TRENTON, NJ – In recognition of National Preservation Month, Preservation New Jersey (PNJ) announced its annual list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in New Jersey at a press conference at the State House Annex at 11:00 AM on Tuesday, May 17th 2022. PNJ was joined by the advocates for this year’s endangered historic places to support New Jersey’s threatened cultural and architectural heritage. A reception followed at the William Trent House.
The 10 Most Endangered Historic Places program spotlights irreplaceable historic, architectural, cultural, and archeological resources in New Jersey that are in imminent danger of being lost. The act of listing these resources acknowledges their importance to the heritage of New Jersey and draws attention to the predicaments that endanger their survival and the survival of historic resources statewide. The list, generated from nominations by the public, aims to attract new perspectives and ideas to sites in desperate need of creative solutions.
Selections to the 10 Most Endangered list are based on three criteria:
· historic significance and architectural integrity,
· the critical nature of the threat identified, and
· the likelihood that inclusion on the list will have a positive impact on efforts to protect the resource
Several challenges face properties on this year’s endangered sites list, including neglect and deferred maintenance, threats incurred by redevelopment and new construction, difficulties raising adequate historic preservation funding, and the need for creative adaptive reuse proposals. This year, in addition to individual sites, we list two categories; places associated with New Jersey’s underrepresented histories, and twenty-five years after its first listing in the ‘10 Most,’ cemeteries.
Although PNJ’s 10 Most Endangered Places list is published once per year, the fight for the preservation of our historic and cultural resources takes place in communities around our state on a daily basis. At Preservation, New Jersey, our educational programming and advocacy efforts continue year-round. Many properties previously listed among the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places have once again become assets to New Jersey’s communities. Others continue to need more attention, resources, and care. A first-of-its-kind, comprehensive research project is underway to update PNJ’s 10 Most Endangered Places listings, as well as contact information for all the 200+ places, so that we can better understand and share these stories.
We are fortunate that this year’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places Program is supported by the following sponsors: HMR Architects, Kreilick Conservation, Architectural Window Corporation, Jablonski Building Conservation, Inc., and Mills + Schnoering Architects.
The Sandlass House, located at the entrance to the Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area, is the only surviving building of a once extensive resort complex built as part of Sandy Hook’s Golden Age. Built in 1893, the House was part of the Highland Beach excursion resort which served as a community hub from 1888-1961. The resort, founded by William Sandlass and The Highland Beach Improvement Company, opened its doors during the emergence of increased leisure time for the middle class and served over 125,000 visitors a season at the turn of the century.
The State of New Jersey owns the house with an agreement that allows the National Park Service to manage the property. The house is now under imminent threat of roof collapse due to lack of repairs and maintenance.
The efforts to preserve the building started in 2010 when the Park Ranger and his family were still living in the house. After 22 years, he had plans to retire in 2012. A dialogue began with NPS about a future lease to preserve the house and to provide an adaptive use for visitors to Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook. The Park Ranger retired in June 2012 when he moved out before SuperStorm Sandy. At this time, due to costs, NPS staff chose not to bring it up to rental code status for leasing purposes. Following SuperStorm Sandy and the damage to all the buildings and infrastructure at Sandy Hook, the conversation with NPS staff took a back seat. An advocacy group worked closely with the local Historical Society of Highlands, the Sandy Hook NPS Chief of Cultural Resources, the NPS Unit Coordinator and the NPS Historian to document the historical evidence for significance.
In 2016, a group of community members committed to the preservation of Sandlass House and its historic resort legacy, founded a non-profit called the Jersey Coast Heritage Museum (JCHM). They again approached NPS and U.S. Representative Pallone to stay any demolition plans due to the status of the house being moved to the Ruins Bin in the NPS General Management Plan. NPS staff responded by deferring a future demolition at that time. NPS has reservations about sustainability, safety and traffic issues during the high season in the park. Effort to give the house further protection through an individual nomination on the historic register was sent to SHPO. The 2016 offer to put a cultural museum in the building has not been advanced by NPS representatives. Currently, a new leasing program is starting on Officers Row to preserve the buildings at Sandy Hook for future Airbnb’s, apartments, a snack bar and entertainment venues. The Ft. Hancock Advisory Committee (FACA) has been reviewing leasing options, alternatives and impacts since 2013. The committee meets on a regular basis quarterly. Currently, Sandy Hook leasing is a success and has a few properties operating as Airbnb’s, a Snack Bar, a Bungalow and a Mule Barn Bar (in process). Several other leasing agreements are under consideration. In 2016, a Change.org petition to stay a future Sandlass House demolition and preserve the house was forwarded to the NPS Superintendent at Sandy Hook with over 1,200 signatures.
In 2021, a petition was delivered to the National Park Service with 1,800 signatures that requested the historical significance of the house to New Jersey transportation history be recognized, and the Sandlass House be put into the new Sandy Hook NPS leasing program as an Airbnb.
Preservation New Jersey supports these actions which would allow an interested entrepreneur to evaluate the house, make a roof repair, and renovate the building.