Lackawanna Station is the most iconic structure in Montclair and has been for more than 100 years. Montclair is a special place, renowned for day-tripping and a place locals are fortunate to call home. To do the best for our town, we must preserve that which makes it unique; and nothing is more unique than Lackawanna.
A lot of hard work has been done by a lot of people who have come to this project from varying viewpoints (pro-preservation, pro-development, pro-business, pro-neighborhood quality of life). The design has evolved to a more acceptable use of the space, but the current plan is not perfect – and it could be.
Now is not the time to stop the dialogue when we are on the cusp of something truly extraordinary. At the center of the current debate: the preservation and creative re-use of the train “sheds,” the long upright supports that shielded long-ago train riders until they boarded.
This evocative bit of architecture was recognized as important to preserve even in the tear-it-down 1980s – the naturally-lit, glass-enclosed atrium concept then as now is a way to open the space to expansive new uses.
The train sheds should be used as the supermarket, or a light-filled farmer’s market/café area. If something needs to be torn down for parking, take it from the boxy, unoriginal, generic retail area (aka the Pathway building, circa 1980).
Imagine the High Line Park in New York City if it had been stripped of its train tracks – it would greatly reduce the sense of authenticity and wonder visitors feel now. In fact, the High Line’s landscaping and hardscaping reiterate the theme of train tracks to give visitors an undeniable sense of the history and purpose of where they stand today.
San Francisco’s Ferry Building is a must-see for visitors and a favorite meeting spot for locals; not just for the world-class farmer’s market but for the creative reuse of the space.
New York’s Chelsea Market is a bustling hub of activity which repurposed every feature of this historic structure. Even if one is not hungry, it’s still a draw for the sense of time and place it imparts.
Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Seattle… the list grows on and on of communities creating vibrant destination markets in historic public places.
The Lackawanna is the gateway to Montclair and a natural jumping-off point in an increasingly pedestrian-friendly part of town. It would shortchange the town to place emphasis on cars over walking, on generic supermarket architecture over wonderous originality, and out-of-town business profits over quality of life for the people who live and visit here. Let’s see this project through to its ideal solution and create a use of space that can be treasured in 100 years just as it can today.
“Meet me at the Lackawanna” sounds just as good now as it did 100 years ago, and that could be even more true in the future. If you want the Lackawanna to be a place you share with pride and enjoy robustly, tell the Planning Board to vote NO on the current plan. Just one more trip to the drawing board. That’s all we’re asking.
Priscilla Eshelman is a resident of Montclair.