10 Most Endangered Update: 2019 Listing Lee Brothers Park Pavilion, Lake Hopatcong

By Rikki Massand, MS/CHP 

The Lee Brothers Park Pavilion overlooking Lake Hopatcong in Morris County was on Preservation New Jersey’s 2019 10 Most Endangered List of Historic Places. In the four years since Martin “Marty” Kane joined fellow preservation activists for the 10 Most announcement, significant progress has been made to see the structure be a part of the popular recreational site’s future.

Lee Brothers Park Pavilion in 1965 courtesy of Martin Kane

In an April interview Kane told PNJ that the Morris County Board of County Commissioners encouraged the Morris County Parks Commission to complete a statement of work, to outline project potential for restoration of the pavilion. An RFP (request for proposals) is expected to be ready for bidders in May and once a successful bid is awarded, Kane believes restorative work could start later this year.

Cranford-based Connolly & Hickey Historical Architects is the consulting architectural firm for the pavilion, and Kane says Margaret Hickey’s initial planning for the restoration quelled many longstanding concerns for the building’s future.

The Morris County Parks Commission is working on a Strategic Plan with the historic Pavilion as a part of it. Kane and local historians are excited at the consensus to preserve the building and having park facility goals include its reuse.

The added value of Preservation NJ’s 10 Most Listing has been evident with news, publicity and attention garnered for Lee Brothers Park Pavilion. Kane spoke about the boost 10 Most offers for preservation project visibility:

“If someone other than a local historical group makes a statement about a building it gives such credence to the arguments for saving it. The 10 Most helped a lot with our Morris County Commissioner Board, to keep their interest in pushing for it. For no reason a substantial building was probably on track to being knocked down due to a lack of action. The Pavilion, as it kept deteriorating, would have been lost as the major overhaul of the entire park was being planned.”

10 Most announcement of Lee Brothers Park Pavilion in 2019

Grassroots advocacy to save Lee Brothers Park Pavilion began with Kane at the Lake Hopatcong Foundation and followed with the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum, continuing as a priority for the community despite a slowdown with the Parks Commission.

The Pavilion is representative of an era and drives nostalgia for northern NJ lakeside recreation. Marty Kane, president of the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum, grew up going to and swimming in Lake Hopatcong, a 2,500-acre freshwater body.

At the 2019 10 Most Endangered announcement, he shared memories of his childhood summer fun with participants and the media: “Lee’s is the last one that’s still an old lake pavilion going back to the days when beaches were around the big lakes. We visited amusement parks at the beach. It’s not a super fancy building but it very much represents its time as the pavilions were constructed during the 1920s and 30s, for all the families coming up to visit the lake.”

Around Lake Hopatcong there were once five distinct beaches; today only Hopatcong State Park continues as a public swim recreation area.

Kane shared, “We have a unique situation in Morris as the county commissioners funded the rehabilitation but the Parks Commission had delayed as the building kept deteriorating. Another four years has gone by – it’s been a long struggle, but our county commissioners advocated for the historic site to be reused, and they have our Parks Commission moving forward. Hopefully this is it; we look forward to the construction project by fall and we won’t have to hold our breath during another winter if the building will stay standing by the spring.”

Despite the funding provided by the county government towards restoration, the Parks Commission was slowed to a halt during the pandemic. Its ability to evaluate and award any project contracts was also greatly delayed.

“Since the building is and has been offline, it was not like it was losing any uses or posing a concern for operations and staffing. In contrast, overall the adjacent marina thrived during the pandemic as so many people took out fishing boats in 2020-2021,” Kane noted.

Morris County Parks Commission and the county government have completed projects at public parks where larger buildings became venues for catering and private functions. Over several years, the Canal Society of New Jersey met at the Morris County Cultural Center, headquarters of the Morris Parks Commission.

Optimism remains high for the preservation of “an incredibly unique lake pavilion building” as so many from the 20th century are vanishing from New Jersey’s waterside recreational areas. Kane said there are reuses for the Lee Brothers Pavilion that would fit very well for the current scope of County parks’ venues. Potential was laid out for the Pavilion to become a facility the public can book for events or functions. Kitchen area providing ample space and accommodations for caterers or users to bring their own food is a clear asset, and Morris County Parks system already has operations of similar “event space” structures in its parks.

As plans have unfolded with county board support, the Pavilion would continue to be owned and operated by Morris County Parks. It remains undecided if bookings and site use would be managed through any part of the Parks System or with a scheduling service company or other third-party.

Unfortunately a major component of the restoration project will be bringing the pavilion up to current code, as modifications are necessary. The 10 Most Listing in 2019 included comments from the local Fire Commissioner, who at the time forbade firefighters from entering the building due to its structural instability. Looking ahead, goals for code compliance would be tied to its reuse potential for the total numbers of occupants and any accessibility issues for the venue. “A large amount of money involved is allocated to having the building be brought up to code,” Kane said.

He adds that support for the Lee Brothers Pavilion restoration has been steady from the Borough of Mt. Arlington’s mayor and council members. The Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum and the municipality have provided comments for the County Parks’ forthcoming Strategic Plan.

“This was a building the entire (Lee’s amusement park) was built around so it is fitting, and it’s within the context of what County Parks does. It was a concern to not move in a timely fashion as the structure was not being addressed,” Kane said.

His endeavors in the local preservation landscape continue. Kane notes that the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum has worked with Morris County on use of grant funding received for the fountain at Hopatcong State Park, as well as the Lake Hopatcong Station building – a project that received both State of New Jersey and County funding for its restoration.

“We’re continuing to be plugged in for projects along Lake Hopatcong, and recently were involved with the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club with the restoration of its whole building,” Kane said.

Author, content strategist and historic preservation activist Rikki N. Massand serves as Associate Editor of his hometown Montgomery News in Somerset County. He also covers Hunterdon County government, planning and economic development for The Hunterdon Review newspaper and freelances for multiple tristate area ‘newszines.’

Massand is a regional historian and local advocate in his present municipal government-appointed roles on the Montgomery Township Landmarks Preservation Commission and as township liaison to the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission. We are proud to announce he was recently appointed as an Advisory member of the Somerset County Cultural & Heritage Commission.

Massand holds master’s degrees from Columbia University and Quinnipiac University. His work has appeared in print titles including China Daily, amNew York, Syosset Advance, AsianWeek and more.