RED BANK: HPC AIMS TO SAVE DOOMED HOUSE

red bank 95 east front st.The Victorian structure, now said to have been built before 1868, is slated for demolition. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot topic red bank njFive months after Red Bank’s planning board approved the demolition of a Victorian house owned by Riverview Medical Center, the borough Historic Preservation  Commission is hoping to save it.

Relying on newly assembled information showing the house at 95 East Front Street was older than previously believed — and may have belonged to descendants of a prominent industrialist — the HPC plans to ask the hospital to turn it into a “medical bed & breakfast.”

Red Bank historic map 1878A red star marks the location of riverfront property belonging to A.M. Allaire in this circa-1878 map. (Photo from Rutgers University Special Collections. Click to enlarge.)

The commission, which has no legal jurisdiction over the property, agreed Wednesday night to send a letter containing the request to hospital chief operating officer Kelli O’Brien.

The letter would “challenge” hospital owner Hackensack Meridian Health to use its tax-exempt status to “give back not only to the borough, but their patients, as well,” by turning the riverfront house into a facility similar to Mary’s Place By the Sea in Ocean Grove. There, women with cancer learn to “embrace holistic healing methods to rejuvenate and regain their lives,” the letter states.

The request, championed by HPC board Chairwoman Michaela Ferrigine, is based in part on information showing the house may have been owned by descendants of James P. Allaire, founder of the Howell Works bog iron forge in Wall Township — now preserved as Allaire Village. Allaire was also a pioneer in building steamship engines, and used Red Bank as a port for shipping iron, Ferrigine said.

In February, O’Brien told the planning board Hackensack Meridian didn’t yet yet know what it will do with the property, but couldn’t use the house for delivering health services because “it wouldn’t meet New Jersey Department of Health requirements.”

Hospital attorney John Giunco said then that Hackensack Meridian was conducting a master plan review of its real estate holdings with an eye toward expansion and would leave the lot empty after demolition. The planning board approved the demolition by a 6-3 vote.

Hackensack Meridian  bought the property, along with the red brick office building at 91 East Front Street just to its west, for $2.65 million in July, 2015, as reported by redbankgreen.

Though Monmouth County tax records dated the house to 1901, according to the seller, Grace Greenberg, the 4,000-square-foot, three-story house was built before 1868, when records show it was owned by Vanness Noxon and Maria U. Allaire, who Greenberg said may have been a daughter or granddaughter of James Allaire.

Ferrigine said the early owners may have been cousins to the industrialist. In an email, she also notes that “the Allaire Iron Works of New York (owned by James Allaire and bought out by Cornelius Vanderbilt) ran the steamboat line with terminus in Red Bank, not far from the property.”

Subsequent transactions showed the property remained in the Allaire family for decades, Ferrigine said. Here’s a record of the transactions Greenberg’s daughter assembled from deeds (though transactions prior to 1868 remain to be researched, she said): 95 East Front Owners

“You have one of the most prominent families in the history of New Jersey, and one of their homes is sitting right here,” said Ferrigine.

The Red Bank Yacht Club bought the property in 1930, Ferrigine said, and it went into receivership six years later. At some point, the house was divided into five apartments.

“This is a historic house in the middle of downtown Red Bank,” HPC member Kal Pippo told redbankgreen.

Pippo, who made a case for adaptive reuse of the site at the planning board hearing in February, told the commission that O’Brien “rejected my suggestion pretty much out of hand.”

“I just think that they don’t want to, because by tearing it dow, they can put up a larger, revenue-generating facility,” he said.

“We need to show them there is a viable option,” one that would enhance the hospital’s competitive position in the cancer care field, Ferrigine replied.

The house is not located within the Washington Street historic district, one of two areas over which the HPC has review jurisdiction. Ferrigine it was not included because the owner was allowed to opt out, under rules in place at the time the district was formed.

As an employee of the medical center, HPC member Chris Fabricant said said he would recuse himself from signing the letter.