County: Union County
The City of Elizabeth’s historic resources span the centuries with colonial homes of early citizens, opulent Victorian homes of late-19th Century elite, and Italianate row houses of factory workers. It boasts many historic churches, Greek Revival civic buildings (including a Carnegie Library), Art Deco theaters and commercial buildings, as well as red brick and steel industrial complexes. The City of Elizabeth’s history is touted in tourism marketing, and has been recognized time and again through State and National Register designations.
Unfortunately, the historic fabric is slowly being compromised through unsympathetic renovations, neglect, and demolition. Just in the past year, two prominent buildings were demolished. The YWCA building was replaced with a modern structure, while no plans have even been filed for the reuse of the property right next to City Hall where the Third Presbyterian Church stood in a state of disrepair until recently. Demolition is not the only problem. Lack of protection has also resulted in the loss of architectural features. In the early 2000s, for example, St. John’s Episcopal Church’s Tiffany stained glass windows were removed and sold. Many of the building façades in the downtown have been destroyed or covered by modern awnings, signs, and other uncomplimentary façade materials.
The City can control the loss of its historic resources through adoption of a Historic Preservation Master Plan Element and preservation ordinance, and establishment of a Historic Commission. Acknowledging the financial hardship that maintaining structures to a historic structure could present to property owners, the City could incentivize restoration and adaptive reuse through tax abatements, PILOTs, and other tax incentives. Local incentives could be further leveraged by the State and Federal Historic Tax Credit programs for larger-scale projects. Progressive policies relative to historic preservation have been proven to advance economic development efforts. In furtherance of its own revitalization goals, the City should be proactive in protecting its historic resources before too much of the community fabric is lost.
Chair, Elizabeth Arts Council (EAC) Historic Preservation Committee