Developer May Gut N.J.'s Bell Labs

Medium-sized image unavailable for this photo.
Bell Labs in Holmdel, N.J., 40 miles south of New York City

Credit: Gerard Garcia

Some called it a victory. Last year preservationists celebrated when a developer under contract to buy Eero Saarinen's Bell Labs building announced it would incorporate one-third of it into a newer office complex.

However, the building's future seems to be in some doubt as Lucent Technologies, which owns the building in Holmdel, N.J., prepares to close their remaining office on the 472-acre site in anticipation of the final sale.

Last month Preservation New Jersey named Bell Labs to its list of the state's 10 most endangered historic places. Ron Emrich, the executive director of Preservation New Jersey says that after receiving the nomination, his organization tried to contact the developer for updated plans, but received no answer. "The developer is being extremely cagey about what their detailed specific plans are for the site."

A spokesman for the developer, Preferred Real Estate Investments of Conshohocken, N.J., says that there are no final plans for the property. He declined to comment on whether or not the sale was conditional upon the township's approval of zoning changes that would allow for housing.

Preservationists are also concerned by reports that the developer plans to gut the interior of the building and replace the mirrored glass skin, its trademark.

"I've been in it, and I've seen what they're doing. There's hardly anything left," says Anne Shramko, a member of Citizens for Informed Land Use. She and her husband nominated Bell Labs to the 10 Most Endangered list because they were concerned that the developer was not going to honor his promise to preserve part of the building. "It sounds as if they're going to gut it, and there won't be much left," she says. "If you really understood what the fellow said, they weren't really going to save the building."

Meanwhile, the property has become a political issue in the town of Holmdel itself, where the topic has been at the center of the township's recent primary elections. Many of the town's residents are concerned by the developer's proposal to build as many as 300 residential units on the peripheries of the property, which would require the township to rezone the land for residential use. Shramko says that some residents are concerned about the environmental impact that the project would have.

The township council recently created a non-partisan citizens' advisory board to evaluate the two conceptual plans that Preferred Real Estate Investments submitted to the township in February, and to determine the best use of the property. 

For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.