2/2012: The Borough of Oradell has passed resolution memorializing their commitment to preserving the Atwood-Blauvelt Mansion.
The Atwood-Blauvelt Mansion has been called “the grandest example of Shingle Style architecture in Bergen County.” It was built between 1896 and 1897 for Kimball Chase Atwood, a self-made millionaire who revolutionized the insurance industry with his Preferred Accident Insurance Company, founded in 1885. Additionally, Atwood’s forays in the grapefruit farming industry in Florida at the end of the 19th-century single-handedly made grapefruit a breakfast staple in America.
With the profits of his industriousness, Atwood commissioned the fashionable Kinderkamack Road landmark known most commonly today as the Blauvelt Mansion. The house was designed by the architect Fred W. Wentworth of Paterson. Although he would eventually become well-known for his public commissions such at the Broadway Baptist Church in Paterson and the YMCA in Paterson, his first commissions were residential.
The Atwood-Blauvelt Mansion is a large, rectangular structure, 2 and ½ stories tall, sited on a hill facing east, fronted by a sweeping two-acre lawn. The house is set on a high stone foundation, embanked into the hill. The house is capped by steeply pitched gable roof broken by cross gables and hexagonal towers with conical roofs, and brick masonry chimneys articulated with stone trim. The exterior frame walls are sheathed with the wood shingles indicative of the house’s architectural style.
The mansion, which has been determined eligible for the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places, retains a high degree of its original architectural integrity. In the 1970s, the Atwood-Blauvelt Mansion was restored by architect Raymond Wells, who purchased the property to save it from a proposal for redevelopment. The grand spaces of the interior of the mansion contain carved oak woodwork, plaster cornices, and intricate hardwood floors. The hall staircase is especially elaborate and detailed with carved, fluted columns. There are a highly ornamental inglenook and bench of carved oak in the front hallway. The fireplaces are framed with marble panels and carved oak mantelpieces.
Of several original outbuildings, only the carriage house and stables survive. It has been restored and now houses the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum and Foundation.
The future of the Atwood-Blauvelt Mansion is uncertain. The property has been listed for sale with various reality groups since 2006 and is now in foreclosure. A subsidiary of Care One, LLC, a senior care facility management company, has purchased a delinquent mortgage. Care One has a history with regard to the Atwood-Blauvelt property: since 2007, the company has made multiple formal proposals to build an assisted living facility on the open front lawn of the mansion. There has been no formal plan put forward to preserve the mansion, and the proposal to develop a health care facility on the site is not in conformance to local zoning. After initially denying requested variances, the Oradell Zoning Board approved a revised application for a smaller facility in 2008, Care One is pursuing the matter in court. Last year, the borough of Oradell passed a resolution to explore “any and all options to ensure the preservation of the Blauvelt Mansion,” and has secured a $1 million grant from Bergen County to assist the borough in their current efforts to acquire the property. Local advocates are starting a foundation to raise money for the purpose of acquiring and maintaining the property as a community resource.
There is no official historic preservation commission in Oradell. However, in 2010, a recommendation to create such a commission was adopted as part of a historic preservation element to the Oradell Master Plan. There is an Oradell Historic Committee, which has included the mansion on its list of important local historic resources/homes, but this offers no substantive protection for the property.
There are several steps that could be taken to assist in securing the future of the Atwood-Blauvelt Mansion. Creation of a historic preservation commission in Oradell would allow the borough protective powers over local significant historic resources, including the Atwood-Blauvelt Mansion. The Atwood-Blauvelt Mansion should also be nominated to the State and National Registers of Historic Places. A listing would potentially render the property eligible for grants from the Garden State Preservation Trust and other sources, which could match the Bergen County grant funds already secured.
The Atwood-Blauvelt Mansion is a remarkable property that is well deserving of preservation. Preservation New Jersey supports the local efforts for preserving the house and encourages continued advocacy and collaboration toward successful preservation of this landmark of Oradell, Bergen County, and New Jersey.