique and iconic structures that represent civic commitment to protect and serve the community in times of need. Our nation’s firehouses began to be purpose-built in the 19th century, and in a few cases earlier. As emergency services evolved, so too has equipment. Today’s fire engines, ladder trucks, and ambulances are much larger and heavier than their predecessors, and as a result, many historic firehouses cannot fit modern emergency equipment. Communities often respond by re-locating stations, or demolishing historic stations and constructing new. This has created a preservation crisis as these significant buildings of a community’s past are being abandoned or disappearing entirely. We see a recent example of this in Milltown Borough, where they are currently undergoing a $12 million project to construct a new firehouse and public works facility with no commitment as to the future of the community’s two historic firehouses. We know that these structures can be adaptively reused for a number of functional and interesting purposes, such as libraries, offices, restaurants, bars, and even homes. Preservation New Jersey calls upon communities to think creatively and proactively to seek out new uses and/or owners for these structures, rather than abandon or demolish them.
Isaac Corwin House aka Larison’s Turkey Farm, Borough of Chester, Morris County
- In 1829, James Topping, a master cabinetmaker and owner of an iron mine, purchased the circa 1800 Isaac Corwin House and surrounding 53 acres of land in Chester Borough. While under Topping’s ownership, the simple farmhouse expanded to become a stately home. In 1945, the house and property were sold to Willis Larison and became “Larison’s Turkey Farm Inn.” Through its operation as Larison’s, it became a well-loved roadside landmark known by both residents and visitors to the region. In the name of meeting the town’s affordable housing requirements, however, a developer sued the Chester Borough, who ultimately agreed to the demolition of the Corwin house and another historic structure as part of a settlement. The plight of the Isaac Corwin House is reflective of a larger issue related to the State’s refusal to actively manage its obligation to ensure the creation of adequate affordable housing. Without a functioning Council on Affordable Housing office or rules, developers and municipalities are now beholden to the courts to regulate their affordable housing obligations. 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.
Lackawanna Train Terminal, Township of Montclair, Essex County
- The Lackawanna Train Terminal opened to great acclaim in 1913. Designed by the ill-fated William Hull Botsford, who went down on the Titanic, it served as the terminus of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad between Hoboken and Montclair, which allowed thousands of local residents the ability to commute to New York City in relative comfort and ease until its final run in the 1980s. Having survived two previous demolition attempts, the Lackawanna Train Terminal is now under threat again from a developer who intends to demolish the historic train platform sheds to double the size of the surface parking lot. The Montclair Historic Preservation Commission has attempted to communicate the importance of maintaining the structures within the new site plan; but unfortunately, the Montclair Planning Board approved the site plan including the demolition of a significant portion of the train sheds. Preservation New Jersey supports the view of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission who calls for a more sensitive redevelopment of the site.
Lee Brothers Park Pavilion, Borough of Mount Arlington, Morris County
- The Lee Brothers Park Pavilion, located on Lake Hopatcong, is a unique surviving example of lake-style recreational architecture in New Jersey. Brothers, Clarence J. Lee and Edwin Lee, purchased the 10+-acre property in 1919, when Mount Arlington was a major tourist destination. Originally operating out of small structures on the edge of the lake, the Lee Brothers constructed a new pavilion for the 1924 season. When Clarence Lee’s son decided to retire in 1995, he donated the property to Morris County so that the pavilion and surrounding park land would be preserved and not be subdivided into a lakefront development. Unfortunately, the pavilion has been largely unused and is showing signs of deterioration – so much so that the local Fire Commissioner recently forbade his firefighters from entering the building due to its structural instability. The County has demonstrated its support of this site by including funding for its stabilization over several budget cycles totaling more than $1 million dollars to date; yet, the County has not taken any other steps to ensure the preservation of the building. It is critical that all stakeholders work together to make this unique beloved local historic landmark a priority in its plans for the future of the lake and surrounding area, first by using already allocated funds to stabilize the structure before it is lost forever.
The Park Theater aka The Passion Play Theatre, City of Union, Hudson County
- The Park Theater was erected 1930-1932 as The Passion Play Theatre, named for the increasingly popular annual Lenten performance put on by Holy Family Roman Catholic Church. The Spanish-Renaissance style and Art Deco influenced facility included classrooms, a state-of-the-art stage with a wide screen, an organ, and an orchestra pit worthy of any grand movie palace of its day. Largely vacant, save for a couple caring tenants in former classrooms on the upper floors, the building urgently needs repairs. This is the only theater owned by the Archdiocese of Newark, which has many buildings to maintain with a limited amount of funds. The diocese is open to leasing the building to an outside organization willing to take on the project and make it a destination similar to other restored downtown entertainment venues like the Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City or the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. Someone is needed to champion the cause before this architectural and cultural treasure is lost forever.
Port Colden Manor, Township of Washington, Warren County
- The 1835 Port Colden Manor is the Port Colden Historic District’s largest and most impressive contributing resource. It is an outstanding provincial example of Greek Revival architecture built by William Dusenberry in 1835, who earlier erected Port Colden settlement’s first storehouse on a lot just north of the Morris Canal in 1833. Dusenberry purportedly intended for the large hotel to serve as a summer resort. The building became a boarding school for girls in the mid-18th century, was used for local school district offices for much of the 20th century, and then was converted into professional offices in the 1980s. The current owner has made some minimal repairs while they negotiate with the township for approval to convert the structure into apartments; which at this time, seems to be at an impasse. Preservation New Jersey urges all parties to come to an agreement soon, before deterioration causes irreparable harm to the local landmark.
US Animal Quarantine Station, City of Clifton, Passaic County
- The United States Animal Quarantine Station in the City of Clifton, also known as the “Ellis Island for animals”, was developed between 1900 and 1907 to temporarily isolate foreign animals along the East Coast of the US in order to safeguard the nation’s livestock and poultry against diseases of foreign origin. The Quarantine Station, which when constructed contained 27 buildings, was utilized until the prevalence of air travel in the 1950s made a new facility near Stewart Air Force Base more practical. The City of Clifton acquired the property in 1966 but has had varied success with reusing and maintaining the buildings. While several buildings are being actively used by the city, local citizens are rallying to save the remaining unused and underutilized buildings on the site but has a long road of fundraising and rehabilitation ahead of them to ensure the site’s preservation before the buildings fall victim to demolition by neglect.
The Wildwoods, City of Wildwood, City of North Wildwood, Borough of Wildwood Crest, & Borough of West Wildwood, Cape May County
- The Wildwoods are a collection of four towns on a barrier island at the southern end of New Jersey that, for over 100 years, has been a popular shore resort desired for its beaches and boardwalk. While known for their 1950s Doo-Wop motels (on the 10 Most list in 2005), the Wildwoods also have many late 19th and early 20th-century residential and commercial buildings in classic American vernacular styles. The Wildwoods are threatened by typical development pressures along the Jersey shore. In the past two decades, buyers discovered the Wildwoods’ lower prices and a building boom has begun to transform the island from Doo Wop motels and older single-family homes into condos and McMansions. The threat is compounded by FEMA’s post-Sandy regulations that make it difficult to renovate or restore older buildings. In order to effectuate change, citizens need to organize to pressure the four municipalities to establish Historic Preservation Commissions with enforceable ordinances to protect the integrity of the historic properties and to prevent the Wildwoods from falling victim to the ever-growing homogeneity of the Jersey shore region, where one municipality is indistinguishable from the rest.
Van Ness House, Township of Fairfield, Essex County
- The Van Ness House was built by one of the earliest Dutch families to settle in western Essex County, Simon Van Ness, who brought his family to Fairfield in 1701 and was one of the founders of the Reformed Church of Fairfield in 1720. The house was likely built circa 1760 and is a typical 18th century farmhouse in the Dutch brownstone tradition of northern NJ, which predates the Revolutionary War. Currently owned by the Township of Fairfield, the building has now sat vacant for a number of years and is uninhabitable due to lack of maintenance. The municipality has cited insufficient funds to properly stabilize or maintain the structure. Preservation New Jersey encourages Fairfield Township to redouble its efforts to repair the structure and find a suitable occupant for this important piece of regional history before it is too late.
Founded in 1978, Preservation New Jersey is a nonprofit organization that helps homeowners, organizations, public officials, and citizen advocates working to preserve the historic neighborhoods and sites that are important to our communities. Preservation New Jersey produces this annual list of New Jersey’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in addition to other advocacy programs; provides educational workshops; publishes an interactive website; serves as a resource for technical assistance and general advice for the public; and addresses legislation and public policies that impact New Jersey’s historic places and communities.
Visit Preservation New Jersey’s website at www.pnj10most.org for more information regarding the organization and the 10 Most Endangered program. For details about national Preservation Month, visit the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website at www.preservationnation.org.