Dorn’s Photography site to be developed

Wallace Street tract under contract; mixed use planned


Staff Writer

Woolworth’s disappeared first, then Prown’s. Now, locals will have to do without yet another longtime Red Bank fixture as the Wallace Street site of the Dorn’s photography complex is under contract to be sold to a group of local developers.

“They made an offer that was accepted, so there is a contract for sale,” said Daniel Whitfield Dorn Jr. this week. “There is no closing date, not even a firm plan to develop [the site]. It could take a while. It’s all going to be done in accordance with the zoning. There is not going to be 24-story high-rise.”

Dorn stressed that all components of the photography business will continue to operate in the short-term while plans proceed for the site.

“Dorn’s is not going anywhere until the closing,” he said, adding that the business may actually become a tenant of the new development.

“I just thought the time was right,” said Dorn about the decision to sell. “I said I’d try to keep it going as long as we could, but the timing was right. I want something good for Red Bank and I think this would be good for Red Bank.

“I wanted to retire, it’s going to be developed within the zoning, and the real estate market is up, and that’s a factor.”

Also a factor, Dorn said, was the advent of digital photography, which has had a far-reaching impact on the business.

“It happened faster than I thought,” he said of the popularity of the new technology. “I knew it was coming. We’re a hometown operation — a mom-and-pop operation — and they don’t work anymore in the way our society has gone.”

The just-under-1-acre site of the Dorn’s complex on Wallace Street is owned by Dubouchet Holding Co., in which Dorn and his wife, Judith Hoyt Dorn, are principals.

Dorn did admit to having reservations about ending Dorn’s run, which began in 1937.

“There was big-time hesitation. We’ve been a part of Red Bank for a long time. I’ve been working here since 1962.”

Included on site are two multi-family houses at 21-23 and 25-27 Wallace, a retail photography store at 15 Wallace and a commercial photography operation in converted garage space at the Wallace Street site.

According to the Red Bank Tax Assessor’s Office, the properties’ combined assessed value is approximately $1.1 million.

Attorney Martin A. McGann Jr., who is representing the potential purchasers, this week would say only that the tract is under contract to River Development LLC. He did not comment on the reported purchase price of $3.5 million.

According to McGann, development of the site will include a residential component. The site’s CCD-2 zoning permits retail uses on the first level and residential uses on floor above, he noted.

The late-October contract signing is being followed up by a feasibility study, he added.

“A feasibility study is being conducted to determine how the property can be developed, taking into account zoning of the property,” he said. “We will work with the town fathers and residents to make sure it’s a project that’s appropriate to the town.

“Assuming that the study pans and the property can be developed in accordance with the zoning criteria, the next step would be to have plans drawn up.”

Dorn’s father, Daniel Whitfield Dorn, founded Red Bank’s photography dynasty 68 years ago across Wallace Street, then moved the business to the current location in 1947. He added to the property over the years, acquiring the houses that front Wallace and garages at the rear of the properties in 1968, Daniel Dorn explained.

What of the fate of Dorn’s photography business?

“The business will, in some fashion, keep going,’ said Dorn, who scaled back his day-to-day involvement in the business in 1999 when Dorn’s retail camera and film processing business, Dorn’s Photo Shop, was sold to longtime employee Bill Matlack.

Matlack said this week he will seek to relocate in the area by the time the property transfer is completed, which could be a lengthy process.

Dorn’s sister, Kathy Dorn Severini, oversees the commercial photography operation, Dorn’s Photography Unlimited, which includes the Dorn’s Classic Collection — a large archive of historic negatives and photographs, some dating to the 1800s. Also involved in the commercial operation are Dorn’s cousin, Jimmy Dorn, and John Pecyna. Severini has the rights to the Classic Photo Collection.

Severini said her top priority will be reorganizing the Classic Photo Collection.

“There are thousands, probably over 3,000 glass plates acquired by dad or given to him, of the work of other early photographers. Some date to the turn of the century, plus hundreds of Dan’s aerial photos 100s.”

She said the commercial operation will be downsized but she expects it to continue in some form.

According to Dorn, the legacy of photographs taken by his father, grandfather, and other photographers whose negatives are preserved in the Dorn collection, “are going to live forever.

“They will be the part of Dorn’s that keeps going.”

“We were No. 1 in the state in the 1980s,” he said. “And we rose when Red Bank rose up and times were good, and times are still real good for Red Bank, but our end of it is changing and change is not always a bad thing.”

Dorn said he has few regrets about bringing Dorn’s to a close.

“Our photos that we have taken, the aerial photos, portraiture we’ve done, they are hanging in houses all over this area. Everybody has a piece of Dorn’s — maybe somewhere in their photo album. My father shot a wedding, I shot their kids’ wedding, and Kathy and Jim shot their grandkids’ wedding.

“Our pictures will live on forever. The classic photos we’ve accumulated from other photographers and the ones we took will live forever. They’re a part of Red Bank.”