Plainfield, Union County
Year listed: 2011
4/2012: A proposed redevelopment plan that would demolish the Muhlenberg campus and replace the buildings with multi-family housing has been unveiled: http://preservationnj.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/muhlenberg-regional-medical-center-plainfield-proposed-redevelopment-plans-unveiled-for-the-former-hospital-complex/ . No formal application for redevelopment has yet been made to the local planning or zoning boards.
Incorporated in 1877, and moved to this 17-acre location at Park Avenue and Randolph Road in 1903, Plainfield’s Muhlenberg Hospital, now known as Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, was one of the oldest hospitals in the state when it was closed in 2008.
The historic 1903 core of the existing hospital complex is one of the earliest known extant complexes of buildings designed by the notable New York architectural firm of Tracy & Swartwout. The partners in the firm, Evarts Tracy and Egerton Swartwout, were both Yale graduates who met while working for architectural masters McKim, Mead & White. In 1900, the two formed their own firm. Evarts Tracy had strong ties to Plainfield, having moved there as a child. He built his own home in Plainfield on Hillside Avenue in 1901, from which he would have been able to watch progress at the Muhlenberg site when he was overseeing the construction of the original Muhlenberg Hospital buildings. While the Muhlenberg Hospital buildings were some of the earliest designs of the young architecture firm, the men went on to design many significant buildings, including the Cathedral of St. John in the Wilderness and the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, in Denver; the Department of Commerce Building and George Washington Memorial Hall in Washington, D.C.; and the Missouri State Capital building in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Despite numerous additions over the years as the hospital grew into Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, the complex’s original Tracy & Swartwout buildings remain largely intact. The Tracy & Swartwout buildings looked like one large structure when originally built, but actually consisted of multiple parts, including a main reception and office building, an eye and ear clinic, a large kitchen, separate wards for men and women, and a stand-alone "Muhlenberg Operating Pavilion." Today, the buildings retain many original features, including inscriptions noting the contributions of various turn-of-the-century Plainfield families to the hospital’s construction. As such, Muhlenberg’s historic buildings tell the story of some of Plainfield’s most significant people and their dedication to improving healthcare in their community as the 20th century dawned. Additionally, this historic complex of hospital buildings illustrates the growth of the medical profession through its separate structures that housed individual medical uses, in comparison to today's mega-structure hospital complexes.
When Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed in 2008, it was required by the state to maintain minimal healthcare services, including a Satellite Emergency Department, for a limited time. This use occupies only a small portion of the entire complex, however, and does not include the historic Tracy & Swartwout buildings. While these buildings are visible from the street, public access to these historic buildings is prohibited, so their condition is unknown. The entity that controls the hospital complex, Solaris Health System, confirmed last fall that it had a confidentiality agreement with a potential buyer and developer of the property, but no further information has been released about future development. This large piece of property, 17 acres, is in a prime real estate location, near the Plainfield Country Club, Plainfield's historic districts and close to the South Plainfield and Edison borders. In an improving economy, the possibility of development on the property is likely and the future of the historic Tracy & Swartwout buildings is uncertain.
Preservation New Jersey urges recognition of the significance of Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center’s historic buildings to the history of Plainfield and New Jersey. These buildings, designed by noted architects, are one of a dwindling number of extant historic medical complexes, representing the history of the medical field and the evolution of healthcare throughout the 20th century. Muhlenberg’s historic buildings were in use until the facility closed and remain viable, presenting a unique opportunity for future rehabilitation. We encourage the current owners and potential future developers to consider the historic significance of the 1903 Tracy & Swartwout Buildings at Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center as future plans for the property are developed.
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