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THE KRUEGER MANSION: history of a City of Newark project
By: V.S./ Editor
Gottfried Krueger The Krueger Mansion
As city government prepares to spend in excess of $300,000,000.00 to build a sports arena in the City of Newark, to be utilized by a hockey franchise, we thought it pertinent to revisit a past project, managed by the City of Newark--the Krueger-Scott Mansion renovation; a project dubbed by a Newark Star-Ledger Editorial (Feb. 25, 2002 p.12), "as an icon of ineptitude."
The Mansion as Home
Gottfried Krueger (1837-1926), an immigrant from Germany, came to America seeking to make a fortune at age 16. By age 27, (1865) he had settled in Newark and founded a brewery at 75 Belmont Avenue. His was one of five breweries that came to capitalize on their access to high quality water. (As a footnote to the Krueger brewery, this was the first brewery in the world to use cans instead of bottles, doing so for the first time in November 1933, the brewery closed in 1961.) Newark was the first municipality in the State to purchase large tracts of land, at the turn of the last century, in northern NJ in order to safeguard access to fresh, safe, drinking water-- the result of a project initiated at the request of the Essex County Medical Society, then led by Dr. Lott Southard. Dr. Southard was an attending physician at St. Barnabas Hospital, then located on High Street, a mere city block from where the Krueger mansion now stands.
By the mid 1880’s, having already amassed a fortune, Krueger set out to contract the services of an architect, Henry Schultz, who designed an opulent late Victorian 43 room mansion, in the style of Louis XIV, replete with a tower, numerous fireplaces, and an elevator. It was built in 1888 at a cost of $250,000, considered a king’s ransom at the time. The finished home, contained marble, elaborate fireplace mantles, extraordinary crystal chandeliers, oak and cherry wood parquet floors, and frescoes on the ceilings along with highly detailed stuccowork. The building came to be referred as one of the finest residences ever built in the city of Newark as well as in the State. An organ and a 500-seat auditorium were also added. The building served as home to the Krueger’s who numbered 14 in toto. Krueger died after the First World War, and the building was then sold and served briefly as a Scottish Masonic lodge, and later as home to a neighborhood Jewish congregation in the late 1920’s. A future New York City Mayor, Ed Koch, earned some money as a coat checker in the auditorium of the mansion, garnering 10 cent tips during those years ( see: Citizen Koch: an Autobiography  ).
It was not until the 1960’s that the building obtained a new vibrant owner, Louise Scott. She had slowly built a beauty supply business catering to the city’s African American population. As a consequence she became the city’s first African American millionaire. She restored the Krueger mansion, obtaining recognition for the building in 1972 as a structure worthy of Historic Preservation due to its architecture (registered as building #72000778 in the National Register of Historic Places). She relocated a beauty school that she had founded, to the mansion, and also made it her home. Scott also founded the Scott Civic Association which was housed in the building. In the 1970’s she obtained a grant of $50,000 to make repairs to the roof and heating system. Louise Scott lived in the house from 1966 to 1982, when she died. Her body was held for viewing in the same drawing room where Gottfried Krueger's body also had been, at the time of his death in 1926. After Louise Scott’s death, her daughter fell behind in the municipal tax payments, and as a remedy, the city had her evicted and seized the house.
THE CITY OF NEWARK TAKES OVER
Once the house becomes city property, it is boarded up and enters the next phase of its existence, a dismal period leading to its most extensive degradation, and present condition. Although community activists confronted the city council on several occasions demanding that the city save the building and provide the community with the ability to use it as a community center or museum, the city council's answer was continued delays and silence. And while the city deliberated what to do, if anything, over the course of several years, the house is broken into and its interior slowly gutted of its fireplace mantles, hand carved wainscoting, chandeliers and woodwork, by thieves and vagrants. Afterwards, broken windows and open doors let in the weather, and what thieves had not done, the rain, snow, and sun did--robbing the house of much of its interior greatness.
The city would contract Grad Associates, an architectural firm with ties to a prior Mayor of the city of Newark, Kenneth Gibson, to develop plans for the subsequent renovation. The city awarded Grad Associates a successive no-bid contract that came to total $685,000. by 1997. Plans were prepared for an octagonal greenhouse and Victorian garden that were never built. Neither was a comprehensive usage study prepared for the building even though the architect suggested it to the city.
Nearly a decade after the city took over the property, Mayor Sharpe James finally initiated the drive to have the house restored and renovated. Working in concert with the Business Administrator and the Newark Public Library he invited Catherine Lenix-Hooker to serve as a manager of the Krueger-Scott Mansion Cultural Center, the civic organization to be housed in the building, at a salary in the mid $80,000. Ms. Hooker was at the time working for the New York City Public Library’s Schomburg Center.
In 1990 the city had applied for and obtained a grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust in the amount of $625,812, which was matched by the city, and dedicated to restore the exterior of the building. By 1991, the city applied for additional funds from the Trust, but were denied because no work had been yet performed, and prior grant money had not been used by the city for its intended aim. By 1992, the Trust had earmarked $467,188 for the building, but ultimately denied the grant because the city again had not yet dedicated matching funds. The city did not reapply until 1997 and again were denied by the Trust because the city once again had not appropriated matching funds.
The exterior renovation started in earnest, in 1996, when a local contractor, Integrated, erected scaffolding and began work. One year later, phase 1 and 2 had been mostly completed; new slate roofing tiles had been installed, new windows were in place, and roughly two thirds of the exterior surface had been renovated. By 1997 all work had been brought to a halt, and the interior restoration phase had not even been started; the building’s south side bay window extension showed exposed bare wood; and the west side of the building which connected to the auditorium, had not yet been renovated to hide the no longer existing structure—the greenhouse and garden were no where to be seen. A city employee familiar with the project, who did not want to be identified, stated that the city had to replace some of the building’s bricks and contracted with a Kansas factory to produce 20,000 exact copies, and that was expensive to do.
A report prepared by the Business Administrator’s office in March 2000 reflected $653,933 funds still remaining and dedicated to the project. But by then, the project had already consumed $7,000,000. An advertising placard left by the contractor, is still to be found on the lawn, as is a city billboard half shredded by the weather, proclaiming; “coming soon, African American Cultural Center.” The property is encircled by a wire mesh fence topped by razor wire, while the building bears boarded up windows, except for some windows left open in the tower, creating a painful sight, for such a magnificent building, which overlooks the heights of Newark. The trailer used as an office by the construction company is still on site, still rented and paid for monthly, by the City of Newark.
The Mayor, and the City Council’s Contribution
Renovation work was halted when the city council unanimously refused to appropriate any further funds. One of the main critics was Councilman Rice, today a State Senator. The city appropriated $5,000,000. between 1993 and 1998, raised by bond offerings. A $1,500,000. Grant from the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development also partly financed the renovation.
As the money poured in, the Mayor supported an impetus for an African American Cultural Center, and employed a New York librarian as its Director. The Scott Civic Association was defunct, and Louise Scott’s daughter was never approached, and in fact was rejected, as someone to be associated with the ‘new’ cultural center. Catherine Lenix-Hooker was paid a handsome salary and produced the following activities, as Director;
· 1996 arranged for a ‘clown fest’ celebration at the Krueger-Scott mansion;
· 01/26/96 sponsored a photographic exhibition at the Newark Public Library for African American History Month, and co-sponsored a ‘salute to black Americans on stage’ a series of theatrical performances by varied groups;
· 10/10/96 sponsored a series of ‘champagne book parties featuring prominent black male authors;’
· 02/04/97 Hooker serves as curator of the ‘pan-Hellenic nine: African-American fraternities and sororities’ exhibition at the Newark Public Library;
· 06/01/98 produces a 6 page booklet in the name of the Krueger-Scott Cultural Center, which seeks donations;
· 06/26/98 sponsored the ‘Black Book series’ at the Newark Public library;
· 08/20/98 sponsored a summer ‘Black Book Series’ at the Newark Public library;
· 10/22/98 co-sponsored a ‘book signing party’ at Bethany Baptist Church for Bettye Collier-Thomas;
· 1999, produces the African American Oral History Project. The project was funded by a federal grant from HUD; it documented the life and times of 130 black Newarkers who lived from1910-1970.
On April 23, 1999, a Newark Star-Ledger Editorial openly called the renovation project a disaster, implied that Catherine Hooker’s salary was exorbitant, that she was ill informed, and openly called for those directly responsible for the renovation project to resign. By the end of the year, Mayor James, slashed Hooker’s salary by $30,000, and had her re-assigned to another department. Months later she was transferred to Newark Symphony Hall as a Manager, a position that she still holds today.
We made several attempts, while researching this article, to reach current members of the city council, some of whom made the decisions associated with funding the renovation during the 1990’s, approving the process for awarding contracts, and ultimately stopping the renovation dead in its tracks. We left several messages with Council members at large; Tucker, Walker, Quintana, Chaneyfield-Jenkins, none have returned our calls. We also reached out to the Mayor’s office, asked Pamela Goldstein and the City’s Business Administrator Richard Monteilh for comment. Pamela Goldstein, Mayor James' Press Spokesperson, did not return our call, and Richard Monteilh reiterated that he was not the business administrator during the renovation phase, but that his office was now responsible for maintaining the property, through the engineering department. He stated that completion of the project would be enormously expensive, the city did not have funds available, it did not have the staff necessary, and the building does not offer any feasible use. He confirmed that the City is in dialogue with a private developer and is entertaining the idea of selling the building. He would not identify the developer.
Richard Monteilh further stated that the building is secure, has a guard on the property, although we have not seen one, and that the open windows have been left that way to provide ventilation. He had no comment when confronted with our assertion that the same windows have been continually left open for several seasons.
Read our EDITORIAL: Unanswered Questions
See images of the building.
Posted September 12, 2004
URL: www.thecitizenfsr.org SM 2000-2011
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