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A Historic Home, Now in Peril

Clinton Avenue mansion named one of Jersey's 10 at-risk historic sites

A graceful remnant of Newark’s Victorian-era past is in danger, according to a state historic preservation group.

The Kastner Mansion at 176 Clinton Ave. has been named one of the state’s 10 most endangered historic sites for 2012 by Trenton-based Preservation New Jersey.  The group has released its list annually for the last 18 years.

The 32-room house, built in 1892, originally belonged to Franz Kastner, one of the city’s prosperous brewers back when Newark was a major American beer-making center. The structure is similar to the Ballantine Mansion, which is now part of the Newark Museum on Washington Street.

The Kastner Mansion remained in private hands until 1957, when it was purchased by Lodge 93 of the Elks Club, who sold it 50 years later to Denise Colon, a Newark businesswoman. The structure “is in generally sound condition,” PNJ said in a statement, but is still in need of extensive repair.

The Kastner Mansion and the nine other properties on the list were chosen based on their historic significance, the seriousness of the threat to their existence and the likelihood “that inclusion on the list will have a positive impact on efforts to protect the resource,” PNJ stated.

Those familiar with the property say the Kastner site easily meets those criteria.

Along with its obvious historical importance and unique design, the mansion has the potential to serve as an anchor for the community living along the western half of Clinton Avenue, said Mark Alan Hewitt, a Bernardsville architect who has taught architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and serves as a pro bono consultant on the Kastner restoration effort.

And while the home is basically sound, Hewitt said, holes have emerged in its slate roof due to a lack of maintenance over the years, resulting in significant water damage inside. The upper floor has been heavily damaged and is presently “not habitable,” Hewitt said.

‘It needs some TLC,” said Hewitt, who is also a co-author of a guide to the state’s architecture. “It still has its original slate roof, and that can last for 200 years with maintenance. But if you don’t maintain it, you’re going to have problems.”

Hewitt also praised the site’s current owner, Colon, for her efforts to restore the property, which one day may become home to vocational training programs, he said.

Efforts to save the Kastner house may soon be getting a boost from the Brick City Development Corporation, a nonprofit development agency which has “expressed an interest” in the property, according to PNJ.

Not surprisingly for a city founded a century before the Revolutionary War, Newark is home to a large number of historically significant structures. According to Stephanie Cherry-Farmer, programs director for PNJ, eight locations in Newark have been placed on the organization’s “10-most endangered lists” over the years.

There has been “varying degrees of progress” to save those sites, she said. “It all depends on the situation at the property.”

Cherry-Farmer said Newark has a few things in its favor when it comes to saving its treasures for future generations, however. The city government includes a historic preservation commission and another group, the Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee, also works to preserve sites.

“Newark has some incredible historic places all across the city,” she said.

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