Opinion: Preserve History So You Can “Meet Me At The Lackawanna”

Lackawanna Station, Montclair. Photo: Portraits by Michael Stahl.

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).

Lackawanna Station, Montclair. Photo: Portraits by Michael Stahl.

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.

Lackawanna Plaza. Photo: Portraits by Michael Stahl

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.

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  1. Great photographs! Maybe they can be included in the historic site information kiosk where the demolished sheds were located. Of course, the kiosk shouldn’t get in the way of the grocery store parking. Maybe Pinnacle will make a big concession and place the kiosk by the store’s checkout registers.

  2. A non-negotiable stake in the ground for suburban grocery stores is to have parking directly in front of the store. Montclair wants a grocery store. The Council has acknowledged & accepted this stake and told the Planning Board what it needs to do.

    I think most would agree It seems a reasonable deviation from our downtown parking strategy in the attempt to entice a grocery store operation.

    Our downtown parking strategy calls for parking decks to be located on the periphery of the Bloomfield Ave corridor. For example, shoppers, concert-goers, workers & residents using the new Midtown Parking Deck can park on a side street and walk to and up & down Bloomfield Ave to their destinations.

    Back to the grocery store. The developer’s plan is to increase the existing 107-space lot in front of the down-sized grocery store to 226 parking spaces.

    What is overlooked by our Council is the grocery store’s projected “peak of all peaks” parking need…which only occurs just 20 hours a year. Twenty hours out of 8,760 hours. Or, against a more topical comparison, 1,200 minutes out of Season of Love’s “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes”. The other 99.77% of the year is not a parking capacity issue.

    During this 0.23% of the year, the peak hour grocery parking need is 105 parking spaces… plus a 5% buffer. Call it 111 spaces. 111 spaces out of the 226-space capacity

    There are obviously other commercial uses here needing parking, but how they are parked did not rise up to the Council’s level of concern. Why? Because there are another 261 spaces in this project. Lots and lots of parking. So, these other uses did not get their own stakes in the ground. Just the grocery store’s 111 spaces got a ground stake.

    The Council’s approval of this Lackawanna plan has sealed the outcome. The developer will be allowed to overbuild parking capacity because it maximizes their goals. The Planning Board has never faced a situation where a developer is building more parking than the township requires. Further, setting maximum parking levels is a concept the Planning Board has already said it will not consider. The maximum level concept’s relationship to best and highest land use is beyond their comprehension now. They’ll get there eventually, but too late for Lackawanna’s train sheds.

  3. Thank you for this beautiful article and exquisite images!
    How could the trains sheds not be considered a valuable landmark feature and important to preserve? The structure was preserved and updated for modern use by Montclair resident and master preservation architect Richard Blinder of Blinder, Beyer & Bell. http://www.beyerblinderbelle.com Blinder headed the commission to redesign of the Lackawanna Train Station and the repurposing of the historic train sheds into a shopping mall in 1984. His firm’s preservation achievements include New York’s, Grand Central Station, The New York Public Library, Ellis Island, Newark Penn Station and much more. Blinder designed the preservation project and annex of the Montclair Art Museum. You can’t adulterate the landmark station by removing or modifying the existing sheds. They are important features that are integral, key elements that make the Lackawanna landmark a historic train station and what we identify with in our collective memory of the train station. The whole station structure is beautiful, valuable and important.

  4. Frank and Frank have never been more right and the current council never more wrong.

    This is the Marlboro Inn, Round 2: Desecration of Main Street. Losing the original station at Lackawanna, which was saved for us a by a prior generation of thoughtful designers and planners, is short-sighted and not necessary.

    On the matter of the council bullying other town officials into accepting a sea of parking where we should have a jewel in the crown of historic Montclair: guilty.

  5. Precisely. Its the Marlborough Inn travesty all over again. The council doing a resolution to push the demolition through and crying wolf about a grocery store was so totally fake and inappropriate. Montclair, and especially the Forth Ward can’t afford to loose any more landmarks. It hurts the real estate market in every Ward. Dr. Baskerville had plenty of time to work out a supermarket alternative, but didn’t, and there are already supermarkets that are nearby and accessible to the Fourth Ward and every Ward. Bob Russo was quick to get on the bandwagon about not letting the preservationists hold things up. Doesn’t he remember that he was the “preservationist platform” mayor that lead to the Marlborough Inn’s demise, then followed by Remsen? How irresponsible and what a shame. I have faith in the next generation of voters and hope they’ll have some landmarks left.

  6. Thats a correct, responsible and well done report that Architect Barton Ross has done. (In Frank’s link above) It offers very realistic project alternatives that would preserve the landmark’s integrity. Its also very considerate of public use and commercial requirements. Bravo Mr. Ross! A win win for everyone.

  7. All but one of the Council are of the seriously vindictive sort, so Mr Ross has ‘limited’ future revenue stream potential in Montclair. But, he can say he sleeps well at night. For that, I tip my cap to him.

  8. Isn’t there a NJ State law that would require that the owner of a landmark puts the property up for sale before the landmark were to be demolished? Then if a buyer who would be willing to preserve the landmark were to come along within a year, willing to purchase the property at fair market value, then it would have to be sold to the buyer who would preserve it. I believe that this is a law in the state on NJ.

    Could the notion to demolish the sheds be a strategy to demolish the whole landmark? It happens in NYC when they begin to remove historic features from a landmark… https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/29/arts/design/29landmarks.html

  9. Wouldn’t this Montclair ordinance prevent the demolition of this landmark if there were a buyer willing to preserve it?


    Denial in applications for demolition. In the event that the Commission disapproves an application for a permit to demolish a landmark or any building, structure, object or site located within a landmark district, the owner shall, nevertheless, as a matter of right, be entitled to raze or demolish the same, provided that all of the following requirements have been fully met:
    Permit procedure compliance. The owner has applied for the necessary permit and has received notice of denial of the same from the Commission and has appealed said denial to the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which has affirmed the denial.

    Notice requirements. The owner has met the following notice requirements:
    Notice of the proposed demolition has been posted on the premises of the building, structure, object or site throughout the notice period, set forth herein in Subsection C(1)(b)[2] and [3] of this section, in a location that it is clearly readable from the street.
    The applicant has published a notice in the official newspaper of the Township within the first 10 days of the notice period, within not less than 10 nor more than 15 days prior to the expiration of the notice, and at least once each 90 days between the above first and last notifications, if the notice period is nine months or longer.
    The period of time during which notice must be given in the manner herein set forth shall be known as the “notice period.” It shall commence on the 10th day following the date of the notice of denial received from the Zoning Board of Adjustment after an appeal has been decided, and such notice period shall run for a period of time of nine months.
    The owner has, during the notice period and at a price reasonably related to its fair market value, made a bona fide offer to sell such building, structure, object or site and the land pertaining thereto to any person or organization, government or agency thereof or political subdivision or agency thereof which gives reasonable assurances that it is willing to preserve the building, structure, object or site and the land pertaining thereto.
    The owner shall not have been a party to any bona fide contract binding upon all parties thereto for the sale of any such building, structure, object or site and the land pertaining thereto executed prior to the expiration of the notice period except a contract made in accordance with Subsection C(1)(b)[4] of this sectl/

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