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.
The 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.