Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

My Photo
Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Demolition Double Standard

Last week, the YM-YWHA building at 2 South Adelaide Avenue, a partially-historic site and one with which many borough and regional residents have had long ties, was demolished by the developer who purchased the property from the Y.

The Y's demolition constitutes a tremendously personal loss to me. That building had been like a second home to me since my family and I moved to Highland Park in 1969. There I learned to swim and do gymnastics, had art classes, took part in numerous community activities, made friends and also made countless memories.

Established in 1955, the Y built an addition onto the historic Meyer-Rice mansion, which dated back to the turn of the last century and sat on the site of a colonial encampment during the Revoutionary War.

What is interesting is the complete silence from the historic preservation community in Highland Park. What is even more interesting is the stark contrast with the historic preservation community's reaction to the tearing down of another historic home, the Brody House on Raritan Avenue, ten years ago.

At that time, members of the Highland Park Historical Society rallied and lobbied hard to save the Brody House, which was built in 1917 and had been abandoned for ten years. It too was privately owned, and the decision to demolish the home was made solely by the private owners.

In spite of this being solely a decision by the owners of the property, members of the Historical Society jumped upon this issue, falsely claiming that then-Mayor Polos asked the owners to tear it down and using the demolition as a springboard to advocate that Polos be replaced with their candidate of choice, Meryl Frank. The reality that neither Polos nor anyone in the administration at the time asked for the demolition or had any say in its being done mattered little to those who obviously intended to use the Brody House to further their own political agenda.

Fast forward nearly a decade. Where is the Historical Society now? The answer is, dormant and inactive. It doesn't matter that the Meyer-Rice House was older than the Brody House and in better condition or that the Y had a public history in Highland Park.

It doesn't even phase some people that the borough had a chance to save this building when Middlesex County offered to purchase a portion of the land for open space, thus rendering the Y less dependent on developers' funds if they chose to renovate the building, yet turned this offer down. Why did the mayor not respond to the county's offer, insisting that only the Y itself could do that? Why didn't the borough take the lead in trying to bring about an agreement to save this historic site? Could it be because the offer of county funds came from former mayor and now Freeholder Polos?

The double standard in the strong reaction to the demolition of the Brody House in 1998 and the non-reaction to the demolition of the Meyer-Rice House in 2008 is glaring and raises serious questions about the intentions and credibility of the historic preservation community here in Highland Park. Is their purpose to preserve local historic sites, or is it to elect Meryl Frank and keep her in power? These are two very different goals, and many, including myself, support the former but not the latter.

Why did the Historical Society become dormant within a few years of Frank's election? Why is the borough's official Historic Preservation Committee completely inactive?

The people of this town, especially those who want to preserve our history rather than the rule of one particular clique, deserve answers.