PATERSON, NJ – City officials have decided to allow the demolition of a 19th century mill that some historic advocates wanted preserved because of its significance in Paterson’s industrial past.
The John Royle and Sons Machine Works, near the corner of Essex and Straight streets, was built in 1888 by a family whose work was pivotal in making Paterson a leader in the silk industry, according to city officials.
But the building was never placed on the National Register of Historic Places or formally designated as a landmark. As a result, Paterson’s legal department has determined the city likely would lose a lawsuit if it tried to block the current owner’s application to demolish the building, according to memos obtained by PatersonPress.com.
Gianfranco Archimede, executive director of Paterson’s Historic Preservation Commission, on December 30 issued a notice allowing the demolition permit to proceed. The property’s owner still has to take one more step before the demolition can begin – it has to“bait” the building to eliminate rats and other rodents that might spread elsewhere in the neighborhood if the structure is knocked down, officials said.
None of the city memos about the demolition says what the owners want to do with the site. Archimede referred questions to Community Development Director Lanisha Makle, who did not respond to emails and a phone message seeking her input on the project. Several years ago, Paterson’s Board of Adjustment approved a proposal by a company called Essex Towers LLC to put 113 senior citizen apartments and an adult day care center at the location.
“The local historic significance of this complex to Paterson largely rests on the legacy of its owner and builder, Vernon Royle and his sons, master inventors, designers, manufacturers of textile and other industrial machinery in Paterson, examples of which are included in the collection of the Smithsonian Institute and other historic technology museums,’’ wrote Archimede in his notice to proceed with the demolition. “The Royles invented and held literally thousands of patents for technical machinery that made possible the growth of the textile trade in Paterson and around the world.”
Frank Covello, attorney for the Historic Preservation Commission, said in a December 29 letter to Paterson Corporation Counsel Paul Forsman that the building has historic value even though it’s not officially designated as a historic site. Covello said in the letter he believed the commission had jurisdiction over sites that could be proved to have historic significance even if they have not been officially designated as such.
But Forsman, in a December 29 memo, said he doubted whether the law provided the historic preservation commission (HPC) the authority to block demolition of the building.
“As a result, the balance here tips toward the side that indicates that the HPC is not likely to prevail in court,’’ Forsman wrote. “As a result, unless another arrangement can be made to persuade the owner to avoid demolition, I do not believe most judges would support a position to deny the demolition permit.”
“As such, the legally prudent decision for the City is that the HPC does not presently have sufficient legal jurisdiction to deny a demolition permit here if the owner wants to take down a building that the HPC finds to have historic significance,’’ he wrote.