The fate of the old Saint Peters Prep buildings at 137-155 York Street has caused a familiar enigma to surface once again; specifically, the emotional, controversial topic of what constitutes “historical significance.” To many, the quaint, old structures of yesteryear scattered throughout Jersey City represent precious “objets historiques.” To those a bit more pragmatic, old does not necessarily equate to historical relevance. Without doubt, Jersey City has a very rich past, and that history truly needs to be preserved. Yet, simultaneously, one must seriously question: At what cost?
Those familiar with Jersey City’s past can make a reasonable argument that this municipality’s renaissance – its gentrification – started when Mayor Tommy Smith pointed out the many “eyesores” that had been permitted to remain in existence throughout the city. Indeed, Major Smith’s astute observations increased the community’s awareness to the urban decay and plight that had plagued Jersey City. Mayor McCann acted on those observations, and the re-building of Jersey City commenced.
We now find ourselves in a similar situation with regards to the Saint Peter’s Prep buildings. Throughout the city, there are old derelict, dilapidated edifices crying out to be mercifully “structurally euthanized.” Their useful life has come to an end. However, a significant number would prefer to sacrifice the city’s future infrastructure for the sake of keeping grim, spectral reminders – haunting “eyesores” from the past – in existence; and for no other practical reason, mind you, except that they are old. Using similar logic, my tool shed is well over a century old. Should the community invest resources to maintain that insignificant relic from the past?
Granted, certain buildings and locations within Jersey City should be preserved as truly historically significant; Dickinson High School, the Court House, and Harsimus Cemetery come immediately to mind. On the other hand, there are locations within Jersey City with “questionable historical relevance” that are crumpling at the seams, that rest on top of contaminated soil, or that are simply an “eyesore relic” from the past.
Structures that have become unsound and unstable present a health and safety hazard, are havens for vermin, attract criminal activity, and are burdens to the community at large. Such locations should be razed and be made ready to support and accommodate future infrastructure and improvements.
John Di Genio