RED BANK: FORTUNE CULTURAL CENTER OPENS

red bank fortune house Dozens of supporters gathered on the front lawn for the opening of the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center. Below, a view of the ceremony from inside the restored house. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

red bank fortune houseMore than a century after the departure of its most famous resident, the T. Thomas Fortune House in Red Bank reopened Thursday as a cultural center dedicated to his mission of advancing civil and human rights.

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RED BANK: FORTUNE ‘MIRACLE’ COMPLETED

red bank nj t. thomas fortune cultural centerThe restored T. Thomas Fortune House on Drs. James Parker Boulevard plans to formally open as a cultural center in May. Below, restoration supervisor Spencer Foxworth and foundation member Robin Blair examine a chandelier to be installed. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

red bank nj t. thomas fortune cultural center

An against-the-odds, decade-long effort to save a Red Bank house that was once the home of a pioneering civil rights journalist has reached its improbable conclusion, people involved in the effort say.

This weekend, local history lovers will get their first-ever chance to tour the T. Thomas Fortune House, a National Historic Register structure that not long ago was about to be razed.

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RED BANK: NEW HISTORY IN FORTUNE HOUSE

Restoration work on the T. Thomas Fortune house is underway in conjunction with the construction of 31 apartments behind it, where an elevator tower is visible. Below, builder Roger Mumford shows off an original decorative corbel removed from just below the roof line of the house, and, in his left hand, a replica made from mahogany. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

After a decade-long effort to save it from the wrecking ball, Red Bank’s T. Thomas Fortune house is in the midst of a restoration that has served up some additional history.

Part of the Second Empire-style mansion on Drs. James Parker Boulevard may be much older than previously believed, says developer Roger Mumford, who is racing to conserve what he can of the structure even as it crumbles before his eyes.

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RED BANK: RACIAL ROOTS OF MEMORIAL DAY

Walter Greason in 2014.   (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

As part of a continuing series of discussions called “Let’s Talk About Race,” the Red Bank Public Library hosts a lecture Wednesday night on “The Surprising Origins of Memorial Day.”

RED BANK: HOMEBUILDER EYES FACTORIES

A cluster of industrial buildings between Catherine Street, above, and River Street would be razed for new brownstones, according to the prospective builder. Part of the site abuts the Cedar Crossing homes, seen in the distance above. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

A block of factory buildings on Red Bank’s West Side, including some old millworks and a former guitar factory, could give way to new housing in coming months, redbankgreen has learned.

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RED BANK: FORTUNE HOUSE’S GOOD FORTUNE

mumford fortune 072716 1Developer Roger Mumford leads high school journalism students on a tour of the Fortune House. Below, Mumford with preservationist Gilda Rogers. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

gilda rogers roger mumford 072716

Less than a week after the Red Bank zoning board approved a plan to save it, the still-crumbling T. Thomas Fortune House offered a preview Wednesday of its anticipated role: as a cultural and educational center.

About a dozen high school students from around New Jersey took an exterior tour of the onetime home of pioneering civil rights journalist, who lived in it for a decade starting in 1901 and entertained the leading lights of black culture there. In the process, they also got a lesson in how the interests of preservationists and profit-minded developers might converge.

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RED BANK: FORTUNE HOUSE RESCUE PLAN OK’D

ROGER MUMFORD 072116 1Developer 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

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.

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RED BANK: FORTUNE HOUSE PLAN SCHEDULED

rb fortune house 100614 3Fortune future 062816Developer Roger Mumford‘s plan to save the dilapidated T. Thomas Fortune house on Drs. James Parker Boulevard in Red Bank faces its first test this week.

The proposal, which is backed by a volunteer group hoping to preserve the pioneering civil rights journalist’s home, calls for restoring the National Historic Register structure for use as a cultural center devoted to preserving African American history and serving as a resource for social justice initiatives. The plan, dubbed “Fortune Square,” also includes a 32-unit apartment building proposed for the rear of the property. Multiple variances are required.

The hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at borough hall, 90 Monmouth Street. Here’s the agenda: RBZB agenda 072116 (Click to enlarge)

 

RED BANK: BUILDER EYES FORTUNE HOUSE SITE

Fortune future 062816The home of pioneering human rights journalist T. Thomas Fortune would be restored for use as a cultural center, as shown in the architectural rendering above. Below, four views of the four-story, 32-unit apartment building proposed for the rear of the property.  (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

fortune square apartments 062816After years of efforts by volunteer historians to halt decades of decay, an historic Red Bank residence may be spared the wrecking ball.

Developer Roger Mumford has proposed restoring what he calls the “highly deteriorated” T. Thomas Fortune house on Drs. James Parker Boulevard and turning it into a cultural center.

Mumford’s plan comes with a catch: he wants the town to grant him a host of variances to construct 32 apartments on the site — more than twice the density allowed by zoning law. But he’s billing it as a win for all involved.

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RED BANK: STATE BIDS FOR FORTUNE HOUSE

rb fortune house 100614 1The home of pioneering human rights journalist T. Thomas Fortune has been vacant for many years. Below, an undated photo of Fortune, who owned it from 1901 to 1911.  (Photo above by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

T. Thomas FortuneThe state of New Jersey has thrown its support behind efforts to save a historic Red Bank structure by offering to acquire it, redbankgreen has learned.

Two members of the borough Historic Preservation Committee said the state Department of Environmental Protection, though its Green Acres program, has made a purchase offer to the owners of the crumbling T. Thomas Fortune house on Drs. James Parker Boulevard.

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RED BANK: NYTIMES NOTES FORTUNE EFFORT

rb fortune house 2 061213Timothy_Thomas_FortuneSunday’s edition of the New York Times includes an article on the divergent fates of two historic New Jersey homes, one of them the Red Bank abode of early 20th-century civil rights journalist T. Thomas Fortune.

Fortune’s house, on Dr. James Parker Boulevard, is the subject of an effort by the nonprofit T. Thomas Fortune Project to save it from demolition and turn it into a cultural center. At right, an undated photo of Fortune.  (Photo above by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

 

 

FAIR HAVEN: 160-YEAR-OLD HOUSE RAZED

fh williams 041315fh-williams-backOld but not considered of historic value, Fair Haven’s Charles Williams house (seen at right in 2010), was reduced to splinters and dust Monday morning.

The house, built by a free African-American in 1855,  was acquired by the borough for $1.2 million last November, and the now-vacant lot at the foot of Denormandie Avenue is to become a park property overlooking the Navesink River. Here are some background articles. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

RED BANK: $100K PLEDGE FOR FORTUNE HOUSE

rb fortune house 2 061213A volunteer group hopes to acquire the onetime home of pioneering human rights journalist T. Thomas Fortune for use as a cultural center. Below, an undated photo of Fortune.  (Photo above by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Timothy_Thomas_FortuneA slow-building effort launched eight years ago to save a historic Red Bank structure from the wrecking ball has gotten a jolt of adrenaline.

A donor has pledged $100,000 to the effort to acquire and revitalize the onetime home of pioneering African-American journalist T. Thomas Fortune, redbankgreen has learned.

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FAIR HAVEN ACQUIRES OLD HOUSE FOR PARK

FH Williams house 011012The Charles Williams house, with the river in the background. Below, a weathered medallion on the doorframe marks the structure as a Century House. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

fh-robardshouse2More than five years after it embarked on the process, Fair Haven has acquired a riverfront property with roots as a home to African-Americans living free in the days of slavery.

Borough officials long ago determined, however, that the Charles Williams house, built overlooking the Navesink River before the Emancipation Proclamation, is not historically significant. It will be demolished to make way for a passive park.

 

 

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JOURNO’S RED BANK HOME IN SPOTLIGHT

rb fortune house 3 061213T. Thomas Fortune, below, will get a month of honor in February. Meantime, efforts to save his home on Doctors Parker Boulevard continue. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

T. Thomas FortuneNo sharp elbows were thrown. The words ‘Maple Cove‘ weren’t even mentioned.

In her first working session as a member of Red Bank’s otherwise all-Democrat borough council Wednesday night, Republican Cindy Burnham‘s debut act was to introduce a resolution designating February as T. Thomas Fortune Month in the borough.

The anondyne measure won unanimous approval, and opened up a discussion of where things stand with the house that Fortune lived in a century ago.

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RED BANK: ZIMMERMAN VERDICT REACTIONS

redbankgreen‘s Sarah Klepner gathered these reactions on Red Bank’s West Side Monday to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in killing of Trayvon Martin.

George H. Brown, Red Bank: “It speaks for itself. I don’t understand how he could be killed under those conditions. He was unarmed. How did Zimmerman decide to shoot? Did he just assume that if Martin didn’t survive there’d be no repercussions? It shows how far we are from what should be.” (Click to enlarge)

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RED BANK: YOUNG ORATORS DEBUT

Twelve-year-old Akin Gaddis, a student at the Ranney School in Tinton Falls, reads Langston Hughes‘ poem titled ‘Negro‘ at the Red Bank council meeting Wednesday night as part of a presentation on the borough chapter of New Jersey Orators, a group that teaches public speaking skills to young African-Americans.

Zuri Mondesir, 10, another member of the eight-month-old chapter, recited a poem by Shel Silverstein.

The Red Bank Orators are coached by borough Councilwoman Juanita Lewis.

RIVER PARK PLAN TAKES SHAPE IN FAIR HAVEN

robards-park1An informal committee met at the former Charles Williams estate Monday to discuss its future. (Photos by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

It’s a simple plan, with details yet to be worked out through a process that will carry through the biting days of fall and winter. But once the shoreline has thawed, Fair Haven officials are intent on having a beachfront park that gives locals something to be proud of.

At its second meeting for what is expected to be called Robards Park, at the site of the former Charles Williams estate on DeNormandie Avenue, borough leaders laid out a basic vision for the two-thirds-of-an-acre parcel that hugs the Navesink River. It’s going to be a passive park, with as much of its native, natural features retained as possible, said Mayor Mike Halfacre.

But to make that happen, there are some points that need to be marked off the to-do list, and will happen within the next month, he said.

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DRAWING A PLAN FOR A WATERFRONT FUTURE

fh-williams-house-061610Unclaimed boats and kayaks will be removed next month from the beach at the former Charles Williams estate, Fair Haven officials say. (Click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

By this time next year, Fair Haven Mayor Mike Halfacre anticipates that the borough’s prized beachfront property at 78 DeNormandie Ave. will be open for public use.

First, though, a few things need to happen — including the demolition of the house that’s been on the property for 150 years, for one.

A formal naming, too, although the working title is “Robards Park,” in honor of the last resident of the house, Winifred Julia Decatur Robards.

Town officials also hope to answer the abiding question of what exactly to do with the property.

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THE BEAT@RBR

drum2_irAfrican dance instructor Audrey Davis visited Red Bank Regional’s dance majors for a quick lesson on the history of African drums and dance Tuesday.

The dance program’s theme this school year is the evolution of jazz dance in America. Davis is scheduled to return for another lesson at RBR today. (Click to enlarge; photos by Dustin Racioppi)

CENTURY HOUSE EYED FOR POCKET PARK

fh-williamshouseWith its million-dollar view of the Navesink, the Charles Williams house would be razed sooner or later, locals appear to agree. Below, a weathered medallion on the doorframe marks the structure as a Century House.
(Click to enlarge)

It’s a homestead that links Fair Haven not only to its roots as a riverfront village, but to the bedrock of its identity as a place where African Americans made their homes even in the days of slavery.

The Charles Williams house, built overlooking the Navesink River in 1855, has remained in the same family without interruption, pre-Emancipation right through the death of its most recent occupant, who lived there for 90 years.

Her name was Winifred Julia Decatur Robards, and she died one year ago this week at the age of 92, adding to the rapid erosion of the borough’s small black community.

But years before her death, she and her two sons saw the end of the line coming, and planned to put the house up for sale. And now, it appears the Williams house will indeed fall to a bulldozer at the behest of its next owner: the borough of Fair Haven itself.

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