Parking Could Replace a 19th Century Schoolhouse in Downtown Jersey City

8
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.

Will the Saint Peter’s Grammar School buildings continue standing in Downtown Jersey City as they have for well over a century or will they be torn down? That’s the question that plenty of neighbors and alumni of the former school at 137-55 York Street want answered.

At the end of July, we first told you about plans by the Saint Peter’s Preparatory School to demolish the historic complex in Ward E’s Paulus Hook Historic District. The three-story site consists of both the original parish school, which dates back to 1861, and the adjacent St. Peter’s Hall, which was designed by Herman Kreitler and constructed in the mid-1890s. Both structures have sat vacant for years under the ownership of St. Peter’s Prep. However, despite their current status as unutilized buildings, these Romanesque Revival edifices once were at the center of life in this densely populated neighborhood.


In addition to being where thousands of young students were educated for over a century and a half, St. Peter’s Hall was the location in 1910 where Woodrow Wilson publicly began his first election campaign. Three years before he became the country’s 28th president, Wilson delivered his first speech of the election season inside the building to a largely working-class audience while running to become New Jersey’s governor, according to a book about him by John Dos Passos.

Now, the site, which has been surrounded by scaffolding for the last few years, might be reduced to rubble. St. Peter’s Prep is seeking a certificate of appropriateness from the Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) in order to tear the complex down. Jim Horan, the preparatory school’s vice president, told Jersey Digs in a statement that the buildings would be replaced with parking for faculty and staff.


“Parking is an ongoing concern in our Paulus Hook neighborhood,” Horan explained, adding that the plans for the new lot call for “installing attractive fencing and providing appropriate landscaping for the property.”

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

The plans to tear down the old Saint Peter’s Grammar School have been the talk of the neighborhood for the last two weeks, with plenty of residents in support of preserving the buildings and some posting that they are in favor of its demolition. At the center of the debate is the condition of the site, especially considering that it reportedly suffered damage when this community was flooded during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“All of our engineering studies and analyses have shown that the grammar school building is in an extremely distressed condition, primarily due to the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy,” said Horan. “Of particular concern to us is the building’s foundation, which is in a state of deterioration. In addition, one of the facades is currently six inches off of vertical alignment from street level.”

Tom Kilmer, who has lived across the street from the St. Peter’s Prep campus for 25 years, told Jersey Digs by phone that a six-inch misalignment “is not unusual and it’s not significant.” He thinks that the former grammar school and hall could be adaptively reused into a charter school or an arts center.

Kilmer stated that he has been “trying to open up a conversation about the possibility of the building being in really good condition but the owners are letting it self-destruct,” adding that “it was a very well-built building and if you let water into the masonry intentionally, it will deteriorate.”

Mattias Johansson, another Jersey City resident, wrote a letter opposing the demolition to the HPC and several city officials including Steven Fulop that was forwarded to Jersey Digs.

In it, Johansson said that “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.” Citing “intentional neglect” by St. Peter’s Prep, Johansson added that “it was clear” during the June 18 HPC meeting that the preparatory school “had not performed any maintenance on the building for at least a decade.”

Meanwhile, St. Peter’s Prep officials say that they are concerned over the safety of leaving the structures standing in their current form. Horan stated that “following their own internal analysis of the building, the Jersey City Fire Department has indicated that their firefighters would not enter the building in the event of a fire, due to dangerous conditions throughout the structure, and they have posted placards to that effect on the building.”

The fate of the property could be decided at an upcoming HPC meeting. The application by St. Peter’s Prep was scheduled to be heard on Monday, August 20, but sources tell Jersey Digs that the matter has been moved to September. The agenda for the Monday meeting has yet to be posted and a request for confirmation from the Jersey City Planning Division has not yet been returned.

--

Have something to add to this story? Email [email protected].

Click here to sign up for Jersey Dig's free emails and news alerts. Stay up-to-date by following Jersey Digs on Twitter and Instagram, and liking us on Facebook.

8 COMMENTS

  1. What a shame!I am skeptical of the PR spin the school is trying to get out on the parking lot. “Installing attractive fencing and appropriate landscaping”. Give me a break. You’re tearing down a 130 year old building and putting up a parking lot.

  2. Jersey City as you know is long time gone. I’ve been living here for 20+ years and I hate what’s happening now. I blame the mayor and donors. He had a chance to put stop to it, but he has chosen $$$. The question is: who benefits, not the long time residents for sure. I don’t know my neighbors anymore, people are selling houses because the taxes are killing them. Newcomers and developers come and go, Jersey City is getting trendy, but lost its character years ago..

    • Never mind, reread the article. “The application by St. Peter’s Prep was scheduled to be heard on Monday, August 20, but sources tell Jersey Digs that the matter has been moved to September.”

  3. Wanted my son to fence for this school some day, but if this is how they view progress no way. What an absolute shame to tear this down for parking?Shameful, our future will go some where else.

  4. Shameful indeed. Read more about the buildings here:
    http://www.jerseycitythenandnow.com/

    To make a difference I encourage everyone to make your voice heard during the public comments portion of the Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission hearing, to preserve these significant buildings for future generations.

    When: September 17, 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.

  5. Clearly, SPP is in the pockets of the local politicians. This is an amazing building in the likes of “Henry Hobson Richardson” design. The architect that designed the Trinity Church in Boston, MA (aka Romanesque architecture). I have sat on hearings where JC Historical Preservation is trying to save crappy houses in JC Heights. Why are they ignoring this significant building? The irony, is that SPP has been renovating their other old buildings. This one probably requires a lot of abatement (asbestos removal). Wear your masks people as demolition will probably be relaxed as the city won’t regulate the removal of the building.

LEAVE A REPLY

COMMENTING POLICY: At Jersey Digs, our goal is to inspire thoughtful and respectful conversations. We ask that you keep a level head and an open mind as you discuss the complex issues facing our community. Members who are unable to maintain civility may be blocked from commenting and have their posts removed.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here