Homes in a Place of Healing

In the 1980s, the Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC) went bankrupt, and it then sat empty for nearly 30 years. The site remained a central part of the architectural and cultural landscape of Jersey City, New Jersey, and it was eventually purchased by a private organization looking to bring back what was lost. Lloyd Rosenberg, of DMR Architects, which consulted on the $250 million master plan for the center, known as ‘The Beacon,’ sat down with American Builders Quarterly to talk about the personal significance of the project and his company’s enthusiasm for historical preservation.

At JCMC, DMR Architects is renovating the Paramount Building for residential living. Its Art Deco lobby has appeared in numerous films, including Quiz Show.

I grew up in Jersey City. And actually, I was born in the hospital at JCMC that is currently being retrofitted for residential [living]. Since the beginning, this has been a very personal project for me. I left Jersey City to study architecture at the University of Oklahoma, but I returned to Jersey after graduating and began my career as an architect. DMR is now one of the largest firms in New Jersey, and we have over 100 projects at any given time, though one of the big projects we’ve been working on lately is the restoration of JCMC.

JCMC was abandoned for many years. The center had built a new facility in downtown Jersey City, and this 10-building site was left to decay. It wasn’t until one of our clients negotiated the rights to rehabilitate the property and make it into a mixed-use residential restoration that it was to be renovated. Now it’s the largest historical renovation project in the country. It was built in a beautiful Art Deco style with magnificent lobbies and details.

Once it’s completely renovated, the 22-story Paramount Building will be one of the premier spaces of the pedestrian-friendly Beacon master plan in Jersey City, NJ.

We first assisted the developer in planning a master plan for the site: the Beacon. The goal for the project, which began in 2009, is to combine all of the buildings and make the area more pedestrian- and traffic-friendly. We expect the total project to be completed in the next couple of years, though there are a lot of different buildings on the site and different people working each project.

We got involved in the redesign of several of the buildings, including the Paramount Building. The work is a residential retrofitting of a former hospital site and includes many different living amenities: a gym facility, various multipurpose rooms, an auditorium, a laundry facility, and meeting spaces. It is going to be a rental portion of the development and [is] expected for completion in 2013.

We also had a design for the Mercury Building, which was going to house 26 luxury live-work lofts that would be between 3,000 and 6,000 square feet, though that concept didn’t make the market, and the site has since been reimagined to suit multiple units per floor as a market-rate apartment complex.

Because the buildings had been empty for so long, there wasn’t much left when we went in. Everything had to be restored, [and] the historic exteriors and interiors needed serious attention. We have installed new windows, done extensive masonry repair, and built new roofs. The Paramount has a magnificent main Art Deco lobby. The main lobby, stairway, and balconies are all beautiful. All of the features, doors, and artifacts are being preserved. We had to gain a lot of approvals from the state and federal historic commissions and have our work correspond to preservation codes. All of the materials and colors have to be back to their natural state, so we had to do some research to hire a historic consultant who assisted us in doing that. We are also retrofitting all of the old systems in the building. New mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, and new finishes on everything.

As part of a historical restoration, this has been one of our most significant projects. It’s one of the largest restorations I’ve ever done. We also did Old School #2 in Paterson, New Jersey, which was a school building built in the 1870s that we restored back to its original design and condition. These are things you don’t get to do very often because either they’re not in good shape or they’ve been demolished over the years. Because of my personal connection to the JCMC project, it’s been very important. We take a great deal of personal pride in everything we do at DMR. ABQ