Preservationists are sounding the alarm about renewed efforts by St. Peter’s Prep to demolish two historic buildings in the Downtown Jersey City neighborhood of Paulus Hook. A hearing on the private school’s appeal of a 2019 decision that denied its request to do so, scheduled for Thursday before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, has now been adjourned to April 28.
The two York Street Romanesque Revival buildings — St. Peter’s Original Parish School and St. Peter’s Hall and Parochial School — date to 1861 and 1898, respectively. Woodrow Wilson launched his campaign for governor of New Jersey in the Hall in 1910. According to preservationists, The Original St. Peter’s School may be the only non-residential Civil War era building left in downtown Jersey City.
Local preservationists point out that the structures were included in the Paulus Hook Historic District when it was formed in the early 1980s. When St. Peter’s Prep bought the buildings in 2002, their historic designation had been in place for two decades.
Until St. Peter’s bought the buildings, the preservationists say, they were actively used as school buildings; since that time, they note, St. Peter’s has both left them vacant and failed to maintain them.
St. Peter’s has argued that the buildings suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and are too dilapidated to save. They would, according to a lawyer, be replaced with a surface parking lot with “attractive” fencing and landscaping.
At the 2019 hearing, the Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny St. Peter’s request to raze the buildings, a decision St. Peter’s is now appealing.
Said Christopher Perez, President of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy “We can’t ever re-create these buildings. They are key markers of a time in Jersey City’s development. They are markers in terms of religion and schooling in Jersey City … I’m shocked as to why an institution would not want to preserve them.”
Diane Kaese, an architect and president of the Historic Paulus Hook Association, added, “They are a very important part of our historic district. St. Peter’s Prep purchased the buildings knowing that they were in the district and fully understood their moral and legal responsibility as owners of historic buildings.”