County: 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. They developed and operated it as picnic grounds and a bathing beach with tour boats. Originally operating out of small structures on the edge of the lake, the Lee Brothers started construction of their pavilion in the fall of 1923 and it opened for the 1924 season. From the pavilion, the Lee Brothers operated a refreshment stand, bath houses, bathing beach, boat rentals, and tour boats.
As times and preferences changed, the business was operated as more of a marina with a boat ramp, boat rentals, and dock slips until 1995; when Clarence Lee’s son, Robert Lee, decided upon retirement to donate the property to Morris County so that the pavilion and surrounding park land would be preserved and not be subdivided into a lakefront development. When the Lees donated the property to Morris County, the pavilion was being rented out as a refreshment stand. The building has seen some modifications over the years, but is still largely original. The pavilion property is still owned by Morris County, and is under the jurisdiction of the Morris County Park Commission. Unfortunately, under the county, the pavilion has been largely unused and is showing signs of deterioration.
The Lake Hopatcong Foundation, along with residents, have become increasingly concerned in recent years about the deterioration of the pavilion – especially with the current heavy development pressure on the lakefront. In 2014, the Foundation funded a feasibility study of the Lee Brothers Park Pavilion by HMR Architects, which concluded that the pavilion is considered a unique structure to both Lake Hopatcong and the surrounding area. Similar pavilions, popular prior to World War II, have almost entirely disappeared in the ensuing years. It retains much of its character and is significant as an early twentieth century lake recreation kiosk.
Since the 2014 HMR study, the county has demonstrated its support of this local historic recreational site by including funding for the stabilization of the Lee Pavilion structure in its budget over several years, totaling more than $1 million dollars. But, frustratingly, the County has not hired an engineer or taken any other steps to ensure the preservation of the building. The Morris County Park Commission has jurisdiction over the property and has had discussions about the future of the pavilion, but competing scenarios about potential future uses has bogged down the process.
To make matters more urgent, the local Fire Commissioner recently stated that he has forbidden his firefighters from entering the building due to its structural instability. It is critical that the Morris County Freeholders, the Morris County Park Commission, the Lake Hopatcong Foundation, and residents 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 and foremost, make use of the more than $1million in funds that have already been authorized for the stabilization of the pavilion to ensure its preservation. Then, a thoughtful discussion can ensue on the potential uses of this recreational building that will contribute to the community while maintaining its place in the history of Mount Arlington and Morris County.
Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum