JERSEY CITY POWERHOUSE

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“There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run,” once sang Canadian Gordon Lightfoot, and as hard to believe as it is now, NYC and New Jersey never had a rail connection crossing the mighty Hudson until 1910, when Pennsylvania Station opened. Much of the grand architecture associated with the connection has vanished…

 

…but a reminder of the early days of railroading across the Hudson still stands in Jersey City, at 1st and Warren Streets: the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad Powerhouse. Designed by architect John Oakman and completed in 1908 the massive (200,000 square ft.) structure’s brick walls are 28 inches thick and its 1300-sq. ft. windows are the largest on the East Coast. It’s dynamos provided electricity for the H&M Railroad until 1929, when power began to be obtained from other sources. (Architect Oakman’s firm, Robins and Oakman, also designed the gently arching stations currently found on the H&M, which today is known as the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Railroad — the PATH, for short.

 

The building has stood mainly unused since then — it has been occasionally a raehouse for electrical equipment. Local resident John Gomez, the driving force behind the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy, has spearheaded a successful movement to save the building after the Port Authority and Jersey City contemplated razing it in the 1990s. In 2001 it was placed on the roster of the National Register of Historic Places, and hopefully, it will eventually be developed with a nod to saving its original configurations.

Long Island City, New York, contains a similar powerhouse associated with the construction of Pennsylvania station. It has been preserved as luxury dwellings, but at the cost of its original 4 massive smokestacks and most of its original appearance. Hopefully, there will be more discretion taken when work eventually begins on the Jersey City powerhouse.

 

The neighborhood surrounding the powerhouse is known as the Jersey City Warehouse Historic District, containing remnants of waterfront industry that once dominated this part of the city. Massive warehouses for the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P), Lorillard Tobacco, Butler Brothers can still be found in the area – including the incredible Morgan Industrial Center, now home to artist galleries, above.

Google map: Jersey City Warehouse Historic District

 

Provost Street is one of Jersey City’s few remaining brick-paved streets. There used to be a railroad connecting the warehouse buildings.

Firehouse turned art center, Morgan Street near Provost Street.

 

The J. Leo Cooke warehouse on Bay Street between Warren and Provost was constructed in 1913 for a margarine maker, the Eckerson Company. Margarine faced heavy pressure from the dairy industry that kept it from attaining a large market share until that time. Cooke took over and warehoused the building sometime later. In the early 2000s the building became residential, constructing 59 units, along with retail on the ground floor. As a retro touch the Cooke sign was repainted.

 

Artists who have been renting in the warehouse space in the area are gradually being pushed out by luxury high rise buildings as many non-landmarked warehouses are being razed in favor of projects like Trump Plaza and a planned tower by famed architect Rem Koolhaas (which is a fortuitous name for an architect, no?) that resembles three boxes stacked at different angles.

“The way for this city to go is vertical,” Mayor Jerramiah Healy said when the Koolhaas project was unveiled at the end of February. ”For better or worse, this city is taken up by tall high-rises. I think it is for the better.” That’s the spirit, Jerry.

 

Give me liberty. Looking south on Warren Street.

9/18/08

 





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