Friday, December 30, 2011

Green Opera House update!

There is hope yet for Woodbury's once grand 1880 Green Opera House! Just when it looked as if the final curtain call had been announced, RPM Development Group have entered into an agreement with the city to redevelop the building into a mixed-use retail and living space. RPM have an impressive history of effective adaptive reuse of historic structures with a goal to provide quality housing while aiming to improve neighborhoods. The city has recently negotiated a purchase from current owner, Dick Hill for $1 and have agreed to pay $50,000 of the over $300,000 owed in tax liens. A bargain considering the quotes nearing one million just to have the building torn down. Further details remain to be ironed out, but it is looking very hopeful.

notice the original iron cresting and finials along the roof lines

I personally feel this is the exact sort of thing needed in the area as not only does it structurally preserve a beautiful Victorian Opera House, but will bring folks to our downtown, increasing foot traffic and patronage to our local shops. 

Interested in helping support the cause? Stephanie L. Cherry-Farmer, MHP Senior Programs Director of Preservation New Jersey, suggests ways to help such as letters to the editor in support of the announcement, and some letters to the city encouraging their demonstrated creativity.

Please send your letters of support to:

City of Woodbury
City Council
33 Delaware Street
Woodbury, NJ

You can also address it to the Mayor Ron Riskie, or Councilman Harry Trout.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Preservation Potentials: 39 High Street


Attention: Victorian House Lovers, Steampunks, Anglophiles, and fellow appreciators of all things antique! I plan to post Victorian era houses for sale in Woodbury, NJ periodically to the blog. I'm not sure old-house hunters outside the immediate area realize the unique architectural offerings this quaint city has in store. In some cases these houses will require a little creativity to restore them to their former glory, but most will have retained a large semblance of the magnificent days of English-inspired American architecture, for a fraction of the cost found in other areas.

Today's featured house is a lovely Second Empire Style Victorian with a wrap-around porch located at 39 High Street offered at $90,000. It has rental income potential as well, making it perfect for young family or starter home. It could also be converted back to a single family residence and appears to be on a good sized lot with a nice yard. The City of Woodbury also offers a generous tax abatement program for conversions from multi-house setups back to single family homes. Details HERE.

For the listing visit: HERE. One could argue Woodbury is a little rough around the edges, but it is my opinion that reviving a once grand city is a community effort and that it largely starts at home. Vested homeowners that value the history and heritage of their house and who treat their house as an extension of the family and not just some place to crash, can and do make a difference. Preserve the past, to better the future!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

View in Woodbury from 1844

"The annexed view was taken on the N. bank of the creek, near the residence of Mrs. Harriet Armstrong ; on the left is the terminating point of the railroad from camden. The large building, near the centre of the view, is the Friends meeting-house. The cupola of the courthouse is seen in the distance. There are in Woodbury the county buildings, all brick, excepting the prison, which is of stone ; 1 Friends meeting-house, 1 Presbyterian church, (a large handsome brick structure,) a Methodist church, also of brick, 1 newspaper printing-office, 12 mercantile stores, 2 classical schools, an academy, 2 public libraries, several benevolent societies, 110 dwellings, and about 1,000 inhabitants. Several small vessels sail from here to Philadelphia with the produce of the country. The village is neatly built, and has many fine dwellings. In its vicinity are many fine orchards of apples and plums. Woodbury was first settled in 1684, by Richard Wood, a native of Perry (? - Bury), in Lancashire, England. He had come over with the first settlers of Philadelphia. Leaving his family in that city, he ascended the (Woodbury) creek in a canoe, and, with the aid of the Indians, erected a rude dwelling. The whole process of building, and removing his family, was accomplished in the short space of one week. A brother shortly after arrived, and settling higher up the stream, named the locality Woodbury." (Barber & Howe, 1844)

Barber, J. W., & Howe, H. (1844). Historical collections of the state of new jersey. (p. 512). Pub. for the authors, by S. Tuttle.

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.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ye Great King's Main Woodbury Broad Street

Initially Woodbury Creek was the main route of transporting goods in and out of town, but by the mid 1690s this began to shift towards a more earthy terrain. Between 1696 and 1698 the Great Road, also known as King's Road was chartered. It was later referred to as Main Street and/or Woodbury Street, but in 1854 the name was officially changed to Broad Street. Trolley tracks were soon laid and service began in 1894 (Sands, 2004).

The picture above, one of my favorites of Woodbury, shows just how broad Broad Street really is. This scene depicts a roadway uncluttered with automobiles. It appears as if you could actually cross the street without fearing for your life, a common concern in modern times. One hopes the plans to restructure Broad Street pans out. This would cut the four lanes down to two with a center left-turn lane and create extended sidewalk "bump-outs" to make crossing distances physically shorter.

The name Broad Street has held for 157 years, about half as long as it has existed. The first 157 years of its existence, the road went by other names as mentioned above. Perhaps with the completion of the planned restructuring it will come time to rename this road once again. Something along the lines of the Not-So-Broad-and-a-Little-Safer-to-Cross Street sounds good to me. Either that or we ban the cars and put the trolley back in.

Sands, R. W. (2006). Woodbury: Images of America. (p. 128). Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

1st Fire Engine: 1799 Philip Mason

Woodbury's first fire department had its start in 1793 when three men, Samuel Mickle, Andrew Hunter, and Dr. George W. Campbell formed a subscription list to buy fire buckets. Later, in 1799 a meeting was held at Jos Huggs Tavern to officially establish a fire company and after a few more meetings (and why not if the ale was good), a subscription list for an actual hand pump engine was signed and in the process the Woodbury Fire Company was founded.

In the mid-1700's, fire companies in North America began acquiring early fire pumps, predominantly made in Europe. The fire crews had to fill the pumps with pails of water by hand, which enabled them to forcefully project a flow of water from a safe distance. The pump purchased by the Woodbury Fire Department was made right in Philadelphia by Philip Mason, son of Richard Mason, a native of Pennsylvania, who made engines for the Northern Liberty, Queen Charlotte, Vigilant, Hibernia, Hand-in-Hand, Delaware, Assistance, and Diligent Fire Companies, and other Philadelphia wards. Richard Mason introduced hand pump engines that worked at either ends, compared to the common side-lever engines prevalent at the time.

* * *

For a detailed history of the Woodbury Fire Department which later became the Friendship Fire Co. #1 and for more recent photos of the hand pump please see their page HERE.

the 1799 Philip Mason Hand Pump Engine in front of the old 1846 Fire House located at 22 Cooper Street (across from Hendry's Court). It is now a parking garage.