Jersey City Denies St. Peter’s Request to Demolish Historic Buildings

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St. Peter's 137 55 York Street Paulus Hook Jersey City Historic 2
St. Peter’s Grammar School, 137-55 York Street, Paulus Hook Historic District, Jersey City. Photo by Darrell Simmons/Jersey Digs.

A marathon five-hour meeting delivered a victory for preservationists who are seeking to stop St. Peter’s Preparatory School from tearing down two properties constructed in the mid-1800s, but the battle could end up before the city’s zoning board as the debate on the future of the buildings continues.

The ongoing saga at 137-155 York Street has captivated the Paulus Hook neighborhood since last summer. It was then that St. Peter’s first floated the idea of demolishing two Romanesque Revival structures that dated back to 1861 and 1894. Located on York Street near Van Vorst Street, the buildings formerly housed the original St. Peter’s Parish School and St. Peter’s Hall and Parochial School. Notable moments at the site include future U.S. President Woodrow Wilson launching his first campaign for New Jersey governor at the hall in 1910.

The school wanted to build a surface parking lot at the site after demolition and promised they would “install attractive fencing and [provide] appropriate landscaping for the property.” The buildings both fall within the Paulus Hook Historic District, so the school needed to gain approvals from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) before moving forward.

St. Peter's 137 55 York Street Paulus Hook Jersey City HistoricThe plan sparked a debate about historical preservation and what some in the neighborhood considered the intentional neglect of the buildings by St. Peter’s. The Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy immediately came out against the scheme, and the city’s historic preservation officials also recommended against demolition.

The matter had been delayed for months, first appearing on the HPC’s agenda all the way back in August of last year. The school finally got their hearing on April 1, where officials from St. Peter’s told commissioners that the older of the two buildings is leaning nearly seven inches and both structures have deteriorated significantly since the school purchased them in 2005.

During the meeting, architect Richard Southwick made a presentation for St. Peter’s that claimed both buildings suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and that saving them “would not be practical” given the costs and time involved. That point drew a rebuke from Jersey City Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano, who was quoted by Hudson County View as telling the crowd “there’s no reason why that place should be torn down. Over the last 20, 25 years, we’ve destroyed the history of Jersey City.”

In the end, the HPC delivered a unanimous 6-0 vote to deny the school’s request to demolish the buildings. St. Peter’s hasn’t yet announced their next move, but they can appeal the HPC’s decision to the Jersey City Zoning Board if they wish.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Anyone wonder why they would want to build a parking lot? In that prime location?

    Possibly because it’s in a historic district so it would be hard to say they are demolishing to build a condos. some interesting facts, Mike DeMarco, CEO of Mack Cali one of the biggest developers downtown, is a St Peters Prep alumni. He also just happens to be part of SPP board. Somethings starting to smell a little fishy..

    And what about that parking lot? Wouldn’t that be the perfect foundation for the next large development downtown? And a parking lot…so no concerns about Historic Committee since the historic building has already been knocked down? Is it possible that Mike DeMarco would offer an great deal to buy that “parking lot” off of SPP?

    things that make you go hmmmm…

  2. Don’t know about the Mack Cali connection, but it would certainly seem counter-intuitive that if St Peter’s had the right to do what they want, in this instance demolition, then they could also sell the property outright to whomever they choose. Otherwise, it would make no sense to demo the building, build a parking lot, put up attractive fencing and landscaping and then sell it immediately afterwards.

    That notion that St Peter’s doesn’t want to save the buildings due to “cost and time time” issues sounds like BS. The Catholic church has about half a billion dollars in local real estate holdings so securing a loan would not be a problem and if time was some kind of issue they would have done something in the prior 15 years to maintain or upgrade the property.

  3. Don’t underestimate Mike DeMarco…he’s on a mission to take over JC. They just bought SOHO Lofts for 264 million and own Harborside. He wants to buy anything he can get his hands on in that area.

    It does sound strange but why would SPP not just sell in the first place? Why would they want to demo this building? You really think they would build a parking lot in this location? Why would they go through the hassle of dealing with historic commission and making bogus claims about the stability of the building when they could just sell and make a tremendous profit?

    I can’t prove that’s the case but I don’t think it’s crazy to think Mike DeMarco somehow is working things behind the scenes and could possibly offer a sweetheart deal to SPP to acquire that land after the demo. Because I doubt he wants to or could get approval to demo. But SPP would have a better chance using this poor excuse.

  4. With all the gentrification and population growth of higher-earning professionals in the area I’m surprised SPP isn’t thinking about using those buildings to expand. The latest schools reports gave downtown JC public high schools really bad grades so I would think that the demand for decent quality middle-high school spaces would be rising commensurately with the upper middle class population growth in the area.

  5. SPP doesn’t want to sell because #1 they want obviously do want parking facilities, and # 2 they don’t have much leverage as it’s a landmarked building and in a state of disrepair. Therefore, whoever would potentially acquire it would have to maintain the historical details. Not certain, but I believe the historical designation only applies to the exterior of the building. So the buyer would have to factor in the cost of renovating the interior for say condos and that would cost a lot more than tearing it down and rebuilding a new structure. Since SSP can’t demo it’s all moot as to DeMarco acquiring the land.

  6. spp has lots of kids/teachers coming from all over. i’m guessing everyone reading this knows how much fun parking is in that area of jc. maybe they really just need the parking? crazy idea….

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