Threatened: Vacant Townhouse in Newark, N.J.
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Dec. 9. 2009
This month, crews began site work on a new housing complex set to rise behind the facade of a 19th-century townhouse in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Newark, N.J. Although initial plans called for the salvage of the building's facade, a structural engineer from Newark-based Axis Engineering said yesterday that the vacant, deteriorating building should be completely demolished.
"It puts us in a difficult position because the city Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission and the state historic preservation office all have been adamant that we save the facade," says Bruce Morgan, developer of the complex. "I've done everything I can to save it, but we're at the point where it can't be saved."
The three-story townhouse has been abandoned for about 40 years, and workers from several different building crews agree that its sandstone facade is in bad shape. "It literally crumbles in your hand," says Gordon LaForge, business manager of Paramus-based Empire Wrecking, which inspected the exterior of the building last month.
Morgan's Pennsylvania-based affordable housing corporation holds a partial demolition permit, but must now apply for an amendment to that permit and receive approval from the city's historic preservation commission before proceeding. Morgan plans to recommend that a replica of the facade be built following demolition. "What we're planning on doing is mimicking the historic facade. … It's going to be very pretty."
Baye Wilson, executive director of the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District, which owns the structure, took the engineers' news hard. "We were at the finish line, and so not being able to do it now is disappointing," Wilson says. "We tried, and we've been working on this for a while." Formed in 1999, the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District is creating an arts and cultural district in the area, known as "the Coast."
For now, Lincoln Park remains a work in progress. "There are some very fine houses still standing there," says Doug Eldridge, executive director of the nonprofit Newark Preservation & Landmarks Committee, which helped place the Lincoln Park Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. "There are signs of revival, but it's a long, slow process. It's coming along."
For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.