Some of the renovation projects that will be finished or started in 2005 include improvements at City Hall, the Hoboken Public Library, and the Observer Highway Firehouse.
"Hoboken has entered into a very historic year," said Mayor David Roberts Tuesday morning, "which makes it the perfect time to restore and preserve our landmark buildings."
In addition to the publicly funded projects, there will be several privately funded undertakings, such as the reopening of Sybil's Cave, the construction of the replica for the country's first boathouse, and the placement of a historical marker at the site of the first baseball game.
City Hall restoration
Anyone driving past City Hall during the past two months has seen extensive scaffolding around the building. According to Joseph Peluso, the city's director of Environmental Services, the first phase of the project, which is now underway, includes a fresh coat of paint to restore the brownstone parapet, which is the low protective railing along the edge of the roof and the balcony. The first phase also includes the re-sharpening of the building's decorative lentils.
The first phase will cost about $1.8 million, in total, said Peluso. The city is paying half via through its capital improvements account. The rest will be paid through a matching grant from the State Historic Trust paying. The second phase the project, which could start later this year or in 2006, will include new windows and more brownstone work.
The interior of City Hall was renovated during the administration of Mayor Anthony Russo.
Observer Highway Firehouse
The Observer Highway Firehouse, uniquely situated on an island between Observer Highway and Newark Street, is one of the city's most historic and distinctive buildings. But for decades it has been in desperate need of renovations.
For the past 100 years that the firehouse served the Mile-Square City's residents, but in 2002 the building was no longer structurally sound enough to house a functioning fire truck company. In the meantime, the company has been stationed out a Jersey City firehouse on Palisade Avenue.
Improvements now underway include a new apparatus floor, which is the steel and concrete decking on which the fire trucks actually sit, said Peluso. He added that after nearly decades of use, the floor had become structurally unsound and needed to be completely replaced.
On the building's exterior, scaffolding has also recently been erected to repair the decorative lentils and arches that line the building's roof. Also in the plan, the bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens will be revamped. When complete, the firehouse will meet all state and federal construction codes.
"I would say that in three months, that should be just about ready to reopen," said Peluso.
While current funding will pay to get the facility into working condition and complete the internal renovations, the city is still seeking funding for additional external restorations.
The city has received several state grants totaling $125,000 for an elevator and other improvements to the Hoboken Public Library on Fifth Street.
The library was created under the New Jersey General Library Act of 1894 and was the third established under the act, following those in Paterson and Newark. The landmark currently has no elevators, and the front steps are particularly tall, making entry difficult for seniors, the handicapped, and parents with strollers.
The Stevens family of Hoboken deeded the land to the city in 1896, and the facility opened a year later. With all of its historical grandeur, the building was constructed well before the Americans with Disabilities Act. The renovations to the building are being undertaken in phases and started in May 2003. Contractors have already repaired the leaking roof, replaced 48 windows, cleaned and repaired masonry and stone, installed waterproofing materials, and restored the cupola. But that was only the beginning of the work that needs to be done.
The second phase will make the building more accessible to senior citizens and the disabled. The contract for these repairs is now being bid out. These improvements will include an elevator, two new ADA-compliant bathrooms on the mezzanine level, and handicapped accessible ramps.
In all, over $600,000 has been raised for the projects through state and county funding sources.
Restoration of the clock tower
Another major project, this one funded by New Jersey Transit, is the first phase of repair and rehabilitation of the Hoboken Ferry Terminal.
The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad originally built the terminal and its ferry slips in 1907. During the early part of the last century, the ferry service was a primary form of transportation for people traveling to and from Manhattan.
With the construction of the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the use of ferries began to decline, and in 1967, the Hoboken Terminal slips were closed. In 1989, New York Waterway resumed ferry service between New Jersey and New York and used the neighboring Hoboken Terminal as a temporary ferry facility.
In April of 1995, the Hoboken City Council approved a resolution that encouraged NJ Transit to restore the landmark clock tower at the ferry building. The resolution was sponsored by then-councilman Roberts. During the second phase, which will break ground in 2005, the landmark clock tower will be rebuilt. Some of Hoboken's older residents remember and often still remark about the clock tower that for the better part of 50 years was the predominate fixture of the Hoboken skyline. The tower, which stood 225 feet atop the Hoboken Ferry Terminal, was built in 1907 with the original building. It was dismantled in the early 1950s after the engineers deemed it unsafe to remain on the building.
The clock tower will be based on copies from the original 1907 Kenneth Murchinson plan.
The site of the Former Maxwell House Coffee Plant on the central waterfront is home to some of Hoboken's most important firsts. The New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office has recently approved a number of historic markers to be placed on the land.
The most significant will be the plaque marking where it is believed that the first organized baseball game was played on June 19, 1846. There, the Knickerbockers beat the New York Nine by a score of 23 to 1.
The developers of the privately owned property have approvals to build 832 units of condos. As part of the approvals, they must build a five-acre waterfront park. While it's still being planned, there is also a .75-acre piece of open space on the site property where there will be several references to the first baseball game.
Local officials have said that this triangular piece of property would be a good location for a historic re-creation of an old-fashioned baseball diamond.
"This is where the first baseball game was played," said Roberts. "It's a historic site where the public should be able to visit and imagine what that first game must have looked like."
But there is a question about how the .75-acre piece of property that borders Sinatra Drive will be programmed. Even by the developers' admission, this is private property right now, but they did testify that it's their intent to make the property accessible to the public.
The developer P.T. Maxwell, in a joint venture between Toll Brothers Inc. and Pinnacle Downtown, has said they will negotiate with the city about how that property could be programmed.
"That's still something that is open for discussion, and something that we will talk to the city about," said George Vallone, a principal in project.
Construction the first building in the project and the .75 acres will begin within the next 30 days.
City's boat house
Also on the Maxwell House property is the planned restoration of the natural sand beach at the 10th Street cove. One feature at the beach will be the construction of a boathouse for kayaks and small craft storage. The boathouse will be a replica of the first New York Yacht Club, which originally occupied the same site. The developers plan to provide kayaks and small sailboats with instruction, for the city's residents.
The New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office has also approved a marker that will stand on the original site of the New York Yacht Club.
According to historian Joan Doherty Lovero, who wrote the book "Hudson County-The Left Bank," John Cox Stevens, the eldest son of Colonel John Stevens, Hoboken's founder, organized the New York Yacht Club and in 1845 donated a clubhouse near the Elysian Fields, which stayed open from more than 20 years.
During the city's infancy, the waterfront was originally utilized for recreation. On weekends, the area welcomed as many as 20,000 people for picnics and sailing.
According to Lovero, "In 1850, Stevens accepted a British challenge and, aided by his brother Edwin and other sailing men including Colonel James Hamilton, the son of Alexander Hamilton, he contracted the then state-of-the art yacht, the America."
The next year, under the command of John Cox Stevens, the vessel raced the prestigious "Royal Yacht Squadron" around the Isle of Wight, off the coast of Great Britain. "The victors welcomed Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on board and then returned home," read Lovero's account, "bringing with them their nation's first international trophy, the 'America's Cup'."
Reopening of Sybil's Cave
Sybil's Cave has long been a part of Hoboken's local lore. Wealthy Manhattanites once picnicked outside, health seekers drank water with supposed medicinal powers from its spring, and Edger Allen Poe based a detective story on events there.
But for the better part the last century, the cave has been buried under brush, dirt, and rock, and has slowly seeped into Hoboken legend.
After nearly a year of searching for the entrance, the mouth of the cave was recently rediscovered. Using a large backhoe, construction workers found a brick wall, believed to be part of the cave's original support. Also uncovered were carved granite blocks that appear to be part of the cave's entrance, along with the cave's cobblestone floor.
Contrary to local myth, Sybil's Cave was not a natural formation. According to historical documents, the 30-foot deep cave was dug out of the cliffs to reach a natural spring.
It is the goal of Roberts to reopen the cave to the public in 2005. While he said that he will provide some funding personally, he is also looking for additional private funding.
"There is slightly more structural work that needs to be done than what was first anticipated, but it is certainly still our goal to open Sybil's Cave using private funding sometime in 2005," said Roberts.