BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Time has stood still at the Charles Shultz home, “Evergreen,” for the last 123 years. But that could soon change as the Montclair History Center board — its stewards since 1997 — announced today it can no longer financially care for the three-story, 21 room home, most of which has barely changed in the house’s history.
Completed in 1896 for Charles S. Shultz, president of the Hoboken Bank for Savings, when Montclair was transitioning from a farming community to a railroad suburb, the house at 30 North Mountain Ave. stands as a time capsule. The Queen Anne-style home at the top of a hill surrounded by evergreens and with views of New York City still contains its original side-by-side gas and electric light fixtures — gas being more reliable than electric at the time — chestnut woodwork, eclectic furnishings bought on trips abroad by Shultz, a one-of-kind turn-of-the century library complete with microscopes and first editions, a Victorian carpentry and electrical shop, and a kitchen that has never been modernized, unless you count the new stove the Shultz women purchased in the 1920s.
Most of the families’ belongings — books, furniture, journals, notes — are all right where the family left them. A note in the breadbox reads that the person who borrowed coffee filters would replace them; a microscope with a slide waits to be viewed in the library; a saw sits next to a piece of wood in the woodworking shop; family photos are piled on a night stand.
The Montclair History Center has been stewards of the house since 1997, when the last surviving Shultz heir, Molly Shultz, bequeathed it and its contents to what was then known as the Montclair Historical Society. Molly was an active member of the Society and lived in the home until her death. Her room is exactly the same as the time of her passing.
As well-maintained as the first floor looks, the second, and third floor especially, show damage caused by more than just a leaky roof. The carriage house, which has rental income, is covered in tarps due to water leaks.
The house has been operated by the MHC as a house museum, with weekend tours from May through December, and is open for periodic special programming and fundraising events. The house has also been rented for small private events and for film shoots.
“We love this house, but we can no longer be good stewards,” said Jane M. Eliasof, executive director of the MHC. “We can no longer financially manage the ongoing costs, as well as finance the long overdue renovations needed.”
SHULTZ HOUSE COSTS
The house’s annual operating costs average $26,000, including operating funds for basic maintenance such as snow removal and landscaping. In the last five years, maintenance and emergency repair costs of water and oil tanks, gas lines, furnace and sidewalk replacement have totaled more than $175,000.
And in the last three years, maintenance and emergency repairs at the Shultz property have equaled approximately 25 to 40 percent of the organization’s total annual operating budget of $200,000, according to Eliasof.
“The costs to maintain the Shultz House as a museum are daunting and go well beyond staff salaries to carry out MHC’s programming,” said Eliasof. “In 1999, it was estimated that another $1 million would be needed to restore the house completely. Unfortunately, despite MHC’s efforts, no additional large grants or donations earmarked for the Shultz House have come to fruition.”
An in-depth feasibility study commissioned by the MHC in 2015 concluded that maintaining two campuses and six historic buildings (three of which are interpreted as historic museums) was not sustainable on the nonprofit’s operating budget of approximately $200,000 a year.
The Shultz house also requires at least $1.5 million in emergency funding for roof repair/replacement, porch stabilization, upgraded electric and plumbing. The plumbing has remained turned off since 2014 due to leaks, said Eliasof. Although the house has four bathrooms, the only working one is in the carriage house.
“The cosmetic upgrades needed are easy compared to the system upgrades [plumbing, electrical and heating] needed in this house,” said Eliasof.
The feasibility study recommended that the MHC explore a partnership with a third party, or consider completely divesting the Shultz House from its collection.
In her will, Molly also left a trust of $500,000 for the building’s upkeep, of which $300,000 was used, along with a matching grant from NJ Trust for much-needed roof repairs.
The rest of the money over the years went to upgrade the electricity and for handicap-accessibility upgrades.
Molly placed no restrictions or conditions on the MHC’s use or disposition of the house or the contents. Any funds raised on sale of the house contents would be dedicated to maintaining the museum’s collections.
WHO WERE THE SHULTZES?
Charles Solomon Shultz (1839-1924) and his wife Lucy Murrell Budd (1844-1905) bought a 2.5-acre parcel on the southwest comer of Claremont and North Mountain avenues on March 1, 1894. Shultz commissioned his good friend and New York architect Michel Le Brun to build a mansion on this property.
When the house was completed in 1896, Charles, Lucy and their three children moved in. Charles Shultz’s wife Lucy passed away in 1905. Their children Emily, Walter and Clifford were given equal shares of the property at the time of their father’s death in 1924.
In 1926, Walter and his wife Anna conveyed their one-third interest in the property to Clifford and Emily. In 1931, Clifford then transferred his one-half share in the property to his wife, Florence O’Neill Shultz. In 1952, Emily transferred her one-half share in the property to Florence’s daughter, Marian (Molly) Shultz. Molly therefore acquired the full share of the property at the time of Florence’s death in 1962.
Due to Shultz’s fascination with science, the house incorporates what was at the time state-of-the-art technology. It was built with gas/electric lighting fixtures, an electric burglar alarm, an enunciator system, an elevator, an advanced gravity hot-air-heating system, the most advanced plumbing of the time including interior fire hoses, and an icebox that could be supplied with ice from the outside without entering the house, all of which exist and are in use today.
According to Eliasof, she and board members have spoken with township officials, interested parties, and expert advisors to seek opinions, ideas, and connections to potential partners with no success.
Neighbors are invited to attend a meeting tonight, June 13, at the house. The community is also invited this Saturday June 15, 10 a.m., and Monday June 17, 7 p.m., to tour the home and discuss options.
At these discussions, the the history of the house will be shared, and a brief tour of the building will take place. Space is limited for the Community Conversations. Pre-registration is required by calling MHC at 973-744-1796 or sending a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eliasof said they are looking for realistic financial options.
“We are not going to run a bed-and-breakfast or a wedding hall,” she said.
The MHC is also seeking a solution that respects the house’s history and the neighboring community.
That solution could be a substantial funding source, a partner, or a buyer for the two acres, the home and the carriage house, she said. She would like to see it maintained as a public space even if only one room is accessible, but would be happy with a private buyer renovating the house.
Eliasof said no decision has been made on the house, “but we are looking for an angel.”