BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
While the Lackawanna Plaza train sheds await the wrecking ball, Preservation New Jersey has just declared the entire site as one of 10 on its list of New Jersey’s Most Endangered Historic Places for 2019.
Selections are based on three criteria: historic significance and architectural integrity, the critical nature of the threat identified, and the likelihood that inclusion on the list will have a positive impact on efforts to protect the resource. This year the group received 24 nominations, with Lackawanna Train Station receiving two, said executive director Courtenay Mercer.
Developers Pinnacle and Hampshire Cos. bought the property in 2014, and plan to build 154 housing units, a 29,000-square-foot supermarket, and 111,726 square feet of office space, including a medical office, and retail space at the 7.5-acre site of the former station.
The developers plan to raze the mall that, since the 1980s, has encased the original train waiting platforms in order to make way for parking.
Earlier this month, following 16 hearings and over a year of testimony from supermarket and traffic experts, and historic preservationists, the planning board memorialized the approval of the development that will also allow the developers to raze the sheds.
A 1972 national registry application seeking historical designation for the property, approved in 1973, cites the platforms as part of the historical elements of the train station. The property and buildings are listed on both the New Jersey and national historical registry, and as a historical district.
Lackawanna has been on Preservation NJ’s radar for some time, said Mercer. The group sent the planning board a letter opposing the razing of the train sheds.
“If the [planning board] vote had gone differently it may not have made the list. But with the vote to allow the demolition [of the sheds], it’s now in imminent danger,” said Mercer.
The 10 Most Endangered Historic Places program spotlights irreplaceable historic, architectural, cultural and archeological resources in New Jersey that are in imminent danger of being lost.
“The list, generated from nominations by the public, aims to attract new perspectives and ideas to sites in desperate need of creative solutions,” said Mercer.
Challenges that face properties on this year’s endangered sites list according to Preservation NJ are neglect and deferred maintenance, threats incurred by redevelopment and new construction, difficulties raising adequate historic preservation funding, and the need for creative adaptive reuse proposals.
During testimony, Montclair preservationists had suggested that the former Pathmark be razed and that the train sheds be readapted as the supermarket, citing other successful reuse projects such as the Reading Terminal in Pennsylvania, West Side Market in Cleveland, the Central Market in Lancaster and the Grand Central Market in New York City.
Specifically, their plan called for repurposing the mall into a 56,000-square-foot supermarket with dual entrances on Bloomfield and Glenridge avenues. With the demolition of the former Pathmark, parking would be placed on both sides, keeping the current lot of 234 feet on Bloomfield Avenue. A dine-in area would be to the left of the Bloomfield entrance.
In its recommendations to the planning board on preserving all historical elements of the train station, Montclair’s Historic Preservation Commission included the plan as a viable alternative to razing the sheds.
Mercer said Montclair’s large organized group behind preservation of the sheds also helped with it being placed on the list.
“We know there’s an active body behind the preservation that can further ensure success in saving it,” she said.
Close to 20 sites have been saved after being placed on the list with the most recent being the Forum Theatre in Metuchen, which was included in Preservation NJ’s 2016 list. The borough plans to incorporate a rehabilitated Forum Theatre into a new Metuchen Arts District that will include a restaurant and other spaces to enjoy the arts.
“Although PNJ’s 10 Most Endangered Properties list is published once per year, the fight for the preservation of our historic and cultural resources is daily, and the news of the Metuchen Theatre is evidence that bringing awareness of such threats can bring about creative solutions,” said Mercer.
Other sites that made this year’s list include the East Point Lighthouse on the Maurice River in Cumberland County; historic firehouses, statewide; the Isaac Corwin House aka Larison’s Turkey Farm in Chester, Morris County; the Lee Brothers Park Pavilion in Mount Arlington, Morris County; The Park Theater aka Passion Play Theatre in Union City, Hudson County; Port Colden Manor in Washington, Warren County; the U.S. Animal Quarantine Station in Clifton, Passaic County; Wildwood, North Wildwood, Wildwood Crest and West Wildwood, Cape May County; and the Van Ness House in Fairfield, Essex County.
A historic train station preservationist’s attempt to block the razing of the Lackawanna sheds was dismissed last month due in part to the fact he was from Brooklyn.
In the Lackawanna Train Station nomination package it states:
- “The Lackawanna Train Terminal opened to great acclaim in 1913. Designed by the ill-fated William Hull Botsford, who went down on the Titanic, it served as the terminus of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad between Hoboken and Montclair, which allowed thousands of local residents the ability to commute to New York City in relative comfort and ease until its final run in the 1980s. Having survived two previous demolition attempts, the Lackawanna Train Terminal is now under threat again from a developer who intends to demolish the historic train platform sheds to double the size of the surface parking lot. The Montclair Historic Preservation Commission has attempted to communicate the importance of maintaining the structures within the new site plan; but unfortunately, the Montclair Planning Board approved the site plan including the demolition of a significant portion of the train sheds. Preservation New Jersey supports the view of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission who calls for a more sensitive redevelopment of the site.”