Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hoboken's Industrial Age

The beginning of last century saw an industrial renaissance that brought more than 250 companies to Hoboken, companies that were major industrial giants. As the 19th century became the 20th, Hoboken was a hotbed of industrial activity. This was due in large part to the planning of Hoboken's "founding family," the Stevens family.

In the early 19th century, Hoboken was essentially a weekend playground for wealthy New Yorkers to get away from the bustle. But in the second half of the century, the Stevens family, through the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, began hearty development, building most of the city's characteristic brownstones. At this time, the family also began selling land to industrialists, forever changing the face of the city.

The primary industry during Hoboken's days as an industrial capital was shipbuilding, but at various times the city was home to industries that created a variety of other products that have since become household names. Such as the Maxwell House of Coffee Plant which is directly abutting Union Dry Docks on the eastern waterfront. The Bauhaus-style Maxwell House, which opened in 1939, was the largest coffee plant of the world. This oversized symbol of Hoboken closed down in 1992.

Since its closing, the former industrial building has been home to local artists, a brewery, and even local law firms and other professionals. Local developers also gained approvals to raze the old factory and build 832 units of housing.

Other prominent companies that had their factories in Hoboken was Lipton Tea Company and The Tootsie Roll Factory. In 1896, Austrian immigrant Leo Hirshfield brought his chewy candy recipe to New York City and gave it his daughter's nickname, "Tootsie." As the popularity of confection grew, the company outgrew its New York digs, and after the depression, it moved from its 35,000 square-foot space in New York City to a 120,000 square-foot plant in Hoboken. Keeping on the topic of the sweet-tooth, no more than a couple feet away from the former Tootsie Roll factory used to be a huge Hostess Cupcake factory, but that factory closed long ago.

Across the street from Park on Park, between Park and Willow avenues near the central part of the city's northern boarder, there are still several industrial survivors. One of note is the Stahl Soap factory, which is open and still produces custom soaps for hotels and large-scale businesses.

Since Hoboken’s industrial days have died down in the 21st century Hoboken has ventured into using a method to incorporate all the industrial building into its 21st ambiance which is adaptive reuse. Adaptive Reuse is a process that adapts buildings for new uses while retaining their historic features. The trend of Adaptive Reuse can be seen throughout Hoboken's west side, where developers continue to look for innovative ways to develop formerly industrial areas. An example of Adaptive Reuse is the former U.S. Testing Co. building on Park Avenue and 15th Street, which has been converted into a multi-level parking garage called Park on Park.

Today, Hoboken has evolved into a prominent professional community whose skyrocketing real estate prices and lack of open space for expansion have forced the city's historic industrial employers to disappear one by one. The blighted and unused factories have given way to popular luxury condos with high ceilings, awesome views and urban charm.

If you would like to know what resided on the property where your building stands today, give me a call. It's always good to know what types of products and materials were produced on your property. The EPA has to certify property that was used for industrial use and any developer converting a factor or building on old factory land is responsible for remediation, but it's still good to know if your home is built of a light bulb factory (which were made with mercury) or if your building was an old bread factory.


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