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Shady Rest Presentation at Township Council Meeting Sparks Debate

John Mooney

Thursday, August 7, 2014 • 12:37am

SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – Historic preservation architect Barton Ross presented the results of his survey, "Preservation Plan Shady Rest Golf and Country Club," to the Scotch Plains Township Council at a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 6.

Ross was hired by the township last year to examine the clubhouse at the Scotch Hills Country Club in order to determine the best option for preserving the building, which is located at 820 Jerusalem Road.

The preservation architect traced its history from the original owners, the Tucker Family, in the late 1700s to later title holders, including Westfield Golf Club, which sold it to a group of prominent black investors in 1921. These investors, who formed the Progressive Realty Company, organized the Shady Rest Golf and Country Club, which became a center of African-American society.  It attracted such luminaries as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Cab Calloway, Althea Gibson, and Sarah Vaughn to Scotch Plains.

Scotch Plains Township acquired the Shady Rest property through a tax lien foreclosure in 1938 and maintained it for decades. In 1964, the township took over operations and renamed it Scotch Hills Country Club, a nine-hole golf course still open to the public today.

“It's an important building and has historic significance,” said Ross. “It was home to John Shippen, the first American-born golf professional, for more than 30 years.”

The building’s period of significance is defined as 1921-1937.  During this timeframe, the golf club became nationally known for its association with African American golf pioneers and for being one of the nation's oldest surviving community centers dedicated to the social and recreational pursuits of the emerging black middle class. Additionally, Shady Rest was where John Shippen, America's first professional golfer, worked for many years.

The Preservation Plan addresses the chronology of alterations and was required to:

• Illustrate the historical and physical evidence found in researching the building, including a chronology of construction.
• Document the present state of the building’s architectural materials, overall structural stability, and support systems, including mechanical, electrical, and plumbing.
• Provide a detailed architectural description of the building, to become part of the permanent archival record. This will include room by room, exterior, and site recommendations.
• Identify areas where change can or should occur, and conversely, where change should not occur.

The plan established priorities and recommendations based on philosophies, objectives, treatments and cost estimates. It addressed the specific short-term needs and long- term objectives of the preservation project, including proposed uses.

Many members of the public, including community leader Sylvia Hicks, who has extensively researched the history of the Shady Rest, support the proposal’s Plan A (page 184), which calls for immediately using hot tar methods to fix the flat roof and prevent continued leaks, which have caused damage to the building. 

Meanwhile, long-term remedies depend on the planned usage of the building.

"The best preserved building is one that is used all the time,” Ross explained.

Scotch Plains Mayor Kevin Glover, a vocal proponent of fixing the roof immediately, said, “The future is now. We need to take immediate action and bring in someone like yourself (Barton) to oversee the six-month plan.”

Councilman Bo Vastine asked Ross if it would be wise to out permanent roof on now if long-term capital plans might require it to be altered later.

“We don't want to spend over $100,000 now and then have to alter the roof later,” Vastine explained.

“The easy thing would be to go with the crowd and approve the work right now, but we have fiduciary obligations to the town to make informed decisions on how money will be spent long-term,” said Councilman Llewellyn Jones, who anticipates much discussion of the Shady Rest project at future meetings, particularly as Election Day nears.

Barton Ross’s full 269-page report may be downloaded here and can also be reviewed at the Scotch Plains Public Library (1927 Bartle Ave.).

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