Monday, August 13, 2018

Proposed Demolition of Civil War Era School in Paulus Hook Historic District

St. Peter’s Preparatory School (Prep.) has applied to the Jersey City Historical Preservation Commission to demolish two historically important buildings within the Paulus Hook Historic District, shown in the photo below:
  • St. Peter’s Original Parish School, 155 York Street, circa 1861, unknown architect
  • St. Peter's Hall and Parochial School, 145-151 York, circa 1898, architect Herman Kreitler
In the description below, the buildings’ importance and architectural significance is highlighted through historical maps, photos and other sources.

The hearing is scheduled for August 20, 2018 and is held in Council Chambers of City Hall, 280 Grove Street, Jersey City, New Jersey. I encourage everyone to make your voice heard during the public comments portion of the hearing, to preserve these significant buildings for future generations.


Figure 1 St Peter’s Hall and Parochial School building c:a 1898 shown in middle and left; St. Peter’s Original School building, c:a 1861, shown on right. Note the original school building’s cornice and windows are intact in photo. Photo taken in 1940s and included on page 13 of ‘Saint Peter's College' by Joseph McLaughlin and Thomas Matteo.



Figure 2 St. Peter’s Hall and Parochial School building c:a 1898 shown in middle and left; St. Peter’s Original School building, c:a 1861, shown on right. Photo taken early 1980s and included in National Registry of Historic Places Nomination: https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/9b80f9f7-a9ff-4fd8-a677-986bac479d02



St. Peter’s Original Parish School, 155 York Street


The building on 155 York Street is the original St. Peter’s Parish School building. Hopkins Map from 1873 shows that “St Peter’s School” is the first of St. Peter’s school building in existence on the block between Grand, Van Vorst, York and Warren Streets where St. Peter’s Prep now has its main campus.


Figure 3 1873 G.M. Hopkins Map of Hudson County, https://mapmaker.rutgers.edu/HUDSON_COUNTY/HudsonCoAtlas/P_42_43/index.html

The building was completed by 1861, at the outbreak of the civil war. The original St. Peter’s School is one of the very few, possibly the only, non-residential Civil War era buildings still standing in downtown Jersey City.

The Original St. Peter’s School is also one of very few buildings of its architectural style remaining in Jersey City, i.e. early Romanesque Revival style, with Italianate elements. This style was previously common in Jersey City, but most buildings have been demolished – prominent, but now demolished, examples included the Old Hudson County Jail and Old City Hall.

Old Hudson County Jail


Built circa 1845 on Newark Avenue next to the present day Hudson County Court House (i.e. on Newark Avenue opposite the intersection with Oakland Avenue).


Figure 4 Photo taken during demolition of Hudson County Jail and sourced from http://www.njcu.edu/programs/jchistory/Pages/H_Pages/HC_Jail_Penitentiary.html

Old City Hall


The old city hall was located on Newark Avenue at present Day Metropolis Towers in Jersey City.



Figure 5 Photo showing Newark Avenue looking east from Montgomery St. The building center right with the steps leading up to entrance was the old City Hall. Photo from the New Jersey Room at Jersey City Free Public Library.

St. Peter’s Original Parish School Today

From St. Peter’s Prep. testimony in front of Jersey City’s Historic Preservation Commission on June 18, 2018, it was clear that St. Peter’s Prep. had not performed any maintenance on the building for at least a decade. Through St. Peter’s intentional neglect, St. Peter’s Original School currently looks as shown in Figure 6 below.


Figure 6 Photo of 155 York St, taken in Sep 2017, sourced from Google Maps.

The High Street or Common School - Gettysburg, PA


There are not many civil war era buildings similar to St. Peter’s original school that are still standing today. However, in Gettysburg, PA a similar school building, although 2 stories, from the same period– approximately 1860 – and same style has survived on 40 East High Street.

The Gettysburg Common School building shows what the original St. Peter’s School would look like if it was restored. If restored, the school would serve as a physical link to the very early history of downtown Jersey City.


Figure 7 Photo of Common School, 40 East High St, Gettysburg from Google Maps.

St. Peter’s Hall and School Building – 145 - 151 York Street


The building was designed by prominent local architect Herman Kreitler and is an important contributor to the historic district.


Figure 8 St. Peter’s Hall and Parochial School building c:a 1898 shown in middle and left; St. Peter’s Original School building, c:a 1861, shown on right. Photo #553 from the New Jersey Room at Jersey City Free Public Library.

This map from 1919 identifies the buildings on 145 to 151 York Street as St. Peter’s Hall and School.


Figure 9 Jersey City and Bayonne Platbook, 1919, https://mapmaker.rutgers.edu/HUDSON_COUNTY/JC_BayonnePlatbook/JC_Bayonne_2/index.htm

The Building where Woodrow Wilson launched Gubernatorial Campaign


The buildings have historical significance: it was in St. Peter’s Hall that Woodrow Wilson launched his successful NJ gubernatorial bid on September 28, 1910 (Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 21:181-91, speech transcript available through paid access or free trial from http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu). Woodrow Wilson would go on to become United States President between 1913 and 1921 and steer the United States through World War I and its aftermath.


From an architectural standpoint, the building is important as it was designed by a prominent local architect, who designed other cherished Jersey City landmarks, including:
  • Title Guarantee and Trust Company, 83 Montgomery St
  • Thomas J Stewart Carpet Cleaning Work, 88-92 Erie St
  • St Aloysius Academy, 112-114 Grand St

New Jersey Title Guarantee and Trust Company




Location 83 Montgomery St, Jersey City
Built 1888-1897
Architect Herman Kreitler
Sources Paulus Hook Historic District Application
National Park Service
https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/9b80f9f7-a9ff-4fd8-a677-986bac479d02
https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/4e1bb8fd-3dbb-4255-85a3-a1d65ca5f03d

Thomas J Stewart Carpet Cleaning Works



Location 88-92 Erie Street, Jersey City
Built 1888
Architect Herman Kreitler
Sources "Jersey City of Today - its History, People, Trades, Commerce and Industries", 1909
http://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/jerseycityoftoda00muir
http://www.newyorkssixth.com/directory/2007/03/thomas-j-stewart-apartments.html

St. Aloysius Academy



Location 112 -114 Grand Street, Jersey City, NJ
Built 1888-1889
Architect Herman Kreitler
Sources Paulus Hook Historic District Application
National Park Service
https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/9b80f9f7-a9ff-4fd8-a677-986bac479d02
https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/4e1bb8fd-3dbb-4255-85a3-a1d65ca5f03d

St. Aloysius Academy is now used as St. Peter’s Prep’ Humanities Building and was on page 8 in the St. Peter’s Prep’s centennial pamphlet described as “The most attractive building in downtown Jersey City […]”.

The text in the pamphlet is ironic in that most of the building’s architectural details (e.g. doorways, terracotta details, window arches, etc) and overall style are identical to the building at 145 – 153 York Street that St. Peter’s Prep. now seeks to demolish. 

Discussion


As shown above the buildings that St. Peter’s Prep is seeking to demolish have both architectural significance and historical importance. Both buildings contribute to the Paulus Hook Historical District on the National Registry of Historic Places.

I attended the Jersey City Historical Preservation Commission’s first meeting on the demolition application on June 18, 2018. Based on St. Peter’s Prep. testimony it was clear that St. Peter’s Prep. had not performed even the most basic building maintenance in the last decade or made any investigation into what it would take to preserve the buildings. Their claims that it was with a heavy heart that they had come to the decision that they needed to demolish the buildings rang very hollow.

Under the layer of obscuring white paint the building at 141-151 York St is an intricately designed building by a prominent local architect that could be restored to the same beauty as the architect’s other buildings in Jersey City. The building is also where Woodrow Wilson, United States 28th President, opened his NJ gubernatorial campaign in 1910.

The building at 155 York Street is the original St. Peter’s School building completed in 1861, at the outbreak of the civil war. It is one of the very few, possibly the only, non-residential Civil War era buildings remaining in downtown Jersey City. And now St. Peter’s themselves want to demolish it and with it the origins of their own school as well as one of the last physical connection to the early stages of downtown Jersey City’s history. If restored, the building would show its historic significance in the same way as the High Street School in Gettysburg.

If St. Peter's Prep wish to raise money, they should sell these buildings for a profit (with historic preservation designation intact) to a developer with the vision and interest to turn them to productive use - the same way that has been done with many other church and school buildings in Jersey City and recently with Butler Brother's Warehouse Building (now Modera Lofts).

This would enable St. Peter's Prep to raise money and Jersey City's history to be preserved. They should not be allowed to demolish their own and the city’s history.

I encourage each Historic Preservation Commission member to deny St. Peter’s Prep’s demolition application at the meeting on August 20th, 2018 and for everyone else to make your voice heard during the public comments portion of the hearing, to preserve these significant buildings for future generations.


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When: August 20, 2018

Where: Council Chambers of City Hall, 280 Grove Street, Jersey City, New Jersey

What: Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission meeting to review St. Peter's Prep's application to demolish two buildings within Paulus Hook Historical District.
  • Case: H18-061 
  • Applicant: Charles J. Harrington II, Esq. for St. Peter’s Preparatory School, Owner 
  • Address: 137-155 York Street Formerly Saint Peter’s Grammar School 
  • Block/Lot: 14201/1
How: The meeting is opened up for public comment during which every member of the public is allowed to voice their opinion about the application. Each member is allowed 5-10 minutes.