This letter is prompted by the lively debate on the future of the former Maxwell House site. Primary discussions have pitted those who want to preserve the buildings in some form for historical or architectural reasons versus those who feel clearing the site and starting over offers the best option.
To some, the fact that this site once housed the largest coffee roaster in the world and that the original set of buildings has some relationship to an accepted architectural style does not warrant saving a group of decrepit buildings. The question I raise however is whether one feels these buildings can be reused in a manner which is more unique and valued than those offered by new construction? This notion challenges the developer's budget, design team's creativity and the public's imagination but must be asked. In Hoboken, we have many instances of reusing existing buildings, some more successful than others but I invite everyone to visit these and make their own decision.
Among the most recent cases is the former Lipton Building at 15th and Washington Streets, but this notion probably began in Hoboken over 30 years ago with the conversion of the Keuffel and Esser ("Clocktower") building at 3rd and Jefferson Streets. Hoboken's revival in the 1970s was based on a solid building stock which allowed renewal and restoration of thousands of older residential apartments while the 1980s saw the conversion of numerous factories into condominiums, many of which are found along Clinton, Grand and Adams Streets. One can also see former churches, schools, banks, theaters, social halls and firehouses now being used as residential properties.
As one views these buildings, consider what Hoboken would be like if these buildings were demolished. The history preserved may be more visual than actual, and the architectural merit may be in the building diversity than in style. Nonetheless, are these successful projects? Is the urban fabric enhanced?
We are also being told that erasing the Maxwell House site is important since it will allow the existing street grid to extend to the river. Is this important? It has been argued that the value of the street grid is best felt when the grid is interrupted (ex. Columbus Park, Church Square Park, Stevens campus, etc.).
What do you think? How should our city look? Come to the Planning Board meetings and/or write letters to your council person.