In recognition of national Preservation Month, Preservation New Jersey (PNJ) announced its annual list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in New Jersey. Hoboken’s NJ Transit Records Building is featured.
The records building, which sits at the edge of the rail yard near Washington Street and Observer Highway, is a 1904 three-story red brick building, echoing English Victorian Gothic Revival architecture.
The building, owned by NJ Transit, has deteriorated to the point that the NJ Department of Community Affairs (NJDCA) has deemed it unsafe and has called for its demolition.
An inspector from NJDCA issued a notice on January 3, 2019 designating the records building to be unsafe and requiring the building’s demolition by June 30, 2020, but local historians and residents are pushing to save it.
Since the building is the oldest surviving one associated with the Hoboken Rail Yard’s early 20th century rail facilities, it’s eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing resource to the Old Main Delaware Lackawanna and Western Railroad Historic District.
According to NJ Transit, the building has been vacant for decades and has not been used for its original or any subsequent function for many years.
Exterior walls are bowed and cracked, and there is deterioration of the roof, upper parapet top stones, and corner roof turrets, and partial missing elements and deterioration of the cornices.
According to NJ Transit, a recent collapse of a portion of the roof parapet and inspections by several independent engineers resulted in the recommendation that the building be demolished.
Mayor Ravi Bhalla and the Hoboken Historic Preservation Commission (HHPC) worked with NJ Transit, along with the Federal Transportation Authority and the State Historic Preservation Office (“SHPO”) in an effort to preserve the building.
As required by SHPO, NJ Transit is conducting an analysis of seven alternatives to demolition each with its own set of pros and cons.
Alternative 1 is a no-build option in which the building’s long-term safety concerns aren’t addressed. Scaffolding and covered walkways would be periodically taken down and rebuilt. Of the alternatives, it’s considered the cheapest at $437,000.
Alternative 2 would be stabilization without rehabilitation in which the building is braced with triangular supports on all four sides, but NJ Transit says it does not have the minimum 22 feet on all sides to erect the shoring structures, so it is not feasible. This alternative carries an estimated price tag of $800,000.
Alternative 3 is rehabilitation and stabilization of the building in its current location. The building would be repaired and safety concerns addressed while minimizing the loss of the historic resource. Bu it could compromise some of its historic and architectural character. This option would cost an estimated $2.86 million.
Alternative 4 involves an adaptive reuse of the building in which the building is extensively repaired in place to be compliant with building codes and subject to the requirements of its proposed new use. But NJ Transit says the building wasn’t designed to be a habitable space and would take a lot of work to be brought up to code as well as upgraded to be flood resilient which would impact the historic character of the building. Due to the building’s possibilities for reuse, the cost for this option varies.
Alternative 5 would relocate and reconstruct the building after it is carefully demolished and its historic materials salvaged. These materials would be used to reconstruct a building that’s “evocative” of the existing structure, according to NJ Transit. The estimated cost is approximately $10 million.
Alternative 6 would demolish the building and salvage and store the building’s historic materials for possible future reuse or donation to a third party for preservation. This option would cost an estimated $2.74 million.
Alternative 7 would demolish the building without salvaging any of the historical materials. It would cost an estimated $1.2 million.
According to NJ Transit’s alternatives analysis draft, the agency favors demolition or relocation, but according to a city survey, the public predominantly favors adaptive reuse.
Respondents strongly oppose Alternative 7, strongly preferring Alternative 4.
Fifty-one of the 72 respondents assigned both “Strongly Oppose” to Alternative 7 and “Strongly Prefer” to Alternative 4, according to a memo from the city’s Director of Community Development Chris Brown.
He said in the commenst box of the survey, these 51 respondents pointed to the building’s beauty, location, and potential as a market, museum, or transit amenity, and its irreplaceable nature as one of the few remaining historic buildings from Hoboken’s “railroads and shipping history.”
These same sentiments were reiterated at a virtual public meeting held last month.
“The fact that it’s been neglected over 30 years is not reason to allow it to continue to decay,” said Melissa Abernathy of the Hoboken Quality of Life Coalition who said the organization supported Alternative 4.
Hoboken resident Liz Ndoye said, “I’d like to see this historic building renovated, repaired, made safe and repurposed as a community arts center” adding that “there is a huge need in Hoboken to have a place where artists can exhibit and promote their work.”
“The records building is a community asset and amenity, not an encumbrance,” said Terry Prances, a founding member of Hoboken’s Responsible Development Task Force who added that he too supported Alternative 4.
The NJ Transit Board of Directors will determine the building’s future after the ongoing federal review process is complete and a final alternative is chosen.
Visit Preservation New Jersey’s website at www.preservationnj.org for more information regarding the statewide nonprofit organization and the 10 Most Endangered program.
For more information on the records building go to https://njtransitresilienceprogram.com/ongoing-resiliency-initiatives/hoboken-terminal/