Montclair Historic Preservation Commission Looks At Bloomfield Avenue Projects

The Montclair Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) looked at two projects for existing buildings along Bloomfield Avenue at its July 26 meeting, and both of them placed special emphasis on preserving the historic character of the original structures.  One project involves the former Montclair Savings Bank building on the corner of Bloomfield Glenridge Avenues that was until recently occupied by a Bank of America branch; the other is a storefront along Bloomfield Avenue’s southern side just east of Elm Street.

Architect Matthew Ponsi of Architectura showed his plans to redo the former Montclair Savings Bank building, constructed in 1924 and still bearing the original bank’s legend – “FOUNDED IN 1893 TO PROMOTE ECONOMY AND PRESERVE ITS FRUITS” – etched along the top,  as an office for Sovos Brands.  Sovos Brands is a financial firm that specializes in buying the rights to prepackaged foods, and Ponsi said the firm was attracted to the architecture of the building and wants to preserve it with minimal changes.  Ponsi’s plans include new basement windows to allow light in and also new bronze plaque signs identifying Sovos on the pilasters of either side of the front entrance.  Inside, the building would be subdivided into office spaces and a conference room.   The application, which goes before the Zoning Board of Adjustment on August 15, would require a variance for office space on the first floor of commercial building, as well as variances for the two plaque signs where only one is permitted and for the plaques to be five square feet where a maximum of four square feet is allowed.  The project is comparable to the conversion of the old First National State Bank building on Bloomfield Avenue in Caldwell into office space (a project spearheaded, incidentally, by the office of Montclair architect Paul Sionas).

The commission zeroed in on the particulars of the plan.  HPC Chairwoman Kathleen Bennett asked if Ponsi would look and see how the Bank of America plaque signs were mounted, and he replied he had intended to do that and use the mountings as a guide to installing the new plaques.  He also assured Commissioner Stephen Rooney that he could potentially reuse the old mounts to prevent any unnecessary abrasions to the façade.  Commissioner John Reimnitz was interested in knowing how much space would be on either side of both plaques. Ponsi told him that both signs would have the same width and centering, though he did not have the exact dimensions.

Architect Matthew Ponsi’s proposed exterior changes for the Montclair Savings Bank building on Bloomfield Avenue, for a new financial-firm tenant

Although the building is not being used as a bank by the new tenant and is not likely to be used as a bank again given the mergers of banks and the trend toward online transactions, Commissioner Caroline Kane Levy said that the deposit box should be fixed if it is in fact an historic element – a position not unlike the HPC’s recommendation of preserving the Delaware and Lackawanna building’s design elements pertaining to its past as a railway terminal – and Thomas Connelly, the HPC’s preservation consultant, concurred with that assessment.  The commission decided on five recommendations for the Zoning Board to consider; preserving the deposit box should it prove to be an historic element, removing the light over it, offer derailed dimensions of the new basement windows for the Glenridge Avenue façade, and to ensure that the plaques are installed without compromising the integrity of the pilasters.  Kane Levy said she was pleased that the old Montclair Savings bank building – once a pillar of the banks that populated the northern side of Bloomfield Avenue between Park Street and Glenridge Avenue – was getting a new lease of life.

Already getting a new lease on life is the building at 222-230 Bloomfield Avenue.  The building’s original terra cotta façade is being resorted, and architect Mark Bess went through the details of the project with Tom Reynolds, a Zoning Board member who was wearing his other hat as a design consultant for this restoration.  Bess and Reynolds offered an ambitious plan for the building, the 1940s-era terra cotta frontage of which was discovered by surprise when the old aluminum siding was removed.  With that having been done, and with the existing metal-panel column covers having also been removed, Bess plans to, among other things, remove the existing glass and aluminum storefronts and install new glass storefronts with similar matching aluminum frames, patch and repair the existing terra cotta finish at the pillars, install new light fixtures, and create a cast of the existing owl’s heads (originally thought to be eagle’s heads embedded in design to replace and repair the originals.

a detailed blueprint of architect mark Bess’ plans to restore the 222-230 Bloomfield Avenue façade

Of the 14 proposals Bess had either completed, had yet to complete, or omitted, an additional proposal, the ninth one, to install faux awnings over the storefronts was eliminated but not stricken from the notes.  That produced a moment of unintended humor; commissioners noted there was a “note number nine,” and Bess replied, “Strike number nine.  Number nine, number nine should not be there.”  For a moment, the hearing sounded like a listening party for the Beatles’ White Album.

Bess’s proposal for new wood signs were met with a suggestion from commissioners such as Kane Levy and David Greenbaum that the signs should be glass instead, with lettering that would be consistent in size but still have different fonts to avoid excessive conformity.  The commissioners were pleased with Bess’s proposal to have a centered concrete cap that, in his own words, suggested the top of a cupcake (restoring the original look), but they also advised him to use cast stone, not limestone as Bess suggested, if matching the existing terra cotta façade is not feasible.  The HPC also suggested spherical lighting for the façade.  Eventually, these three suggestions became conditions for Bess, with revised plans to be brought to the HPX’s revisions committee for final approval, and the application was unanimously approved.

“I know it’s been a long haul, but it looks great,” Chairwoman Bennett said of the project.

The HPC also heard from the proprietor of the Brasil Paradise Grill at 180 Bloomfield Avenue over the installation of an exhaust vent hood, which would be visible from the avenue, on the eastern façade of the building.  The commission requested more information, and the proprietor said he could submit it by Monday (July 30).

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