The Weehawken Water Tower, an easily-recognizable historic landmark near the Park Avenue commercial strip mall, will once again be on the agenda at Town Council meetings this winter, said Mayor Richard Turner last week.
The tower, which was built in 1883 by the Hackensack Water Company, was originally used to store water drawn from a nearby reservoir. The tower could hold up to 165,000 gallons of water and stands 175 feet high, 300 feet above sea level at the Hudson River. A Pathmark now stands on the location of the reservoir.
Over the course of the past year, the township has been working to refurbish the ground and first floors of the water tower, preparing them to hold art or historical exhibits as soon as this spring.
Improvements to the tower made over the course of the past year include a unisex bathroom on the ground floor, a new staircase to the first floor, and new electrical systems that power the existing light fixtures in the tower’s courtyard, as well as the refurbished interior lighting system. All of the walls have been redone and the floors have been cleaned and shined.
“The problem with the elevator issue is that there’s not enough square footage inside the tower to install one.” – Mayor Richard Turner
Yet despite the past year’s improvements, several questions remain about what to do with the upper five floors of the tower. Construction codes and ingress and egress statutes have held up this discussion.
The law requires that buildings such as the water tower must have an elevator if people are expected to go above the second floor. For a building with dimensions like the water tower’s, this can pose practical difficulties.
“The problem with the elevator issue is that there’s not enough square footage inside the tower to install one,” said Turner. “There’s limited square footage we’re dealing with, and besides that, the tower gets narrower as you go further up.”
An idea to construct an elevator on the exterior of the tower was quashed by both Turner and representatives of the township’s historical society.
“It would be very expensive to do that... the cost is hugely prohibitive,” said Turner, “but even more than that, if you stick an elevator on the side of it, you’re destroying the historical nature of the building.”
Nevertheless, the township is investigating possible ways for the public to take advantage of the excellent views of New York City and the Palisades that the water tower offers.
“There might be some ways that, in the future, we could take some small groups up, but we’re really not sure at this point,” said Turner.
For now, the Township Council plans to meet with members of a special committee that was formed to oversee projects related to the water tower, as well as local historical and arts groups who can brainstorm ideas for exhibits on the ground and first floors.
It is possible that the last year’s improvements have slipped under the radar to the casual observer. A more obvious change to the tower occurred back in 2005, when the township cut the ribbon on a courtyard around the tower, complete with public tables and benches. In 2010, in preparation for the township’s 150th anniversary, the tower’s brickwork was power washed to restore its historic appearance.
The town procured the tower from a local real estate development group in 2000 after the group knocked down the tower’s gatehouse. The shopping mall was built on the spot of the reservoir which was previously connected to the tower.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at email@example.com