Adaptive Reuse in NJ

By Maria Boyes

New Jersey has many abandoned buildings that are no longer used in their original capacity. Whether factories, schools, churches, or train stations, their original intention has long since become part of the past. So what to do with them?

In many cases, municipalities and developers think they have only one option often touting that the land is worth more than the structure. Not only does the building end up in a landfill but this practice erodes the distinctive character and history of our towns. Adaptive reuse creates a positive solution for both the town and the developer which should always be considered before making architectural decisions.

One of the more recent and prominent examples in the state is the Asbury Hotel, in Asbury Park. The rectangular brick building, originally built as housing for the Salvation Army in the 1950s, sat vacant and abandoned for over ten years. The innovative  restoration to this nondescript building proves that a structure doesn’t need to be “architecturally significant” in order to enjoy a second life.

Asbury Hotel Adaptive Reuse
Baronet Movie Theater

After gutting the interior and repointing the brick, the conversion included new structural steel and architectural glass to add a greenhouse effect to the lobby while expanding the footprint.  In addition, the renovation included salvaging important elements of the city’s history, such as the neon sign from the Baronet movie theater which now hangs from the rooftop terrace which shows outdoor movies.

Brian Cheripka, Senior Vice President of Land and Development at iStar, the Asbury’s primary developer, says, “We saw the long-term potential of revitalizing this community by harnessing the city’s eclectic character, strong musical heritage, and historic architecture.”

iStar also salvaged and renovated Asbury Lanes, the abandoned bowling alley, preserving the bowling alley and music venue.  By blending the old and the new, both of these renovations have received industry accolades and helped to revitalize a community that was in decline.

In Bloomfield, there are two examples of adaptive reuse that are not only enjoying a new life but are recognized as national historic landmarks. The first is industrial. The silk mill hosiery factory built in the early 1920s, during a boom in the hosiery industry, is now known as the Silk Mill Lofts housing luxury apartments. The other, a Victorian Church built circa 1890 in the Romanesque style is now the 300-seat Van Fossen Theater and part of the Bloomfield College campus.

Silk Mill Adaptive Reuse

“We are very proud of the buildings we have in Bloomfield that have been repurposed,” says Bloomfield Councilman Rich Rockwell.  “I’d love to see more historical buildings like these restored.  It preserves history while continuing to provide practical use of the building, as well as creating a sense of identity and pride in the Town.”

Other common examples of adaptive reuse include train stations and school buildings. In Long Valley, a school house originally built in 1886, with multiple additions over the years, is currently being used as the town’s Municipal Building. While in Tenafly, an 1874 train station, built in the Victorian Gothic style, houses Cafe Angelique, a thriving upscale eatery. If you have examples of adaptive reuse in your town, contact us for future articles.

Additional examples of adaptive reuse around the state include:




Maria Boyes is a journalist who has written for newspapers across the country and penned a column in the NJ Courier News for several years. As a member of Preservation New Jersey’s Marketing Committee and Chair of the Westfield Historic Preservation Commission, Maria values historic architecture.