The Records Storage Building, which sits at the northeast edge of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (DL&WRR) rail yard in Hoboken, is a three-story, red brick building that has stylistic references to English Victorian Gothic Revival architecture. Features are also taken from Medieval fortress architecture, such as ground story windows with heavy iron grilles and iron shutters, narrow door and window openings, heavily rusticated lintels and stone sills, and corner turrets at the roofline, all of which befit a building which was intended to protect and preserve precious archival records.
Architectural drawings for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Records Storage Building were drafted by architect Frank J. Nies and engineer W.K. McTablin in 1901, and the building was completed by 1904, making it the earliest structure in the DL&WRR Hoboken Terminal Complex. The building may have been constructed as part of a rail yard improvement campaign undertaken at the beginning of the 20th century. As indicated by its name, the Records Storage Building’s purpose was to store and protect the DL&WRR records, and at one time, the archives of the engineering and law departments of the entire Lackawanna Railroad.
The Records Storage Building is a contributing building to the DL&WRR Historic District as well as the Hoboken Historic District. Predating the construction of the DL&WRR terminal, it is the oldest extant building in the terminal complex, and stands as an important part of the history of transportation in Hoboken. Just as the purpose-built Records Storage Building retained and preserved important records pertaining to the history of the DL&WRR railroad, so should the building itself be retained and preserved.
Unfortunately, due to many years of neglect, the conditions of the Records Storage Building have deteriorated significantly. In December 1998, an existing conditions report prepared by Beyer Blinder Belle for New Jersey Transit deemed the exterior of the structure in fair to poor condition, and the interior in fair condition. The original copper scuppers, leaders and acroteria were missing, portions of the stone and brick masonry were cracking and splitting, vertical masonry joints were open, the original double hung wood windows were rotted, the concrete base was cracked and eroded, and the roof was in poor condition.
Despite the extensive list of recommendations for the Records Storage Building’s preservation provided by the 1998 report, it appears that there have been no efforts to address the alarming condition of this important structure. In the Rail Yards Redevelopment plans produced in 2006 and 2008 and updated in 2014 and 2019, NJ Transit and the City of Hoboken singled out the Records Storage Building, identifying it as an historic property worthy of preservation. However, in October of 2019, NJ Transit stated their intention to demolish the Records Storage Building. Since then, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has deemed the structure unsafe and called for its demolition by June 30, 2020.
This case is the very definition of the term ‘demolition by neglect’ – the practice of allowing a building to deteriorate to the point that demolition becomes necessary or rehabilitation becomes cost prohibitive. This attempt, whether intentional or not, of sidestepping law regarding the proper stewardship of our collective historic resources is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. As a statewide entity with numerous significant historic resources under its ownership, NJ Transit should have an organizational affirmative maintenance provision it operates under.
Because of the building’s ownership and funding, its future will be determined through the federal Section 106 review process that is currently ongoing. Several interested parties, including the State Historic Preservation Office, the City of Hoboken, the Hoboken Quality of Life Coalition, and Preservation New Jersey, have met with NJ Transit and the Federal Transit Administration related to this review. While the required Alternatives Analysis seems to lean towards demolition or relocation and reconstruction, interested party and public sentiment predominantly favors stabilization, rehabilitation, and adaptive reuse of the structure. (See PNJ’s public comment letter on the matter.)
The Hoboken Terminal & Rail Yard Redevelopment Plan contemplated the adaptive reuse of this building. As part of that redevelopment, the City has the authority to designate a redeveloper that could buy or lease the building from NJ Transit, and then complete the adaptive reuse of the structure as part of their broader development project. Accordingly, the best course of action would be for NJ Transit to stabilize the structure now, so that it is still standing when the redevelopment commences.
At this time, we await the final recommendation from the Section 106 review. Ultimately, any action by NJ Transit will need to be approved by its Board of Directors. Preservation New Jersey will continue to follow the status of this review and alert the public of opportunities to comment.
Responsible Development Task Force of Hoboken