Blown away and inspired—that is the only way I can describe my feelings after touring the Hillside Square renovation project on Hillside Avenue in Montclair. As a parent of a Hillside School student I had watched the renovation project all of last year wondering and waiting. Little did I know they were creating not just any refurbished building, but a bright, energy efficient mini-Montclair museum and a work of art. But before we hear the juicy details of the gorgeous project let us go back in time a bit.
Hillside Square was originally built in 1926 as the First Church of Christ Scientist to the tune of $236,000. Over time the congregation began to lose members and and the church was no longer able to maintain the historic building. Bob Silver and his business partner, Jay Schweppe of the Bravitas Group Inc., always on the look out for new renovation projects, purchased the building. They renovated it according the highest green technology standards to provide state of the art office and conference spaces while maintaining a stunning sanctuary for the church congregation’s continued use.
As a lover of preservation and renovation, I was like a kid in a candy store on my personal tour with co-owner Bob Silver. Much of the original church has been preserved and creatively re-purposed. You never forget the roots, origin and history of the building. My personal favorite touch is the pew in Fanbrandz that has been recovered in sports jerseys and reads, “Say a prayer for the home team.” This glorious building across the street from the 3rd largest public school in Montclair is in my opinion the very best lesson of the new fangled 3 R’s:
Objects like the 632 pews were no longer needed. These seats that, on Sundays during the past 80 plus years, Montclair area residents sat and reflected, were shipped to different churches in Haiti. Continuing to be the seats of prayer and reflection on an island that is so in need.
Some of the pews stayed and restored to adorn certain spaces throughout the building. The organ pipes that were not donated to an organ restoring company have been reused all over the building for signage. Even salvaged timbers have been transformed into a huge impressive conference table.
The walls are adorned with framed preserved historical documents from the originally 1926 construction, church records and saved church documents such as a letter circa 1955 from then fire chief Harry Knowles. Outside each office entry there is a framed photo of what the space looked like before the renovation making one appreciate the space even more. Even the original illustrations of the lighting fixtures which have been cleaned and used throughout the building, are framed and on display.
Silver told me his favorite features of the building, “I am thrilled with the new glass enclosed conference room that houses our conference table make from salvaged timbers and steel trusses. The third floor that was formerly unfinished attic space has been transformed into an unbelievable office suite with soaring views of the steeple . I also think the former organ loft space which has been transformed into an incredible office space with windows punched through 2 feet of stone , a splendid mezzanine , and soaring columns as an architectural feature .” Grates from the church’s radiator covers are suspended from the ceiling as modern sculpture.”
One of my favorite features is the re-use of the many original doors left after the renovation, which now line a hallway. The effect is like falling through the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland. As I wandered down the hallway I turned and saw that one door labeled “Gentleman” still had the “Do not use. Out of order” sign on it.
The new space for worship is one of the most peaceful I have ever seen. The words “God is Love” greets you as you enter through the church’s private entry. This same phrase can be seen on the facade of the balcony in a photograph of the original 1926 sanctuary. The lines of the new space inside are simple, clean and calming.
The renovation of the building was done with eco-friendly technology and green standards making it very energy efficient, including use of low energy LED lighting and electricity-free exit signs. There is even a bathroom with a shower for the tenants to encourage biking to work or exercise during the work day. Bob was happy and proud to tell me that the project has received Silver LEED Certification from the USGBC. This is Silver and Schweppe’s third LEED certified building in Montclair. They have the only green buildings in Montclair.
“We’ve been fortunate to attract some very interesting and creative tenants,” said Silver. “And we do it all without tearing down historic buildings or even adding on to their size. And from the perspective of the taxpayer, we’re taking properties that had been tax-exempt and returning them to the tax rolls. It’s a win-win-win-win for everybody.”
When I asked Bob what part of the renovation is he the most proud of he told me,”I am most proud of the team that made all this happen in less than a year. The key players are:
- General Contractor, Jack Finn, and Project Manager, Tom Minden, both of Jack Finn & Co. Building Contractors LLC (www.finnbuilders.com)
- Architects Paul Sionas and Rick Jarzembowski of Sionas Architecture, PC (www.sionasarchitecture.com)
- Designer Rachael Grochowski of RHG A+D (www.rhgdesign.com).
“I am also very proud of the creative tenants that we attracted to our creative building including : Joe Zeff Design , Fanbranz , Trilogy Films , Phoenix Technologies , Dr. Dejulius , Medical Marketing Economics , Klein Insurance and Fluro Pharma.” added Bob.
I was told by one of the tenants that Bob is known as a “matchmaker.” Matching tenants with each other to help their respective businesses.
Hillside Square follows the already successful Academy Square, Greenworks on Grove, and BrassWorks on Grove.
Want to check it all out? The Opening Gala:
The partners and tenants of Hillside Square have announced the grand opening of their newly renovated, state of the art, green office building located just minutes from the heart of the Central Business District in Montclair. The gala event is scheduled for Friday evening, October 26, 2012 from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm at Hillside Square, 8 Hillside Avenue in Montclair. The evening will begin with a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony with local officials and feature art by Catherine Kinkade and live music by Jazz House Kids. Food and libations are being provided by Events by Joni. The Ribbon cutting is at 6:30 pm with the help of the Mayor and town council.
The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP for the grand opening, please contact Katie Long at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the slideshow for your own personal tour: