Skip to content

A town square for an unsquare town

redbankgreen

Standing for the vitality of Red Bank, its community, and the fun we have together.


Our community pillars help us carry out our 100-Year Vision

Check it out

Health and Wellness

Red Bank YMCA

At the heart of the Red Bank community since 1874, our Red Bank Family YMCA is here to support health and well-being for all. We’re a special place where people of all ages, interests and backgrounds gather to grow in spirit, mind and body.

Learn More
organization-banner
organization-banner

RED BANK: FORTUNE HOUSE RESCUE PLAN OK’D

roger-mumford-072116-1-500x375-2992721Developer Roger Mumford with an architect’s rendering of the T. Thomas Fortune house as it would appear after restoration. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-2130637

A decade-long effort to save an endangered artifact of African-American history cleared a major milestone Thursday night when the Red Bank zoning board approved a developer’s plan to rebuild the T. Thomas Fortune house and create 31 apartments on its one-acre property.

Borough-based homebuilder Roger Mumford, who vowed to restore and donate the house for use as a cultural center before he would seek certificates of occupancy for the apartments, was hailed as the last-chance savior of a vital relic of the civil rights movement that its current owners want to raze. Residents told the board before its vote that Mumford deserved the tradeoff of more than a dozen variances, most of them arising from the apartment plan.

“If a development project has ever given back to the community, it’s this one,” said Kalman Pipo, a member of the borough’s Historic Preservation Commission. “If this project doesn’t go through, we are going to lose this house” to the wrecking ball, he said.

bowden-mumford-072116-500x375-4777083Mumford, right, meets 88-year-old George Bowden, who launched the Fortune house preservation effort with now-Councilman Ed Zipprich in 2006. Below, Gilda Rogers, who co-leads a foundation to save the house, with fellow Historic Preservation Commission member Michaela Ferrigine after the hearing. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

ferrigine-rogers-072116-220x165-3972790Over nearly three hours of testimony, much of it with the lights dimmed for slideshows, architects and planners for Mumford’s company, Yellow Brook Property Company LLC, laid out a plan for the one-acre property on Drs. James Parker Boulevard.

Describing himself as a reader of history who hadn’t heard of Fortune until recently, Mumford told the board he’d execute a full and historically accurate restoration of the badly deteriorated Second Empire-style Fortune house.

He estimated the acquisition, rehabilitation and infrastructure costs associated with house would total around $2.5 million.

He said he plans to sell the house for $1, in all likelihood to the T. Thomas Fortune Project, a nonprofit organization co-chaired by Gilda Rogers and architect Mark Fitzsimmons, for use as a museum and cultural center. [The original version of this article contained incorrect information in the preceding sentence.]

The other aspect of the plan calls for 31 apartments in a single, four-story structure to be erected behind the Fortune residence at more than twice the density allowed by zoning law. The plan, dubbed Fortune Square, also needed height, setback and parking variances, among other waivers.

Here’s Mumford’s detailed description, filed with the borough in May: Fortune House Project Narrative

Most, though not all, of the commentary from the audience was in support of the tradeoff of variances for preservation. But Ed O’Neill, an architect who lives nearby on Herbert Street, questioned the extent of the density variance, calling the apartment building “just too large.” And Historic Preservation Commission member Charles Nickerson, who dissented from that advisory body’s approval of the plan, told the board it should reject the proposal.

“I’m not sure we’ve really thought this out” or put enough effort into raising funds to preserve the site without additional development, he said. “We’re treating this as a second-class historical property.”

But others urged approval. “There is no money falling from the sky for historical preservation,” said HPC member Mary Gilligan, of South Street.

Birgit Mondesir of William Street said the Mumford plan was “an opportunity to right the wrongs” in which vital markers of history had been lost, much of it deliberately.

“We have precious little African-American history in this country,” she said. “We suffer from a lack of knowledge.”

Sighle Singh, who lives next door to the Fortune site in the Bergen Square condos, told the board that she’d come to the hearing expecting to oppose the plan, partly on concerns about parking, but had been swayed by the presentation.

“It would be a vast improvement over what I see every day,” she said.

Ray Mass was the only board member to comment on the plan, and said he would vote to approve it “in light of recent events” in spite of it needing “a lot of variances.” The approval vote, on his motion, was unanimous, and the audience burst into applause.

Timothy Thomas Fortune, born into slavery in Florida in 1856, became an ardent advocate of civil rights and racial integration through his pioneering journalism. He bought the three-story house in 1901, and over the next decade entertained W.E.B DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and other leading lights of the post-Civil War drive for equal rights for African-Americans.

For generations, the property has been owned by members of the Vaccarelli family, who for many years ran a commercial bakery there. It’s now owned by Assunta Vaccarelli of Red Bank and James Vacarelli of Shrewsbury, according to documents filed with the application.

Mumford told the board a family member had approached him with an offer to sell the property last November, after the owners had rejected a purchase offer from the New Jersey Green Acres program. The family was preparing to demolish the house, he said

The Fortune house won placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and remains one of only two sites in New Jersey associated with African-American history, according to Rogers — the other being Hinchcliffe Stadium in Paterson, past home to several Negro League baseball teams.

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank business owner happier than to hear "I saw your ad on Red Bank Green!"
Partyline
HEARTY FAREWELL FOR HARDY
RED BANK: Council to honor DPU supervisor Rich Hardy, who retired recently after almost 39 years of keeping things running.
HOMEBOUND? READ ON…
RED BANK: Can't get to the public library? It's now offering free delivery and pickups for homebound borough residents.
TAMING A BEAST OF A WEEK
RED BANK: After the second snowfall of the week, a borough family finds the perfect use for it – a Godzilla snow sculpture.
RED BANK: LIBRARY CLOSED, BUT THE HILL’S OPEN
RED BANK: Though the library was closed by a snowstorm, kids got to enjoy the riverfront property's steep slope Tuesday.
LIGHT(HOUSE) MAKEOVER
This year, getting ready for spring means a midwinter makeover for Strollo's Lighthouse in Red Bank.
TODAY: LOCAL PUPPY COMPETES ON ANIMAL PLANET’S “PUPPY BOWL”
Red Bank’s very own rescue puppy, Biscuit, is set to compete in Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl this Sunday, February 11, at 2 PM. Th ...
WHAT? NO redbankgreen NEWSLETTER?
Apologies to redbankgreen newsletter subscribers: the daily email hasn’t gone out for two days because of technical issues.
RED BANK: TIRED OF SKEETERS?
RED BANK: Tired of mosquito bites every summer? Monmouth County has a free program to help eliminate skeeter breeding grounds.
SEA BRIGHT: POLAR PLUNGE FOR ST. JAMES, OTHERS
Hundreds braved the wind and sea on Sunday at 1PM in support of St. James Elementary School, and other Catholic schools in the area. The eve ...
RED BANK: RBR CLAIMS TITLE
RED BANK: Watch pure joy as the RBR boys basketball team celebrates its first B North championship in 17 years.
RED BANK: FORGET-IT FRIDAY
RED BANK: Train Station can be a lonely place Friday mornings, especially with cold rain in the forecast.
RED BANK: CROONING YOUR LOVE
RED BANK: Imagine a quartet of impeccably dressed gentlemen showing up at your beloved's workplace, singing of your love.
RED BANK: BLACK RIVER ROLLS ON
RED BANK: A 68-year-old rail freight engine can still be counted on to draw a trainspotting fan or two when it rolls through town.
RED BANK: ‘MONDAY SWEAT’ MEETS
RED BANK: Joined by the Hazlet Running Club, members of the Red Bank Run Club met for their "Monday Sweat" at Count Basie Field.
RED BANK: CARD SALE BOOSTS GYM DRIVE
RED BANK: Charter School Foundation offers student-deisgned Valentines cards to help raise funds for a gymnasium.
RED BANK: LOVE IS IN THE… WINDOW
RED BANK: Up next: Valentine's Day, and Partyline finds the Red Bank Chocolate Shoppe getting ready for a surge of love and craving.
CLOSING THE BOOK ON A GREAT CAREER
The Red Bank mayor and council honored with a resolution Linda Hewitt (in red) on her retirement from the Red Bank Public Library at Thursda ...
RED BANK: RAIL COMMUTER’S VIEW
A commuter's view of the Route 35 Cooper's Bridge over the Navesink River, as seen from North Jersey Coast Line train 3320 out of Red Bank F ...
RED BANK: PROMISING PROMS
RED BANK: Prom season approaches, and Lunch Break once again steps up with its 8th annual Prom Giveaway of donated dresses.
RED BANK: DOWN BY THE RIVER
RED BANK: Partyline contributor Karly Swaim captured a gloomy mood in Riverside Gardens Park Wednesday evening.