By Jaimie Julia Winters
“Montclair joyous in new terminal – Era of better feeling,” the New York Times headline read in 1913 after the opening of Lackawanna Terminal in Montclair. In 1981, railroad historian Mark Corigliano rode the last train to Lackawanna Station before it closed it doors. He still has that ticket.
For over 100 years, the Grecian Doric style station with its tapestry brick facade with columns and trimmings of marble chip concrete has remained mainly untouched. Even the horse trough is still on site. In the 1980s, the station became home to an arcade type mall and Pathmark Supermarket. The train waiting platforms or sheds were enclosed in glass to make the arcade.
“There are four train platforms, 17 feet wide and 650 feet long serving six tracks. They are built with concrete and covered with canopies for a length of 350 feet. The canopies are of steel and reinforced with concrete slabs, and afford perfect shelter in stormy weather,” read the 1913 article.
But plans proposed by the Pinnacle Companies and the Hampshire Real Estate Companies who bought the plaza in 2015 call for it to be converted to a mixed-use complex. And for those sheds to be removed to make way for parking.
Now it seems Montclair’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) is on a mission to save the train sheds.
The train sheds were designed by the engineer Lincoln Bush, whose design allowed passengers to be protected from the elements while allowing the exhaust gases from locomotives to escape.
“Bush train sheds were built at five stations that I know, with Montclair station being the only one in a smaller city. Of the five, three remain and one of the three is deteriorated beyond restoration. The Montclair terminal train sheds, concourse and station building, along with the other improvements, represent a revolutionary and comprehensive advanced transportation complex design for its time. It is remarkable that the complex has survived the railroad’s merger, subsequent bankruptcy and first redevelopment relatively intact,” said Corigliano, who lectures on the history of the Lackawanna Railroad.
HPC member David Greenbaum agreed. The fact that the sheds are still intact should not be negated, he said.
“When it was re-purposed in the 1980s, glass atriums were built around those sheds. This should be respected. It should continued to be preserved,” said Greenbaum. He suggested instead the developers tear down the supermarket, which has no historical significance.
Commissioner Stephen Rooney was also in favor of demolishing the former Pathmark and keeping the sheds for shops.
In reviewing Montclair’s criteria for demolition of a historic properties — Lackawanna Station was added to the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 1972, and the National Register of Historic Places the following year — member John Reimnitz said the sheds have cultural and historical significance.
“You experience the train station and its history within the sheds,” he said.
Member Jason Hydman said the sheds could have an adaptive reuse and questioned why in a pedestrian-friendly town a piece of history would have to be paved over by a parking lot.
Planning board architectural consultant Barton Ross who sat in the audience at the HPC meeting, had drawn up plans in which the steel beam archways of the sheds would be re-purposed in the parking area as decorative details. But that would mean the loss of the marble-chip concrete roofs. These plans caught the attention of the HPC and resulted in the HPC meeting last week.
“The concrete would be lost with the relocation of the stanchions,” said commissioner Caroline Kane Levy.
Re-purposing the sheds
Resident Pricsilla Eschelman said she chose Montclair as home after relocating from San Fransisco last year because she loved the look and feel of Lackawanna Station. She pointed to the nationwide trend of re-purposing terminals as food court type markets, referencing other successful projects such as the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Fransisco, Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia and Grand Central Market in New York City.
She gave the board a slogan. “At the end of the day you could say, ‘Meet me at the Lackawanna,’” Eschelman said.
Historian and architect Frank Godlewski, who rode the train from Rutherford to Lackawanna Terminal during his days as a student at Montclair Academy, said the poured marble chip concrete was a “status symbol of the time.” He suggested that the sheds could be used as an antique and art market such as Lambertsville’s.
Another idea presented by Frank Rubacky was to use a portion of the shed area in the middle of the parking lot as an amenity space providing 15,000 square feet of outdoor seating facing Bloomfield Avenue.
Chairman Kathleen Bennett said the sheds are integral in a historical context to Montclair’s identity as a town tied to train travel. She suggested the commission forward their findings to the planning board immediately or “we could be writing an obituary.”
Board members agreed to forwarding a memo to the Planning Board stating that the commission finds the plans for demolition of the sheds inconsistent with Monclair’s code on demolition of historic properties and that the sheds met the criteria for retaining them due to their historical significance.
The general consensus was parking should be addressed by demolition of the supermarket if need be or parking be moved to the other side of the development.
Two Planning Board members — Martin Schwartz, the mayor’s designee, and Carmel Loughman — attended the meeting. The developer’s attorney Tom Trautner was also in attendance. Plans for the Lackawanna redevelopment will be heard at a special Planning Board meeting on May 14.
“The planning board will take the HPC’s comments and findings into serious consideration, as it always does, as part of our evaluation and official hearings,” said Schwartz.
An official close to the planning board said the planning board architectural consultant had been working with the developer’s architects on finalizing all the site issues including parking and historical aspects, but the developers just stopped responding a few weeks ago.