The Wonder Bread-Schmalz Bakery in Hoboken, which once filled almost an entire city block from 7th to 8th streets and Clinton to Grand, is in jeopardy of being destroyed along with its rich heritage. The Schmalz Bakery, established in 1865 by German immigrants, played a crucial role during Hoboken’s “Golden Age” (when it was home to three European steamship lines) by supplying baked goods to the Holland-America shipping line. After a disastrous fire in 1909, the building was rebuilt and later housed Wonder Bread until the late 1950s.
The City of Hoboken needs to close the gaping loophole in the zoning regulations that allows a developer to receive variances in exchange for preserving the facade, yet does not rescind those variances when the developer has not honored that promise to preserve the facade. In June, a sizable portion of the complex’s facade was completely demolished. There were claims that it was structurally unsound; however, there were no structural plans in place to safeguard the facade before renovation began. The zoning regulations need to include a provision requiring the developer to include structural plans that will ensure the integrity of the building’s facade, and there should also be ramifications should the developer renege on its promise to protect the facade, such as disallowing all variances granted on the basis of keeping the facade.
Currently, it’s too easy for developers to promise to retain historic elements of a building without any ramifications for noncompliance, and it’s too easy for them to claim a building is structurally unsound after the fact.
Hoboken is losing its historic buildings to developers who would rather tear a structure down than try to preserve the facade that links it to Hoboken’s historic roots. We are not against development. But we are against losing the facades of historic buildings. There has to be a way for the developers and preservationists to work together. If the zoning requirements are tightened so that developers are required to submit structural plans, they will no longer be able to claim, after their variances have been granted, that the building was structurally unsound.
We’ve already lost a large part of the Wonder Bread-Schmalz building forever. We must not lose the rest of it. We urge the City of Hoboken to stop and review any existing or future plans for not only this building but any other historic structures, and to establish new regulations that require the submission of structural plans which will help to ensure the preservation of our city’s architectural history.
Sylvia Schwartz, Friends of the Wonder Bread-Schmalz Bakery