Preservationists Oppose Demolition of 1889 Structure to Make Way for Oratory Facility

Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ--The Summit Board of Adjustment is awaiting revised plans from Oratory Preparatory School on its proposal to demolish the “Avebury,” an historic building at 14 Bedford Road currently serving as the administration building for the school.

Oratory has proposed replacement of the structure, constructed in 1889, with a multi-purpose facility that would include a gymnasium, cafeteria and classrooms, according to Robert Costello, headmaster of the school.

According to Costello, Oratory presented its preliminary plans to the Summit Board of Adjustment in February for technical review.

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The application was presented to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission for review. The commission on March 20 recommended that the zoning board grant no variances in connection with the application, stating that the project runs counter to the objectives of the city’s 2000 master plan because it does not “recognize and preserve the historic character of the city” and does not “encourage the preservation of historic buildings and landmarks that are significant to Summit’s past.”

Preservation commission minutes from the March 20 session note that Bedford Road was opened in 1905, but 14 Bedford Road was an estate built in 1887, that then was purchased by James T. and A. Louise Truslow and renamed Avebury. In 1907. According to the minutes, in 1907 the estate was occupied by Carlton Academy, which changed its name to Oratory School in 1924.

According to the preservation commission, “The stunning half-timber design has a distinctive three bay facade and overall is an excellent representation of Tudor Revival residential architecture. This structure was considered in the 1989 Summit Historic Resource Survey as eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.” 

The commission said the applicant proposes to completely demolish the structure and construct a new structure that is “intrusive and incompatible with the surrounding structures and neighborhood. The design is over-scaled and undistinguished.”   

Additionally, acccording to the presevation unit, the application is incomplete because the zoning board’s application form requires submission of “plans and elevations with sufficient notations to clearly establish the extent and character of the proposed structure.”  

The commission determined that the drawings lack notes regarding the materials of the structure and therefore “prevents a reliable determination of what the character of the proposed structures will be. The Historic Preservation Commission questions the siting of the building, the layout of the parking and the driveway, and can’t support any aspect of the project. The proposed building is not only inconsistent with the existing residential character of Bedford Road, but does not visually or physically relate to the existing Oratory facility on Beverly Road.”

The commission, in its rejection, recommended that the adjustment board suggest that Oratory’s architect and site engineers start the design process over again and incorporate the historic Avebury structure into the future revised plans for the school’s campus.

According to Summit Zoning Officer Christa Anderson, the zoning board has asked the school to submit revised plans, but the board has not yet heard from Oratory about when and if it will submit the revised plans.

Meanwhile, in an April 24 letter to Costello, which was published by The Alternative Press, historic preservation commssion member Barton Ross noted, “The SHPC understands the school’s need for a new fieldhouse with modern office and athletic facilities, but fails to comprehend how such a respected organization in the community could destroy the first tangible piece of its own history? This building could easily be rehabilitated for office use or added onto the back with a new fieldhouse or other facility addition. Numerous members of the SHPC are architects willing to offer their advice to explore these options with the school. The SHPC recognizes that change and progress in our community are inevitable, but there is a positive outcome to be examined here in which school officials, citizens of Summit and other stakeholders could all be satisfied.”

Ross, in his letter, said that the loss of the Avebury “and its ability to tell the history of Summit and the story of your school to future generations would be an irreplaceable loss. Demolition is permanent, and once destroyed, a place is lost forever.”

He urged Oratory to reconsider the decision to demolish the building and “look instead at a policy of adaptive reuse, preserving this historic building as an important landmark on the campus to inspire future generations of students who can be proud of their school’s heritage."

Ross told The Alternative Press that a number of residents of the area surrounding the school are concerned about the proposal and have hired an attorney to represent their interests.

Contacted at the beginning of this month by The Alternative Press, Costello said members of the school’s staff have met with neighbors of the school and the neighbors raised issues about traffic, parking and roadway access in relation to the proposed project.

He added school officials had to “examine matters internally” before issuing a response to concerns raised.

The headmaster said a statement would be forthcoming in response to Ross’s letter, but that response has not yet been released.

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