Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the June 13, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

For Trenton’s Historic Buildings, Time is Short

The newly-formed Trenton Preservation Committee would

like you to know that historic buildings, most with high ceilings,

enormous windows, and interesting architectural details, are available

for your business. But they won’t sit and wait forever. Time is taking

a toll on beauties like the Broad Street Bank building, home of Mercer

County’s first elevator and first revolving door, and the Eagle Tavern,

which made it to Trenton before George Washington did.

John Hatch, an architect with West Trenton firm Clarke Caton

Hintz, says hundreds of industrial, commercial, and residential buildings

in Trenton, some of them historically important, others just "charming,

solid and pleasant to be around," are in a spiral of rapid deterioration,

and need to be fixed up and occupied sooner rather than later. The

buildings could contribute mightily toward Trenton’s rise as a destination

for both work and play, as historic structures have in other eastern

cities, including Boston and Baltimore.

With an eye toward saving these irreplaceable buildings, Hatch and

several others have formed the Trenton Preservation Committee. On

Thursday, June 14 the committee hosts a fundraising event, "Building

Our Future on Our Past," at 5 p.m. at the Conduit on 439 South

Broad Street near the Urban Word. Cost: $30. Call 609-989-7944.

The Conduit is a music club that is slated to open in the fall. It

is part of a complex of four historic buildings that are owned by

Hatch and two partners, Roland Pott and David Henderson.

The Urban Word cafe is part of the complex, and four ground floor

retail stores are about to join it. They include a record store, book

store, and an art gallery. The second floor, Hatch says, will soon

be home to 25 artists, who have leased studios and are in the final

stages of fitting them out.

Hatch and his partners have rescued not only the four buildings on

Broad Street, which sit across the street from the Sovereign Bank

Arena, but also 14 homes in the Mill Hill section of the city. And

they have found the work is good business. Space in their Broad Street

buildings was never advertised, yet, Hatch says, is more than 95 percent

leased. Meanwhile, demand is growing for the restored homes. "The

prices of houses in Mill Hill are more than double what we could get

five years ago," Hatch says. "We used to joke, and say `Can

you imagine getting $200,000 for a house?’ And now we do."

Hatch says many other parts of the city are ready to give up profits

to enterprising developers too. He has found that prices for renovation

of commercial buildings runs about $60 a square foot, a figure he

says is half that of new construction. The city owns a number of abandoned

buildings, while others are privately owned.

One issue on which the Trenton Preservation Committee, an arm of the

Trenton Historical Society, is working is the fact that it is easy

for the city to get demolition money from the state, but nearly impossible

for it to get money for rehabilitation. Hatch says the committee is

working with the legislature to make rehabilitation money available.

Hatch, a graduate of Princeton University (Class of 1984), who holds

a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Virginia,

says his childhood contributed to his passion for restoring buildings

and neighborhoods in Trenton. "When I was young, my parents bought

a brownstone in Brooklyn," he says. He recalls the renovation

work, and later, the family’s move to Long Island. "It was country

then," he says of the now-congested New York City appendage. These

early experiences gave him an interest in preserving both the city

and the country.

Working at saving Trenton buildings that could — once again —

be homes and offices and stores, would accomplish both goals. "There’s

a lot of opposition starting against suburban sprawl," he says.

"Trenton has these great buildings, some of them vacant, and an

administration that is encouraging development. Places to live and

do business are ready and waiting, and you don’t need to dig new sewers."

Saving Trenton’s commercial and residential neighborhoods, before

neglect and weather does their buildings in, one by one, would save

suburban fields and woods, too. "These buildings could be, if

properly restored, a huge draw," Hatch says. "The trick is

to get people to see past the cost of fixing them up. You’ve just

got to squint your eyes and think two years down the line."

Next Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.