With its emblematic, huge lit finger pointing to the front door, few locations better epitomized the rugged industrial charm of Hoboken's longshoremen than the eatery. It first opened its doors in 1899 and was known for its signature clam broth soup. The broth, served free of charge, was made from the water used to boil the steamers (or steamed clams). The salty substance encouraged the broad-shouldered longshoremen to drink more beer and other libations.
The restaurant stayed popular when Hoboken's maritime facilities and strategic location made it the prime port of embarkation for troops of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I. More than three million soldiers passed through the area during the war.
Danny Tattoli, who comes from a longtime Hoboken family, is in contract to buy both the property and the liquor license. He is expected to close on the property by September. He bought the property from Arthur Peleaz and his wife Christina, who have owned the building for about the past 30 years.
Tattoli is also in contract to lease the Clam Broth liquor license, signage, and restaurant name from businessmen Michael Acciardi and Reinaldo Becerra. Tattoli has pledged to reopen the restaurant and restore the famous neon sign of a finger pointing.
What is already approved?
On May 24, the Zoning Board approved a six-story building that will rise 76 feet in total. The bottom floors will house the 9,000 square-foot Clam Broth House, which is exceptionally large for a Hoboken restaurant. Tattoli said it will be the largest restaurant space in Hoboken.
The new eatery will have space for event receptions, something that is rare in the mile-square city. The middle two floors will have office space, and the top two will house eight residential units. The neon finger will be restored and attached to the building façade.
One of the more controversial elements of the approvals is the design of the facade, which will boast two different styles.
The bottom five stories will be of an Italian style, with large windows and a typical Hoboken cornice. This portion of the building will be made of brick and the cornice will be the same height it was before original Clam Broth building was razed.
But above that cornice, the top two stories will be French Second Empire-style mansard roof (see photo). This was a popular Victorian style just before the turn of the century, with a distinctive double sloped roof and multiple dormers. The roof will consist of slate with copper features and wrought iron cresting.
Before the Historic Preservation Board
If the project is already approved, then why did it have to go back before the Historic Preservation Commission Tuesday night?
According to the board's attorney, Joseph Sherman, the commission's role was specifically and solely to review the proposed façade and material for the building.
Sherman added that they were not there to review the building's height, density or subdivisions, which were granted by the Zoning Board in May.
While most members of the public spoke strongly in favor of the design, there are some in the activist community who still feel the proposed six-story 74-foot building will be too tall for the block.
There were also concerns by some that the design was "over the top." Some have compared the design to one that might be found on Main Street in Disney World.
For these activists, Tuesday's meeting was seen as a last ditch opportunity to possibly overturn the already approved variances. They believe the building should be an exact recreation of the old one.
Supporters praise design
Many of those who spoke Tuesday said that it's important to bring back the Clam Broth House restaurant, and most said that the design is fitting with the historic character of the neighborhood. Lou Taglieri, a lifetime Hoboken resident, said it would be impossible to create an exact replica of the Clam Broth House because the building has changed so many times over the years.
"There have been many alterations that were done on this building over the years, so there is not one original façade," Taglieri said. "I've been here 75 years, and I know what it looks like. I've been there as a boy and as a man, and this [design] belongs in this city."
Hoboken resident Michael Stefano said that the design fits historically with the rest of the area and that there are several examples of mansard roofs throughout Hoboken.
He added that the developer has put a lot of effort and expense into recapturing the sprit of the Clam Broth House, and that the design should be approved.
"Hoboken is known for three things: the birthplace of baseball, the birthplace of Sinatra and the Clam Broth House," Stefano said. "We're not going to lose the Clam Broth House; we need to bring it back."
John LaBarbera, who owns a real estate company based in Hoboken, said that building is a good design.
"People who think that this [design] doesn't blend in with architectural landscape, the historical landscape of this town, really aren't looking around," LaBarbera said. "This building will accent the town."
He added that another item that can't be overlooked is that the restaurant will house one of the largest catering and event spaces in the city.
"Every time you want to hold a function, you have leave the city," LaBarbera said. "It will be an honor to say I'm having my event at what was the original Clam Broth house, and what now is the new Clam Broth House."
But not everyone agrees
At least one member of the city's Historic Preservation Commission and several members of the public believe that the mansard roof and the building's height aren't appropriate for the new Clam Broth House.
They argued Tuesday night that if the Historic Preservation Board found that the design was not historically appropriate for the site and wasn't properly integrated into the historic district, then the Preservation Board could send the project back to the Zoning Board for additional site plan approval.
The argument was a last effort to overturn the Zoning Board variances that were approved in May.
Helen Manogue of the Quality of Life Coalition argued that the design does not fit within the architectural tapestry and is not visibly compatible with neighboring buildings. She pointed to a Star Ledger article that said the design looks something out of the "Adams Family."
Manogue added the project should be considered a "reconstruction" and not "new construction," which would add a whole new level of design requirement.
She argued that if the Historic Preservation Commission were to deem it a "reconstruction" then the project could be sent back to the Zoning Board for further review.
Manogue said she is still considering appealing the original Zoning Board approvals.
The board speaks
The Historic Preservation Commission sided with those who spoke in favor of the project. The members who were present at the meeting unanimously agreed that their jurisdiction was only to review façade and materials.
Only Commissioner Paul Somerville, who was not at the meeting, submitted a letter objecting to the project.
The board did make several suggestions, such as the removal of some circular shaped windows and other minor design changes that the developer agreed to.
The Historic Preservation Commission also declined requests to send the project back to the Zoning Board.
Now, preliminary construction can begin as soon as Tattoli closes on the property.