Efforts made to protect historic homes in Bloomfield

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Councilman Rich Rockwell, a township historian, at the Historical Society of Bloomfield recently. Rockwell said that a historic designation often increases the value of a house.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — In an effort to preserve architecturally significant township buildings, the Bloomfield Historical Preservation Commission will have a survey conducted, in order to have a number of houses and commercial buildings designated as historically significant by the state. On Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Historical Society of Bloomfield, located on the third floor of the Bloomfield Children’s Library, Councilman Richard Rockwell, liaison for the council to the commission, discussed the survey. The commission is funded by the council.

“We’d like to protect some houses,” Rockwell said. “We have a list of about 60 properties and will have an historical preservation consultant do a survey.”

He said 30 of the 60 sites have been given priority and have been placed on a list created by the commission. Among the sites were the former Braun’s Tavern and Wooden Spoon buildings, both on Glenwood Avenue. Rockwell would not divulge the locations of private homes to be surveyed but felt the 30 prioritized buildings had a good chance of being given historical status. Homeowners whose properties are on the list would be notified when the survey begins.

“Some of the properties are in Bloomfield Center,” Rockwell said. “I think it’s important that we maintain the character of the downtown streetscape.”

He cited two township homes recently razed because they were not protected by historical designations: the Garrabrant house at 43 Montgomery St., which dated back to the early 1700s and was demolished December 2014, and the Ball house at 288 Broad St., which was demolished last year.

“The oldest part of the Ball House was built around 1735,” Rockwell said. “One of its unique features was a Dutch oven, which is an oven built of brick and stone and attached to the fireplace and chimney. It was used to bake bread.”

Rockwell said the part of the house with the fireplace, chimney and the Dutch oven is still standing.

“But it will be demolished, unless someone figures out a way to preserve it,” he said.

In addition to preserving the character of a street or neighborhood — the Church on the Green is within a historically designated area — Rockwell said the survey will help to educate residents about the historical significance of their homes. But there is a small caveat to owning a home historically designated, he acknowledged.

“If someone wanted to do external modifications to the building, they would have to come before the Historic Preservation Commission for permission,” he said. “We’re mainly concerned with what can be seen from the street. Some things come under the jurisdiction of the zoning board.”

But Rockwell added that a historic designation often increases the value of a house.

“It’s been true in the historic district,” he said.

Yet if a homeowner did not want the designation, the commission would most likely agree, Rockwell said.

The survey will begin relatively soon, while the trees are not in leaf, thereby making a viewing of a building easier, he said. Many long-lost houses in Bloomfield, Glen Ridge and Montclair can be viewed on the HSB website.

Rockwell, an HSB member and author of “Bloomfield Through Time,” is also scheduled to give a talk about the changes wrought on Bloomfield by the construction of the Garden State Parkway. While a considerable number of township homes were destroyed to make way for the parkway, some were moved, he said. His talk will be at the Church on the Green on Tuesday, March 24, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.