Expert: Union House fails historic standards

Preservation community and developers
reach an impasse


Preservation community and developers
reach an impasse

Expert witnesses for Union Street Village LLC argued in favor of tearing down the Olde Union House on Wharf Avenue at the Red Bank Planning Board meeting Aug. 9.

The property, owned since 1994 by Neil and Patricia Malloy of Oceanport, has been the subject of heated debate since April, when Malloy and a partner in Union Street Village announced plans to demolish the building and replace it with a six-level, mixed-use building that would include retail space, condominiums and a parking garage.

The Red Bank Historic Preservation Commission (RBHPC) and Preservation Red Bank (PRB) immediately began a campaign to stop the demolition of what they say is a historic landmark, parts of which date back to the original 1794 tavern.

Preservationists and developers have met several times in an attempt to hash out a compromise, but talks collapsed last week.

The RBHPC had proposed preserving the tavern building and allowing the redevelopment around and adjacent to it.

At the Aug. 9 meeting, architect Jack Purvis, Allenwood, introduced the compromise Union Street Village was willing to offer — a false façade that would allow the front porch and a few other elements of the Olde Union House to be retained. The compromise plan had been presented to the RBHPC Aug. 4, where it received a poor reception.

Purvis and the developers much prefer their original plans, which call for demolition of the Olde Union House.

"The structure would have to be taken down and rebuilt. It’s not very successful," Purvis said. "I think the original design actually addresses the historical aspects better."

In the original plans, Purvis divided the façade of the building into four distinct styles by using a variety of materials in order to retain the historic look and to prevent it from appearing to be one huge building that overwhelmed the site, located in the borough’s Historic District.

"The preferred style is Victorian-era, Italianate and Victorian functional," he said. "We tried to follow the lines of what’s in town and we thought we were fairly successful"

Purvis noted that he had not used any contemporary design elements and was consciously trying to match other buildings through his use of appropriate masonry, limestone and marble.

Borough resident Joe Rafetto questioned whether the compromise plan calls for the removal of the entire Union House.

Upon Purvis’s affirmative re­sponse, Rafetto said, "I just wanted to be clear on that. It doesn’t seem like a compromise."

Councilman John Curley agreed.

"It doesn’t look like a compro­mise in any shape or form," he said.

The second expert witness for Union Street Village was historic preservationist Kenneth Kalmis of the Cultural Resource Consulting Group, Highland Park. Kalmis pro­vided testimony that contradicted RBHPC’s platform.

After reviewing the borough’s master plan and completing a site evaluation, Kalmis said he deter­mined that the Union House does not qualify as a historic building under the standards set by the Sec­retary of the Interior or the bor­ough.

The Union House was consumed by fire in 1964 and rebuilt in mod­ern styles, explained Kalmis. Be­cause of a lack of chimneys, the thickness of the windows and walls, among other issues, Kalmis declared the Union House to be of thoroughly modern construction.

"Defenestration has been altered, windows and doors are in different places. The interior retains no fin­ishes from earlier period construc­tion. The building no longer pos­sesses integrity of material or workmanship," Kalmis said.

The criteria he used were those set by the Secretary of Interior that state the structure must have in­tegrity of design, setting, material, workmanship, feeling and associa­tion in order to be considered a his­toric site, he told the board.

The 1964 fire and previous al­terations render the design to have no integrity, he said, adding that the site, independent of the Olde Union House, is also without in­tegrity.

"The wharfs are no longer there, the livery stables are no longer there. The site itself doesn’t have in­tegrity," Kalmis said.

When asked by Curley how the Olde Union House fits into the cul­ture and history of Red Bank, Kalmis said that it is basically a 1965 adaptation of an old building, rendering it unqualified to become a historic site.

"Red Bank is primarily a 19th-century city, much like Freehold is. I don’t feel it’s appropriate to Dis­ney-fy the heritage Red Bank does have [by putting up a façade]," Kalmis said.

The RBHPC contends that enough of the original structure still remains for the building to be clas­sified as historic and preserved.

George Bowden, chairman of the RBHPC, has previously said that the old brickwork and beams from 1794 are still there, making the building worth preserving.

In addressing the claim that a percentage of the original founda­tion remains, Kalmis said, "We’re looking at one wall out of four that exists from an earlier building. That would be one-fourth of one-third of the building. The footprint today is not anything that it was."

Members of the public ques­tioned Kalmis, though frequent admonishments were given by board members not to give testi­mony or use the time for comments.

The hearing was carried to Sept. 13, at which time Union Street Vil­lage attorney Martin McGann Jr. will call four more witnesses.