CALDWELL, NJ — In response to the news that the owner of the residence located at 30 Smull Avenue in Caldwell has applied to have the structure torn down, many area residents as well as Preservation New Jersey (PNJ) have expressed disapproval, claiming it to be an important part of the borough’s history and architectural heritage.
Some residents have taken action to stop this from occurring, claiming that its historic significance should be taken into account and that the higher-density housing that could potentially replace the structure would be out of character for this neighborhood.
Among those concerned was the Caldwell Historic Preservation Commission’s (HPC) architect land use expert, Frank Gerard Godlewski, who said that there is no need to tear down this home and urged the owner “not to destroy this treasure.”
“Our rich and varied architectural heritage is an important factor in making Caldwell a desirable place to live and do business,” he said. “That heritage is fragile…With a little creativity, it can be economically feasible to retain the building and, if the borough permits, place more compatible additional housing on the site.”
Godlewski added that the home, built by Thomas Smull in 1872, is “an excellent example of Carpenter Gothic Architecture.”
“This unique and highly individual style was popular in the mid-19th century,” said Godlewski. “The exterior of the building still retains its original architectural features and should be preserved.”
Thomas Smull, for whom the street was named, was also known for developing the Grover House, one of Caldwell’s most important summer resort hotels, on an adjacent site. The hotel, which started as a boarding house, was in operation from 1872 until 1915.
After Smull’s death in 1892, the home went to his daughter, Emily Corbiere, whose husband, James Corbiere, was the president of the North Jersey Street Railway Company. In 1896, Corbiere’s company brought the trolley service to Caldwell—a service that ultimately extended from Caldwell to Newark.
“The advent of trolley and rail service transformed Caldwell, making commuting to Newark and New York feasible and improving business for local hotels and boarding houses,” said Godlewski.
As the HPC serves as an advisor board to Caldwell's planning department, Godlewski said the HPC is typically informed when a demolition permit is requested.
On behalf of PNJ, a statewide nonprofit that was founded in order to advocate for and promote historic preservation “as a sustainable strategy to protect and enhance the vitality and heritage of New Jersey’s richly diverse communities,” PNJ Director Courtenay Mercer submitted a letter to the Caldwell Construction Department earlier this week urging the borough to defer the homeowner’s request.
In the letter, Mercer said the organization “understands that the current owner of the property wishes to demolish the structure in anticipation of an approval for new construction.” To the outside observer, however, Mercer said it appears the property owner is “attempting to circumvent the public process by seeking a demolition permit before development approval.”
“In cases where there is not a health or safety concern, it is logical to seek development approval prior to demolition,” she said. “In the case of a historically significant structure, it is imperative that the property owner work with the appropriate land use board to seek any necessary variances that would allow them to develop, while retaining the existing structure.”
PNJ has requested that the demolition application for 30 Smull Avenue be deferred until the property owner seeks approval for development through the appropriate land use board.
“We are all from ‘someplace’…a place that has special meaning to us,” Mercer wrote in her letter to the borough. “But those ‘someplaces’ are being lost—torn down, destroyed—and are becoming ‘anyplace.’ They look the same as everywhere else. Please, keep Caldwell from becoming just another ‘anyplace.’”
Requests for comment and clarification from the Caldwell Construction Department on these issues were not immediately returned. More information will be provided when it becomes available.