Sunday, January 7, 2018

Junior High School #1/ Martin Luther King Jr. School


Occasionally while writing posts for this blog, I hit roadblocks when doing research. Trenton's Junior High School #1 is no exception. The historic structure is one of two schools that shared property between MLK Jr. Boulevard and Brunswick Avenue. The other was the original Jefferson Elementary School.

The exterior design of the school is beautiful, and hasn't been corrupted much over the years. The imposing facade along MLK Boulevard is a great example of collegiate gothic architecture. The limestone trim and ornamentation has fared well, especially in contrast to the weathered brick that encapsulates it.

Stepping inside was a bit of a disappointment, as the building was clearly a hotspot for taggers and other vandals. As we worked our way through the building, there were still plenty of historic elements throughout the structure to keep our interest.

The main draw for me when I visit abandoned schools is the auditorium. Though many have been modernized over the years, that never happened here. What remained was almost a time capsule, if the damage done by those who visited before me can be overlooked.

 The school continued to impress me as we wandered around. The building had a pool installed in the late 1960s, which would be the last major improvement the building got.

The school also had a full sized gymnasium, with fat lancet windows. I haven't seen that in any of the other abandoned schools I've visited, which at the time this post was written includes roughly 40 different facilities in 8 different states.

At some point, the school was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. High School. The Trenton School District shuttered both schools in 2007, leaving the large portion of property completely disused. It wouldn't be for long though, as plans for a new school were approved for the land. The Jefferson school was demolished in 2008, starting with the auditorium.

After the demolition of the Jefferson school was completed, the machines turned on the Junior High School building. Working from the rear once again, they leveled a large section of building that stood behind the original structure. Normally that would be where the auditorium sits. Thankfully and strangely, the auditorium of this school was in a wing off the left side of the main entrance. For some reason demolition was never completed, and the historic main section of the building was left to rot.

The new school currently occupies the southeast portion of the lot, in the shadow of the grand old building which takes up the entire north side of the property. While I remain hopeful something will become of the school, Trenton has a piss poor reputation when it comes to saving their historic school buildings.  I'll continue to check up the site until I have something new to write.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Elizabeth General Medical Center

The roots of this historic New Jersey health care complex go back to 1877, when the "Elizabeth General Hospital and Dispensary" was formed. The need for healthcare in the growing city was paramount, and just two short years later the hospital was officially incorporated. In 1880, several local doctors aquired property on Jaques Street, and with that the hospital was ready to tackle the growing needs of the population. The original complex consisted of a small home like building with a detached surgical pavilion and laundry building. As the years began to pass, public support for a larger building was growing. Massive fundraising efforts were launched, and eventually the necessary capitol was raised. Those involved with donating and raising the funds were given a mention in the newspaper at the time. In 1894, the hospital complex moved to the corner of E. Jersey and Reid Streets. The new building was much larger, featuring more office  and care space, and a new wing dubbed the Blake Memorial Hospital for Women. There were also two separate pavilions for patients dubbed contagious.


The hospital formed what was called "The Daisy Ward". It was the area in the hospital children were relegated to. One important player in the formation of the ward was Eliza Grace Halsey. She was an advocate for the ward, donating money and time to try and spread the word. One surviving example of Miss Halsey's efforts is a letter published in a local paper. She spoke to the children of Elizabeth, asking them to donate their pocket change to the new ward, rather than spending it on candy and toys for themselves. She was ultimately successful in her efforts, and the collective was able to make the ward a reality.

The hospital continued to expand into the 1900's. Large brick buildings replaced the humble shingle style structures. The new buildings were still quite elegant, boasting ornamental limestone detailing like this band that ran below the roofline. 

In the late 50's or early 60's The largest wing to be added to the the hospital site was the maternity ward. The yellow brick wing stood in stark contrast to the aestetically pleasing brick structures. Another small wing was added in 1966, bringing the total building size to 350,000 square feet. The new complex occupied almost the entire block and towered over it. The campus was even visible from the New Jersey Turnpike. 

Despite the long and storied history of the hospital, EGMC merged with St Elizabeth's to form the Trinitas Medical Group in 2000. Hospital operations were moved to the former St Elizabeth's campus. After a few years of remaining partially open, the Elizabeth General Medical Center was officially shuttered.

The complex stood vacant until 2012, when a partial demolition occurred. The power plant and an attached section of the building were removed, leaving a large gap in the lot between the hospital and parking garage. The vacant and overgrown hospital campus became a magnet for crime, and with that came a push to finish the demolition that was stalled for years. In 2017, demolition resumed on the campus. The beautiful brick buildings were abated and emptied, and by the end of the year there was almost nothing left of the once important campus. 

I didn't make my way inside the old hospital complex until the second spate of demolition was well underway. As I parked my car, I looked around the neighborhood at all the people going about their business. Knowing I wasn't going to have another chance, I threw on my high-vis construction vest and hard hat and headed on in. The stories i'd heard about criminal activity around the abandoned hospital kept me on my toes as I walked alone through the barren halls. Thankfully nobody followed me in, or found me inside, and I was able to get my own little tour in before the final walls came down.

Now the Elizabeth General Medical Center is no more. The complex was built through the efforts of the community, saw thousands and thousands of patients cared for, and scores of nurses trained. However, just like many other historic hospitals in New Jersey, it's been demolished in an unceremonious fashion and is on the path to being completely forgotten.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Broadway/Paramount Theater

The broadway district in Long Branch used to be home to two theaters, both owned and operated by Walter Reade. The first, appropriately named the Broadway Theater, opened in 1912.


The theater had a long but tumultuous history.  Reade opened the Strand Theater across the street in the 1920's, and by 1930 the Broadway closed officially for the first time. This was not long lived, as Leon Cubberly was given the task of redesigning the interior of the auditorium for it's grand reopening. The style chosen was a standard atmospheric design, with Spanish-Moorish influence. By 1931, the theater was reopened with a new name and a new auditorium. The new Paramout Theater had just over 1700 seats between the balcony and orchestra levels.

This run would not last long, as once again in 1959 the theater was shut down by Walter Reade. Reade had just modernized the Strand Theater, which itself was newer than the Paramount, as well as dozens of other theaters he owned. Instead of giving the Paramount the same treatment, he planned to demolish the building in 1961. Thankfully he never went through with it, and instead the building sat vacant.

Reuse plans were pitched in 1965, but they were dashed before anything happened. In the mid 1970s, new plans were drafted to convert the building into a dinner theater/live performance venue. Unfortunately, much like the plans to modernize the venue in 1965, the project never went anywhere. At some point the seats were removed, and Siperstein's Paint used the auditorium for warehouse space.

In 1998, hope was once again sparked for potential reuse of the theater. A group called the "Greater Long Branch Arts Council" formed a plan for the entire Broadway district. The theater was set to be restored as part of the revitalization of the city. However, the plans were scrapped around 2005. By then the Strand was long gone, having been demolished a decade prior, and the auditorium of the Paramount was in terrible disrepair.

Despite interest in the restoration, Sipersteins abandoned the auditorium in 2011, leaving all sorts of garbage and shelving on the orchestra level.

I had visited the theater building around 2014, and there wasn't any way inside the structure. I went back a few years later, to find the entire area had changed. The houses that once surrounded the theater were gone. The whole lot was torn up, and demolition equipment was on site. I didn't have my camera with me, but I parked and popped inside a recently exposed entrance. As I sat alone inside the large former auditorium, I knew my time to enjoy the building was limited. The next day I returned with a friend and my camera, and we spent some more time taking photos and poking around.

The final chapter of the history of the theater came to a close in 2017, when the auditorium was finally demolished to make way for parking. Long Branch has begun a resurgence in development and popularity, and with that comes a need for more parking for beachgoers and other tourists.

While it would have been nice to see this theater restored and put back to use, the current stewardship of the city had other plans. As they say, "Oh well...."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Columbian School/George Washington Carver Academy

The city of East Orange is no stranger to fine architecture when it comes to public school buildings. These handsome brick structures are peppered throughout the streets, with many dating back to the 1800's. One noteworthy example of this standard of architectural elegance and excellence was the Columbian School in the Ampere neighborhood.


The three story, eight room brick building was constructed on the corner of Grove street and Springdale avenue in 1892. The land it was built on was originally grazing land for the cows of nearby dairy farms.

The relatively large building originally accommodated grades k-3. As the city around the school grew, so did the need for more space. In 1912, several new sections were added to the building. One of the new additions was a beautiful large auditorium.

The auditorium had large windows separated by tall pilasters. The stage was flanked by smooth, corinthian capped columns. Another highlight of the room was the mezzanine level that included a projection room.

Surrounding the ceiling was an ostentatious stacked plaster crown molding. The hand carved display featured a floral rim perched atop a large cove. Below that existed a denticulated egg-and-dart detail. In addition, several more rows of hand carved ornamentation were banded around the bottom rim.

The field of the ceiling also had a plaster grid that extended all the way to the crown. The new auditorium was a monument to the skill of the Italian masons who constructed it.

Another interesting feature of the school was the library. The large room was the highest point on the building. The hallway leading to the room was lit by skylights. Stained glass transom windows were installed over the doorways, and were still intact over a hundred hears later.

Eventually the population of the city began to dwindle. The school was closed, and was reborn as the George Washington Carver Academy.  They made a number of improvements to the building, including replacing all of the windows with new aluminum models. The GWC academy continued to use the building until 2006, when a pervasive mold problem forced them to vacate the historic school.

The structure sat vacant for a decade before I caught word that it was supposed to be demolished. Plans called for a brand new school to be built on the site. Usually when an old school building is torn down with the intent of being rebuilt, I quell my preservationist reservations and tell myself "at least the students will have a brand new, state of the art school building". However, something about this decision bugged me. While there are still tons of historic schools in use around the city, there are also an abundance of vacant lots. The city is also designated a "transit community"; a distinction that allows incentives for development through tax breaks. This, paired with historic tax credits that the structure was certainly eligible for, could have offset the cost of reusing the building significantly. Alas, my feelings were dashed as demolition began in late 2016. A few months later, the site was but a pile of brick and twisted steel.

This sad but all too common story is one that will certainly be repeated. Major cities all across the state are choosing to replace their historic schools, rather than sell or reuse them. A few notable cases being Trenton Central High School and the former Newark Technical School. As these stories continue to unfold, I will do my best to continue to tell them.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Woodland Cemetery

This beautiful cemetery was founded 1855 as the "West Newark Cemetery". It was designed in a Garden style, which at the time was fairly uncommon in the region.

The population of west Newark at the time was mostly German. The cemetery is only a few blocks from the site of the St. Peter's Church, which was built shortly after the cemetery and catered specifically to the Roman Catholic Germans. Encompassing thirty six and a half acres, the burial ground was a major landmark in the community. Between 1873 and 1881 a beautiful brownstone gatehouse was built at the corner of Rose & Brenner streets, where the main entrance to the property sat.

As the decades passed the grounds saw over 80,000 burials. There were people off all classes, creeds, and race buried here, as well as veterans and famous former Newark residents. The cemetery managed to survive beyond the infamous Newark riots, but not for terribly long. Burial activity eventually began to slow down in the late 1980's.

By the 2000's, the cemetery had been largely neglected. A small patch of the property along S. 10th street  was maintained to attract potential future burials. The portions of the property tucked into the neighborhoods remained overgrown and abandoned. The iron fencing was stolen, headstones were toppled over, and the mausoleums were burglarized. With no income being generated, the cemetery could do little but continue to waste away.
In the mid 2010's an activist group became vocal in their charge to clean up the cemetery. The group clocked countless volunteer hours cleaning up the property, giving tours, and have spoken out about how integral the property is for the city. The group feels that using the remaining free land as burial space will doom the already damaged property. They argue that building a crematorium is the best option for a sustainable future. One of their main goals is to raise enough money to restore as many of the historical features as they can.


Hopefully the cemetery will get the crematorium and won't be lost to time like so many other former vestiges of Newark's past.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fibermark Paper Mill

The history of what was most recently known as the Fibermark Paper Mill starts in the early 1900's. It was built by the Riegal Paper Company. Riegal already owned two other paper mills in the area, one in Hughsville and the other in Milford. Little is recorded about what the Warren Glen facility specialized in, but the massive building was the largest structure for miles.

In 1976, the Riegel Paper Company was acquired by the James River Paper Company. James River gained control of the three Hunterdon Riegel Mills. Around this time, James River was the largest paper corporation in the world. James River continued operations at Warren Glen until 1991, They then leased the facility to Custom Papers, a subsidiary of the Specialty Coatings group. This is when an important part of the story occurs. The James River Company agreed to construct a landfill across the Muskenetcong River from the Warren Glen mill. This landfill would have a basin to collect the runoff and "leachate" water and send it back across the river to the facility's treatment facility. From there it would be treated and discharged safely back into the river.

Four years later, James River officially sold the mill to Custom Papers. They also sold the landfill to Crown Vantage, who operated the former Riegel mill in Milford. Despite both agreeing to carry on the landfill agreement, Crown Vantage stopped accepting waste at the landfill a few short years after purchasing the property.

Over the next few years, the company would see significant restructuring. In 1996,  they were bought out by Specialty Paperboard. A year later, they changed their name to Fibermark. Things changed once again in September of 1999 when it was announced that Fibermark was planning to close the Hughsville mill. Things weren't all bad though, as they announced that they were planning to add a new fifteen million dollar specialty paper production machine at the Warren Glen facility.

By 2001, Crown Vantage had filed for bankruptcy. Part of their bankruptcy included plans to abandon the landfill. In exchange, the company agreed to pay the NJDEP a measly $1 million to investigate and clean up the property. The DEP withdrew their objection to the bankruptcy. The agreement that the Fibermark company had with the landfill was ignored in the proceedings, leaving Fibermark responsible for the runoff from the landfill. It is reported that the money paid by Crown Vantage went to pay for the cleanup of another nearby landfill, and the Warren Glen landfill was largely ignored save for periodic landscaping.

Despite promises that the new paper machine would enable the Warren Glen mill to operate competitively with the Chinese paper market, the facility was still losing money. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in Vermont in 2004. The company also filed a motion that they be absolved from the agreement to maintain the runoff of the landfill. The motion was passed, and the DEP didn't react.

Two years later, Fibermark formally announced the planned closure of the Warren Glen mill. The DEP was reminded of their obligation to manage the landfill and began investigating what to with the property. The Hughsville Mill was subsequently sold to International Process Plants and Equipment. They tried to sell the Warren Glen property as well, but the runoff from the landfill proved to be an impassible issue. In June, Fibermark issued a letter to the DEP explaining that the plant was closing and that they needed to stop the runoff. The DEP reportedly ignored this letter, as well as subsequent attempts of Fibermark to reach out. It wasn't until August, after the firm finished their assessment of the landfill, that they responded to Fibermark, all but dismissing their demand. They explained that since they didn't have an alternative treatment option, it was Fibermarks problem. Fibermark responded that they had already been released from the agreement legally, and that they had no obligation to treat the runoff. After months of fighting it out, the DEP told Fibermark that they planned to dig a trench to divert the runoff back to the landfill until a permanent solution was found. Work was expected to be completed by January 12, 2007. Four days earlier, IPPE agreed to buy the Warren Glen mill. However, this deal was contingent on the DEP following through with their plan to finally stop the runoff onto the Fibermark property. The next day the DEP informed Fibermark that the plan didn't work out and that they needed to go back to the drawing board.

Due to the DEP's carelessness, the deal once again fell through. Fibermark immediately went to the courts and filed a tenporary restraining order that would bar the DEP from further contaminating the property. The order was granted by a judge, but it was acknowledged that it could not be an immediate thing and that the DEP simply needed to hurry up and figure out a solution. A month later, on April 12th, the DEP removed the pipe that had been discharging the contaminated water into the Fibermark property. Shortly after that, IPPE once again signed an agreement to purchase the plant. This time the company offered significantly less for the property, with some of the money being contingent on the sale of the equipment inside. The buildings and land itself sold for only $400,000. Fibermark was desperate to offload the property though, so they accepted what was offered and were finally done with the Warren Glen Mill.

This brings us to 2008, when Fibermark sued the NJDEP claiming the contamination was responsible for the company's failure to find a buyer for the property. They wanted the DEP to cover some of the financial damages they were directly responsible for. Fibermark claimed that they had to operate their wastewater treatment plant for years after the factory closed, at an estimated cost of nearly $70,000 a month. The company had a witness to back up the validity of their agreement with the former Crown Vantage company. In addition, they had testimony from those at the DEP that were were in charge of maintaining the site, as well as those that strong armed them into continuing to accept the contamination. Though most of the evidence and testimony backed up Fibermark, they lost their case. They were called out by the judge for mishandling their bankruptcy, and not adequately notifying the DEP that they needed to take care of the contamination.

Fibermark was out of options, and that is where their place in the mills history comes to a close. They were the last operators of the mill, which has been sitting vacant for the last ten years. It was the last of the three Hunterdon Riegal mills, and just like the others it sits as a testament to the forgotten industrial legacy