Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What does it take to make a building Green?

Woodbury stands to lose an amazing structure built by one of the most important figures in the town's history. Col. G. G. Green invested much in Woodbury and was key in attracting businesses and people to the area, helping shape the town into a thriving center in Victorian times. Sadly, many of the buildings he had built have already been torn down. Those of his buildings still standing are in a state of dilapidation and are now threatened.

One such building in the latter category is the G. G. Green Opera House built in 1880. It takes up a whole city block located on E. Centre and Broad Streets and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 25, 2001. The building, after its heyday as an opera house and theatre, was home to various retail firms but has long been sitting vacant. The earthquake that hit the region on August 23, 2011 brought attention to the Green building and after subsequent inspections and a structural analysis by the National Trust Historic Preservation, the building was deemed unsafe due to the many years of negligence. As a result, the city has been given permission from the Department of Environmental Protection to raze the historic structure. Question is... who is going to pay for it?

Estimates close to a million dollars are now coming back to have this once grand opera house demolished, far more than what was initially expected, and a monetary figure that quickly checks the pro-demolition minded folks who naysayed the idea of investing time and money to restore the building. It doesn't take much imagination to see the old opera house become the center of the town's much needed revitalization efforts. One can easily picture a performing arts center, a museum, a playhouse, artist studios, etc. And with a name like the "Green Building", the city is 10 steps ahead... doesn't everyone want green buildings in their communities these days!? As Preservationist, Victorian Interior Revival founder John Shiflet states, "I can think of 100 communities which would give their eye teeth for a historic Opera House like this one." He goes on to note that, "restoration projects often bring in more jobs and revenue than new construction and often have a catalytic effect that leads to even more historic downtown buildings being restored."

photo from the now defunct GG Green Redevelopment Project

Why then as a community in desparate need for something like this, are we so quick to write off the potential attracting power of this building? They just don't make structures like this anymore and I dread to think what might be put in its place. As it stands, Woodbury has something unique they can call their own, something they can work with to draw the new urbanism* crowds to the community. Woodbury would fare well to adapt the new urbanism approach to city planning and what better way than to get creative with the G. G. Green block. Adaptive reuse is a proven way of making something old, new again and has been shown to work effectively in Woodbury time and again. Just look at the The Woodbury Station Cafe, The Crossings at Woodbury Mews Assisted Living, Charlie Brown's restaurant, The Woodbury Antique Centre, The Chocolatier, and Marlene Mangia Bene Italian restaurant for just a few examples.

For more photos of the building and its interior, past and present, click HERE

Want to help? Here are some suggested actions from Preservationist John Shiflet:

1. Visit This page has a wealth of resources related to historic preservation in New Jersey.

2. Organize a "Save the G.G. Green Opera House" or "Friends of the G.G. Green Opera House" online group either on Facebook or Yahoo Groups/MSN Groups.

3. Take out a small ad in your local newspaper asking for interested residents to join the online group, if there is time enough.

4. Contact any preservation-friendly lawyers, former mayor or someone of political influence you can enlist in the cause. If there were time, maybe even someone connected with the entertainment industry could be persuaded to come forward with financial support.

5. Visit Note the contact information about the New Jersey Historic Trust: 609-984-0473

6. Contact Stephanie L. Cherry-Farmer, MHP Senior Programs Director at Preservation New Jersey
310 West State Street
Trenton, NJ 08618
(609) 392-6409

and lastly contact me here via comments if you have any other ideas!

*The organizing body for New Urbanism is the Congress for the New Urbanism, founded in 1993. Its foundational text is the Charter of the New Urbanism, which says:
We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.
New Urbanists support regional planning for open space, context-appropriate architecture and planning, and the balanced development of jobs and housing. They believe their strategies can reduce traffic congestion, increase the supply of affordable housing, and rein in suburban sprawl. The Charter of the New Urbanism also covers issues such as historic preservation, safe streets, green building, and the re-development of brownfield land.


Main Street Woodbury said...

Bryan, you are very passionate about the restoration of this treasure, as any preservationist should be, including Main Street Woodbury and NJ Main Street. The resources you list have been contacted, in fact there was considerable research and some grant monies from the same invested into trying to save at least the facade. There have been numerous phone conferences and meetings with Stephanie, The Historic Trust, and independant consultants to do just that. Several years ago there was a Non Profit set up to turn it into a performance venue, and that kinda fizzled out due to the costs involved. Economics are always the key issue. It would be glorious if an investor could also envision the potential outwaying the costs. At this point however, it has become a safety hazard, and the groups like WORC, (Woodbury Olde City Restoration Committee), HPC, (Historic Preservation Committee), and Main Street; are hopeful of the best, but have resigned themselves to saving some of the artifacts at the very least.
Your blog is a great thing, please keep up the great work, and I would like to talk with you someday soon. Woodbury has a lot of treasures, and huge potential.

Paul Wilham said...

Having reviewed the interior details and stencilling of this structure I fail to understand why it would not be in the city's best interest to restore this stucture as it could easily be adaptively reused as a performing arts center, entertainment/concert venue. The opportunity to leverage redevelopment/restoration as the centerpiece of a larger arts distict makes great economic sense, especially as a public/private partnerhip with a suitable business.

John S. said...

The local developer who wanted in 2003 to renovate the Opera House still maintains a website. He was, like you, looking for investment to move the project forward. I would propose seeking the least expensive method of stabilizing the structure (to buy it some time)and considering that cost against demolition costs. Of course, the tragic loss of a rare intact c. 1880 Opera House is of incalculable value and permanent. Stabilization in this case would be based on looking at the most vulnerable and likely to fail section(s) of the structure and then seeing what kind of bracing (welded metal struts and supports could be used to brace weak areas to prevent collapse or structural movement.) Eventually, when fully funded, the areas which are damaged could be deconstructed and rebuilt-it's done for landmark buildings in earthquake zones around the world. In any event, Woodbury's historic Opera House is an under-appreciated historical and cultural treasure and should, if at all possible, be saved. Future generations will thank you for doing so. Check out Cape May to gauge the economic benefits of historic preservation. Last, those abstract stencils have a lot in common with the designs of 19th century English artist and designer Christopher Dresser. Should they date from 1880 they would be quite rare and of design history importance. I think more effort needs to be made to stabilize the structure before giving up and surrendering to its loss. Other towns have rebuilt and reconstructed their important historic buildings after natural disasters including floods and earthquakes (which brings jobs-far more than the temporary demo work)-this one is too valuble for Woodbury to lose in my opinion. Has FEMA been consulted about possible Federal disaster grants that could be used for stabilization efforts? There has to be some way...
John Shiflet
Fort Worth Texas

Wildechosystems said...

keep the old, tear down the new!

clovisnj said...

I will contact folk at Salem, Bridgeton and Millville that have been doing similar restoration projects of building like this.

Jason said...

Fantastic job on the webpage/blog that you created. I am also in full support of stabilizing and finding adaptive reuse of the GG Green Building. Seeing it restored would be something for Woodbury to be proud of. Restoration efforts of that size often garner nationwide recognition among preservationists. It would be nice to see Woodbury maintain this as the landmark that it truly is. Once it's gone...there is no turning back. Jason

Anonymous said...

Very nice website, there are many great old buildings in Woodbury. One is the old Green Hotel. It is currently in need of major work and the current owner St. Patricks church doesn't seem interested in saving the structure. Hopefully your site can bring attention to many structures in Woodbury that need to be saved.