Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Old Jersey City Medical Center

Jersey City has seen a boom of development over the past two decades. Several monolithic modern towers have been constructed in this time. But did you ever notice the the modest cluster of Art Deco high rises protruding out of the Bergen Hill neighborhood? Driving by now, one would see that it is the Beacon condominium complex. This wasn't always the case however. This group of buildings was originally the Jersey City Medical Center.

It all began in 1885, when the "City Hospital" (former Charity Hospital) of Jersey City moved operations from a dirty old hospital in the Paulus Hook area to it's new location on Baldwin Avenue.

The new hospital would quickly become obsolete though, and in 1909 a new three story castle- like building was completed. At this time there were also several houses on the property, which functioned as temporary hospitals until the new buildings were finished. Once the hospital began to flourish, several more buildings were added. Some of the new buildings were a chapel, a dormitory for the staff, and a morgue. A new house for the hospital administrator was also constructed around 1909.

As Jersey City began to grow, so did the hospital. In 1917, several new buildings were added to the property. One such building included a small power station, which allowed the hospital to generate it's own power. Around this time the original hospital building more than doubled in size as well, as a twin building was built behind it and another floor was added. Two brand new surgical suites were included in the new floor.

Just a year later, construction started on what would be the A. Harry Moore school for crippled children. The Moore school was among the the first in the country specifically focusing on educating children with disabilities. Though the building was originally going to be built at the hospital, a flawed beginning design left the structure of no use for the school. Instead, the school would be built on Kennedy Boulevard. The space originally intended for the school would go on to become the Dr. B. S. Pollak Hospital for Chest Diseases.

The new growth made the hospital really begin to gain a good reputation. This was nothing, however, compared to the expansion it would see in the next few decades.

In 1928, under the direction of mayor Frank Hague, the hospital would begin to see some major expansion. Haugue's vision was to be able to provide free, quality healthcare to residents of the city. The first new building of the complex was the Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital.

Named after mayor Frank Hague's late mother, The new ten story maternity hospital would go on to be one of the most well known buildings in all of Jersey City. An estimated 350,000 babies were born here. Speaking to neighbors and others who grew up in the city, more often than not folks were telling me "Sure, that's where I was born!"

Designed by one of the mayor's favorite city architects, Christian Ziegler, the maternity hospital was initially proposed years before the expansion of the medical center. The infant mortality rate in the county peaked in 1923, with roughly one in five births ending with the newborn dead. Numbers didn't fare much better for the mothers, who were also frequently dying in childbirth.

It didn't take long before the hospital built up a positive reputation. Despite having enough space and resources to comfortably attend to roughly 400 mothers, the hospital was quickly reducing the mortality rate for the city. Wards were open late for working fathers to be able to visit their newborn children after getting out of work.

A year after construction started on the maternity hospital, a new surgical building was built directly behind the building from 1909. The imposing 22 story structure was one of the tallest in the city at the time. The new building would be dubbed "Holloway Hall",

Also added in 1929 was a 17 story nurses home, directly adjacent to the power plant. This building was named "Fairbank Hall".

Part of the expansion of the hospital included adding more towers for staff housing, infectious diseases, and other various necessities of the now enormous hospital. This expansion included demolition of some of the buildings built on the property between 1907 and 1917. Two architects would work together to build the hospital up piece by piece. Overseeing the whole project was John T. Rowland, who designed several of Jersey City's more prestigious and well known buildings. Despite the various architects, all the buildings were designed in the same Art Deco fashion. It is by far the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the state, if not the country.

In 1934, construction was started on several new towers. One of which was the Dr. B.S. Pollak Hospital for Chest Diseases. Towering over the complex at 22 stories, the hospital was named for one of the most prominent doctors in the field at the time. Though part of the city medical center, it was operated by Hudson County as their sanatorium during the outbreak of the early mid 1900's. It was the tallest building in Jersey City for over 50 years until the new commercial towers started going up downtown.

One of the other towers built at this time, the "B" building, would house the new main entrance to the complex. The two story lobby was clad in pink marble, with tracery on the ceiling and a decorative terrazzo floor. These buildings were the first to be renovated during the large scale conversion into condominiums in 2007.

A new clinic building was also added to the medical center in 1934, and it was almost a twin of the "C" building it stood behind. Over the years it provided mostly outpatient services.

On October 2nd, 1936, the complex was officially dedicated by then-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. By this time, the medical center had grown into a towering complex akin to a city of it's own.

Around 1938, the complex would see construction start on even more towering Art Deco buildings. It was at this time that the 14 story Isolation building was built. It was referred to as "Al Blazi's Hall". At some point in it's history it stopped being used as an isolation ward and became the staff headquarters.

By 1941, construction on campus was completed. With two million square feet of building space, the medical center was unlike any other in the world. Though most of the complex was already completed by the mid 1930's, several more improvements were made to the buildings in this time. The last building built on campus in 1941 was a nurses residence named Murdoch Hall. With it's marble clad lobby, hardwood paneled office for Mayor Hague, and beautiful Art Deco movie theater, Murdoch Hall is one of the greatest buildings in Jersey City. In 1966, the building was also used by Hudson County Human Services. After the hospital closed, the building would continue to slowly rot away until 1995, when the Robert Redford movie "Quiz Show" was filmed in the tower. The film crew put a lot of time and effort into fixing up the building, as the rest of the campus continued to decline.

While on campus designing Murdoch, Christian Ziegler also designed a pair of 17 story towers that were added to the rear of the Maternity ward he originally created. Though sitting on only fourteen acres, the new medical center was the largest health care facility in the world.

As was the case with many hospitals in the late 1900's Jersey City Medical Center was overcrowded and underfunded. In 1979 the maternity ward on campus closed, and was converted into office space. However, this marked the beginning of the end for the campus. Less than a decade later, the Jersey City Medical Center went bankrupt and vacated the facility in 1988

Years of neglect left the campus as a complete eyesore for the city. Since the medical center could be seen for miles and miles, thousands of people looked at the decrepit complex day after day. The complex would serve as shelter for drug users and vagrants for nearly two decades, before a developer purchased the hospital with plans to renovate the whole complex.

Thankfully in 2007, work began on the largest restoration project in NJ history. Under the direction of Manhattan based reality group Metrowest, workers began renovating two of the staff buildings on the medical center property, built at the same time as the B.S. Pollak tower. By 2009 they were completely reborn as 315 condominium units. These buildings were renamed the "Capital" and "Rialto", after famous New York City Theaters. Nearly $135 million dollars went into renovation of the two towers.

However, things came crashing to a stop in 2010, midway through the renovation of the Murdoch building. The economic downturn left many of the already renovated units empty. The owner at the time, George Filopoulos, sold off most of the still-deteriorated hospital to a Connecticut based firm for $47 million.

Work began again almost immediately in the Murdoch building, which was the third to be renovated. It was dubbed the "Paramount" building, keeping with the trend of renaming the buildings after famous New York City theaters.

By 2015, work had mostly wrapped up on the last few blighted hospital buildings. Fairbank Hall, the Pollak hospital and the Margaret Hague Maternity ward were the last towers on campus to be renovated.

The Jersey City Medical Center is an amazing example of both Art Deco architecture and historic preservation. What could have ended with a serious of controlled implosions instead became one of the greatest examples of adaptive reuse in the history of the United States. As a result, it can now be used in future arguments towards saving our historic buildings. If this two million square foot complex of towers can be brought back after two decades of disuse, almost anything can.

Lakeland Psychiatric Hospital

The grounds of this psychiatric hospital have functioned as such since the late 1870's. At the time of its creation, the only place in Camden County for the mentally ill to go was a small wooden structure referred to as the "mad house". The rooms in this building were so deplorable they were more akin to a barn than a hospital. These conditions prompted Dorothea Dix, who had visited the "mad house" to eventually rally the state of New Jersey to erect it's first psychiatric hospital in Trenton.

With the population of Camden County rising, the board of chosen freeholders decided to erect their own institution adjacent to the almshouse, which despite its deplorable conditions was still in operation. in 1878, the main building was open at what was dubbed the Camden County Insane Asylum at Blackwood.

The hospital would continue to expand under its original name until 1925 when the Timber Creek was dammed, and the hospital was renamed the Camden County Insane Hospital at Lakeland. The new Camden County Sanatorium was built across the street at the same time.

The hospital saw a lot of physical change around this time. The old original building was supplemented around the 1930's when a pair of high rises were built. A long corridor connected one of the new high rises to the old hospital, and to one of the buildings on the street.  The sister building to the new high rise was added on to existing structures south of the main building.

Despite all the growth, the hospital population would eventually dwindle, forcing many of the buildings to close between 1998 and 2000.

Most of the abandoned structures were demolished in 2007, before I got the chance to visit. The sister building to the main structure would go on to be renovated into county offices, but one building still sat abandoned.

This building was being used as storage, from the time that the other remaining buildings were renovated into offices. However, it was demolished without warning in the first few days of 2014. Though some buildings from the hospital still remain, they bear little historical significance. We will continue to watch these structures, to see what time has in store for them.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Riegel Paper Mill

This massive paper mill was built along the banks of the Delaware River in what was then Holland Township. The area was mostly farmland, next to which new Riegel Paper Mill seemed a monolith. Sitting on the better part of 70 acres of land, the mill was quite beneficial for the township.

Completed in 1907, the mill would immediately become the largest supplier of jobs for the small town. The complex consisted of the main production facility, a power plant, a "coating" facility, several dozen houses built for the workers of the mill and a 35 acre aeration pond in nearby Alexandria.

In 1911, the section of Holland Township where the mill sat was renamed Milford. It wasn't named for the Riegel Mill however, but rather a gristmill further into town.

Though the mill started out with dozens of nearby houses for its 75 employees, varying in size and architectural style, a few of them would be demolished over the years. This started in the early 1960's, when several houses along Delaware avenue were demolished to create parking.

As the years progressed, so did the Riegel Company. The coating facility, rumored to be the oldest buildings on site, focused on specialized compounded resins used for certain types of paper products. The main mill area would focus on food based applications for paper. It would go on to be operated by the Riegel Paper Corporation well into the 1970's. At its peak, the mill employed around 700 people.

In 1976, the Riegel Paper Corporation was acquired by the James River Paper Corporation, and in 1978 the Riegel family officially sold the last of their stock in the company. James River Papers was buying up paper manufacturing properties left and right. Half a decade later, they would be declared the largest paper corporation in the world. You may recognize the company for such products as Brawny paper towels and Dixie cups.

Sometime between the late 1980's and the early 1990's, several more houses along Delaware avenue were removed. This wave of demolition left only one brick Victorian house on that particular stretch of road.

The James River corporation continued to operate the Milford Mill under its main brand name until 1995. At this time, a new division of the company was crated to focus specifically on the company's printing and writing contracts, as well as the specialty papers the mill was always known for.

An economic downturn in Asia caused the entire paper market to begin to dwindle. By 1998, the company had been experiencing significantly diminishing profits for three consecutive years. To supplement this, imported paper was being imported for far cheaper than the costs of manufacturing it in the United States.

Three additional years later, Crown Vantage went bankrupt and sold the mill to the Curtis Paper company.

The Curtis Paper company would be the last group to occupy the massive structure, manufacturing specialty paper for several different companies and applications. They wound up leaving the building entirely in 2003, they having gone bankrupt like Crown Vantage before them. Though the mill was once the largest employer in the town, it was now leaving 213 employees without jobs.

The building was sold to International Papers & Georgia Pacific, who wanted some of the machinery and manufacturing equipment. Everything the company didn't want would eventually be auctioned off, leaving the massive building mostly empty.

The EPA investigations at the site mostly began in 2007, when the group installed a large fence and hired a security guard to watch the massive site. By 2008 the group announced plans to designate the property a "superfund site".

In 2009, the mill was added to the federal list of most polluted properties in the United States. Numerous chemical spills occurred at the site, and the heavy machinery on site meant that there were tons of polychlorinated biphenyls present. Its location right on the banks of the Delaware River meant that the site was a major priority for cleanup.

Thankfully, by 2012, the EPA announced a statement that cleanup at the site was more than three quarters of the way complete. This included demolition of the historic Coating facility, which was completed by 2013, and soil and asbestos remediation. However, the main mill buildings would go on to only be partially gutted, and not torn down.

Who knows what the future will hold for the former Riegel paper mill. Now that the main building has been completely remediated, it could be demolished at any time. As with many other cases, we will just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

NL Industries (National Lead)

Ever drive down the New Jersey turnpike by exit 8? Did you ever notice the tall water tower with a big blue "N" on it? This tower is on the property of National Lead, a large research facility nested among hundreds of acres of fertile farmland.

The history of this complex goes back to 1961. National Lead already had several facilities in central New Jersey, but they decided to construct new research labs and a manufacturing facility for their paint products. Fifty acres of farmland along the newly constructed NJ Turnpike in East Windsor was chosen to build on. The existing farmhouse was demolished to make room for the driveway. Architects representing the Ballinger Company were contracted to design the complex.

The Irwin & Leighton company would accept the task of building  the new facility. They were an industry leader in the lab construction field, even building labs for such companies as large as Mobil oil. Though construction on the larger building wrapped up quickly, it wasn't until 1963 when the second smaller building was added to the property.

The East Windsor plant mainly focused on the applications of lead in paint products. Lead paint was prevalent in those days, used in everything from industrial environments to children's toys. The dangers of lead were known, but weren't widely publicized until the late 1970's.

National Lead had their own line of paint, dubbed "Dutch Boy", which they launched in 1907. The main goal of the East Windsor facility was to do research on potential advancements of the product. Lead White color pigment has been traced back to the fourth century, when the pigment was created through a convoluted process that took over a month to complete. Obviously the product had come a a long way since that time. They wanted to know what else they could improve.

In 1972 the company diversified their interests and became NL Industries. Now instead of focusing on just lead products, the company began several storage units were added next to the smaller structure on the east side of the property. They built a large office area directly adjacent to the smaller lab around this time as well. A second parking lot was laid on the right side of the new office buiding.

Throughout the 1970's, the dangers of lead paint began to come to light. In 1977, a law was passed banning lead paint in household paint and products. This dealt a heavy blow to the East Windsor division, as that was what their division focused on. Though they had just built a new office building less than a decade earlier, National Lead (now NL Industries) sold the Dutch Boy trademark to Sherwin Williams in 1980. The smaller building was occupied by a company called Elementis Specialties, while the other building was left to rot.

Elementis Specialties is a London based company specializing in chemical additives. For nearly three decades they occupied the building at the NL site, but they would go on to vacate the property in the summer of 2012. They moved to a new location in another part of town. The entire property began to fall into a serious state of disrepair. Vandals and scrappers began to attack the complex, stripping wire and smashing out the windows.

After being entirely disused for three years, the town decided they were fed up with the site. They did a walk through of the complex and found that nothing on the property was worth salvaging, and that the area needed to be redeveloped. A warehouse was planned for the site in 2015, when the planning board passed a resolution to move ahead with development of the property.

When the question of soil contamination came up during public discussion about future plans for the property, mayor Mironov herself was quoted as saying “It’s not a property that is in need of a cleanup in order to be redeveloped." This, despite being listed on the DEP superfund site list. At the time of our visit, it wasn't clear whether or not anything had been done in regards to cleanup. But it certainly seemed to need it.

The building that NL Industries left behind in 1980 had been deteriorating by 35 years at this point. Vandals and scrap metal thieves had destroyed and removed almost all of the windows ages ago. The roof had been eaten away, to the point where most rooms didn't have any cover.

Vegetation began to grow inside the rotting laboratory. Trees taking root through the floor were tearing the drywall right off of the studs. It was truly amazing to see the destructive force of nature taking apart the building piece by piece.

The buildings were designed with open courtyards, for employees to relax and enjoy their breaks in. After the complex was closed, the vegetation began to take over the areas. Benches could still be found in place among a sea of ivy.

The buildings vacated by Elementis Specialties were a stark contrast to the post apocalyptic feel of the NL Industries structure. While vandals had begun to sneak inside the office building as well, the laboratories were very clean and well preserved.

With demolition on the horizon, I will keep my eyes on the property during my frequent trips up and down the state. Hopefully demolition doesn't start right away, so I may have one more chance to visit the beautifully chaotic mess that is the NL Industries property.