30 December 2017

Hillsborough Township Postwar Residential Development Part 2: 1972 - 1980

Readers who follow the Gillette on Hillsborough Facebook Page are participating in a year-long house-hunting expedition through the real estate ads of yesteryear. In the second 16 weeks, represented by the brief excerpts below, we have taken a look at residential development in the township during the initial phases of the Planned Unit Development period between 1972 and 1980.

Enjoy the recap below, and be sure to follow the Gillette on Hillsborough page by clicking the link here, and "liking" the page. Thanks!

It's 1973 and we are flipping through the real estate ads looking for an apartment or townhouse in Hillsborough's new Planned Unit Development zone. The township began hearing development proposals in 1970 - including some fanciful ones such as a plan by Apollo Improvement Co. for 1,325 apartments and townhouses, a major department store, an indoor-outdoor recreation complex, and a nine-hole golf course for 140 acres on what today would be the southeast quadrant of the Auten/Triangle intersection. One of the first solid proposals to actually get to the building stage was City Financial Corp's Alexandria at Hillsborough project north of Country Club Homes. The plan called for 300 one and two bedroom units on 30.9 acres, and included such amenities as a swimming pool, tennis courts, and air conditioning.

Today we are staying in 1973 to visit City Financial's other big project in the Planned Unit Development (PUD) Zone - Claremont Hills. This project on Auten Road near Amwell Road was planned for 700 garden apartrments, 100 townhouses, and most uniquely, 390 mid-rise apartments in 7-story towers. Like it or not, the three towers in the middle of Hillsborough have turned out to be iconic, and, although not repeated in any other part of town, stand as a representation of the PUD zoning.

We have been stuck in 1973 for a few weeks now - and it's all due to the PUD (Planned Unit Development) zoning. Enacting the ordinance caused property values to skyrocket, and tempted farmers to sell, and developers to buy! The soaring prices can be illustrated by looking at today's featured development - Hillsborough Gardens south of Triangle Road. The 97-acre tract was bought by farmer Stanley Kanach in 1964 for $117,500. He sold it in 1969 for $270,000 to a Princeton based land company. A pretty good deal, but this was eight months before Hillsborough Township enacted the PUD ordinance. At that point, two of the principals in the Princeton company bought out their partners for $300,000 - and then sold the 97 acres to Hillsborough Gardens, Inc. for $915,000! Considering that Hillsborough Gardens was proposing 48 houses and 876 garden apartments, they probably made some money too.

In our quest to reveal the history of Hillsborough Township's post-war residential development through the real estate ads of yesteryear we have finally made it out of 1973! Today we will visit "The Location For Happiness" US Home's Whittier Oaks. Located in the triangle formed by Hillsborough and South Woods Roads, these homes invite you to "Come on...live in the country.....away from confusion yet so close to the city." Did you grow up here in one of the "huge, livable homes...just perfect for growing families?"

Today's ad is for Buena Vista Estates, built in 1974-75 off of Old Somerville and Hamilton Roads. We are still in the era of the "Paneled Family Room" as a major selling point! It was the 70s, after all. What is more interesting than this developpment itself is that in 1973 the developer donated a portion of the property to be used as a Hillsborough community center/youth center. The property was leased by the township for $1 a year to the Hillsborough Youth Council, who spent the next ten years raising money and constructing a building with a solely volunteer effort. In 1983, with an incomplete structure that had also suffered from vandalism, the Youth Council relinquished the lease back to Hillsborough.

Cali Associates of Cranford, NJ was one of the first developers to jump on the Planned Unit Development (PUD) bandwagon. They appeared before the planning board in 1970 for Kimberwyck Village on Auten Road, but the plan needed some major revisions. In fact, the plan wasn't complete until 1973, after Hillsborough had made some revisions to the PUD ordinance. 

This week's ad is for the condominium townhouse development along Farm Road known as Hillsborough Village. This development was built in phases, so whereas this ad is from 1975, four years later in 1979 the Hillsborough Township Planning Board was hearing pleas from both the builder and buyers to allow Hillsborough Village to open three buildings before all of the site work required by the Planned Unit Development ordinance was complete. Some buyers had approved mortgages in hand for nearly a year. All the while the list price for the homes had risen from $34,000 to $40,000 to $51,000!

Looking to rent an apartment circa 1974? Beekman Gardens is "The Talk of the Town." These "exravagant", "luxurious" apartments are located south of New Amwell Road on Gemini and Capricorn Drives. Far Out!

Last week our excursion through the the real estate ads of yesteryear brought us to Beekman Gardens. Today, in less than a Bicentennial Minute, we will cross Gemini Drive and visit the townhouses that make up the circa 1976 Beekman Village. Be sure to turn onto New Amwell at the Arco Station!

I just love the ads from today's featured Hillsborough development, Brookside Square. Tennis rackets, pipes, the Good Life circa 1976!

City Financial Corporation broke ground on many projects during Hillsborough's initial wave of Planned Unit Development (PUD) in the 1970s. But perhaps none was more ground-breaking than The Meadows. Located off of the Auten Road extension south of New Amwell, this unique "Quad" development was designed by award winning architect Daniel Cahill, and consists of four clusters, each containing four townhouses, for a total of sixteen units arranged around a central court.

Today's featured development began building on New Amwell Road in 1977 under the name Kenwood Village. By 1978, this handsome townhouse complex was known as Williamsburg Square. This may be the first Hillsborough development to feature a floor plan right in the ad.

Our trek through the real estate ads of yesteryear brings us this week to two late 1970s developments - Brandywine at Homestead and Fox Chase. Brandywine is just south of Homestead Road near Route 206, and Fox Chase is north of Hillsborough Road, east of Willow.

We are closing out the 1970s this weekend with another double dose of vintage Hillsborough real estate ads. I knew where Somerset Woods was located - down Pierson Drive near Route 206 - but I must admit that I was unsure of Sunrise at Hillsborough until I took a drive down Danley Lane and found a home identical to the one in the ad.

28 December 2017

Auten Road School

After construction referendums to build a new Hillsborough High School on Beekman Lane suffered two ballot box defeats in March and October of 1995, the school board was back in December with a total of six new competing proposals to deal with the enrollment crisis.

12 December 1995 Courier News
The new high school would have not only solved the 9-12 space problem - where the high school was already 150 students past its maximum of 1,350 - but would have also provided space for younger students with the middle school annex becoming a self-contained seventh elementary school. Five out of the six new proposals involved either adding to or building on the site of the current high school - and one included the idea of a brand new K-5 school on a different site.

13 April 1996 Courier News

After narrowing down the proposals to either a 700-student addition to the high school for $33 million, or a 1400-student addition for $43 million - each of which would also include $14 million for a new elementary school as a second question - the board was able to finalize a plan for a $39 million 700-student expansion which would also include a new elementary school.

7 October 1996 Courier News
The district looked at three possible locations for the new school - a 38-acre tract on Beekman Lane, the site of the Flagtown School, and a 49-acre tract on Auten Road. The Flagtown location was owned by the municipality - having been purchased from the school district for $1.00 in the previous decade - but was only six acres, and was not connected to city water. Although the municipality would offer the site for free to the school district, a minimum of 25 additional acres would need to be purchased.

8 December 1999 Courier News
In the end, the district purchased the Auten Road site from 255 Triangle Associates for $875,000 and started planning for an October 15, 1996 referendum.

With the passage of the referendum by a 57% to 43% margin, Auten Road School became Hillsborough's seventh elementary school when it opened in September 1999.

18 October 2001 Courier News

Auten Road School and Hillsborough High School were tied together one additional time three years later in 2002 when the high school had its final expansion, and Auten Road School was doubled in size and redesigned as an intermediate school for fifth and sixth-grade students. Through the end of 2017, these last two projects remain the final expansions of the Hillsborough Township school district.

26 December 2017

Tom Everett, Hillsborough Farmer

Inside Hillsborough Township's municipal courtroom hang several large, original portraits of notable individuals who called our town home. Conceived almost a decade ago by Hillsborough's Cultural Arts Commission, the series of paintings were commissions awarded to student winners of the annual art show. The works celebrate both the artistic talent of our youth, and the lives of the memorable people depicted - two politicians, a couple of athletes, a famous opera soprano, and one of the world's most well known philanthropists.

6 February 1977 Home News
What we can't find looking down at us from the walls of the courtroom is someone to represent what Hillsborough was most known for throughout its 300 year history - farming.

I spent four years on the Cultural Arts Commission at the end of the last decade, and was pleased to have the opportunity to help get the portrait program up and running. The first three portraits - Pete Biondi, Anna Case Mackay, and Doris Duke - were all terrific choices. Still, I am disappointed that after my departure in 2011, the commission never got around to implementing my next choice - a Hillsborough farmer.

16 September 1980 Home News
There are and were many prominent farming families in Hillsborough. My choice of Tom Everett of Ever Lea Farms is only meant as an example, but I think it is a good one. Mr. Everett, who passed away much too soon in 2005 at the age of 55, ticks many boxes on my personal checklist.

1 December 1983 Daily Record
Firstly, at the time of his death, the Everett's had been on the family farm his grandfather bought in 1910 for nearly a century. Secondly, Everett was a scientific farmer who studied agronomy in college and brought his knowledge to the farm. Thirdly, he championed the plight of farmers in Somerset County and at the state level as the vice president of the NJ Farm Bureau, and as chairman of the Somerset County Agricultural Development Board. And fourthly, he won many awards during his career, including being named New Jersey's Outstanding Young Farmer of 1984.

2 August 1990 Courier News
Many Hillsborough residents remember fondly the farm stand on Beekman Lane, and the hayrides out to the pumpkin patch each Halloween. I know my family certainly does.

26 October 2003
Hillsborough was never a center of commerce or industry, nor was it ever a major transportation hub or college town. Hillsborough made its name as a farming community, and therefore a farmer should be among the notable residents represented at the municipal building. I nominate Thomas R. Everett, Hillsborough Farmer.

21 December 2017

The High School that Never Was - 1995

It was March 1995 and Hillsborough residents were heading to the polls to try to fix the problem that had vexed the Somerset County municipality nearly every year for 40 years. Since the first large-scale post-war residential developments were laid out in 1955 the schools were perpetually out of space. Building after building, construction referendums seemingly without end, and annual tax increases exponentially greater than the relatively puny ones of the past few years - even before accounting for inflation! - nothing seemed to put Hillsborough schools ahead of the curve.

1 October 1995 Courier News
Now the 25-year-old high school was 150 students beyond its 1,350 capacity with no end in sight. Just three years earlier, in March 1992, the voters passed a $13.4 million referendum that added a 500 student annex to the middle school. But with enrollments growing by the hundreds each year, that capacity was soon devoured.

3 October 1995 Courier News

So the school board endeavored upon an ambitious plan to build a brand new high school at the northwest corner of Beekman Lane and New Center Road on the farm of Preston Quick, Jr. The $54 million school would have a 2100 student capacity - expandable to 2800 - and utilize a unique "House" concept. Each of four independent "houses" would have a mix of students from each of the four grades and be led by a vice principal. Students would remain in their "house" for their core classes, and mix with other students for PE, music, art, etc.

26 March 1995 Courier News
A second question on the ballot asked voters if they would rather have a small 300 seat theater or a full 1200 seat auditorium at an added cost. If the referendum were to pass, the current high school on Amwell Road would be converted into a second 6-8 middle school, and the middle school annex would become a self-contained seventh elementary school. District officials warned that because enrollment was expected to increase by 2,000 students in the next five years, there was absolutely no choice but to build.

13 September 1995 Courier News

Despite hiring a public relations firm to handle a publicity campaign for the referendum, the school board still heard complaints. Residents were not happy about the site away from the center of the 54-square-mile township and had reservations about the school being on "the wrong side of the tracks" - literally - as the Quick farm was just north of the as-yet-un-gated railroad crossings. Residents were also unsure of what bringing sewers to that part of town would mean for future development. And of course, there was the price tag, which was expected to raise taxes on an average home by $287.

29 March 1995 Courier News
When voters rejected the proposal by a vote of 3,282 to 3.050 - and rejected the auditorium and its additional costs by an even greater margin - the board redoubled its efforts. After taking another look at one of the previously rejected sites for the school - on the 317-acre section of the former Belle Mead GSA Depot then owned by Chemical Bank - the board returned to the Quick farm. They devised a plan, praised by township officials, for the school to have its own waste treatment plant, and commissioned a scale model and artist's renderings of the school to help win over the public.

13 September 1995 Courier News
In an attempt to squelch ongoing criticism of the chosen location, the district released notes on all fifteen rejected sites. And they planned an October referendum.

8 October 1995 Courier News
In the week leading up to the slightly scaled down $50 million referendum, The Courier News ran a story each day. There was no Fake News here - everyone agreed the district would be completely out of space in a couple of years.

11 October 1995 Courier News
When voters, school board members, and district and town officials went to bed on election night, some may have been dreaming of a miracle. With the nays ahead by 393 votes and just 403 votes outstanding in a malfunctioning voting machine, it would have taken a miracle for the referendum to pass.

Alas, it was not to be. The school board took this second rejection as basically a veto of the Beekman Lane site. In 1996 they would come back with a completely new proposal. Stay tuned!

19 December 2017

Anna Case All Wrapped Up

Nearly every brief bio of Metropolitan Opera soprano Anna Case neatly wraps up the story of her life and career with a sentence along the lines of "After her 1931 marriage to telegraph and cable tycoon Clarence H. Mackay, she retired from the concert stage." The problem with that is that the South Branch girl lived for another 53 years! She must have done something between 1931 and her death on January 7, 1984, at the age of 96.

With conductor Albert Coates
 at the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra concert
 at Lewisohn Stadium, 22 August 1932

In fact, although she did announce her retirement from the concert stage soon after the Mackays returned from their honeymoon, by the end of the year Mrs. Mackay was performing some benefit concerts. Over the next couple of years, as she settled into life at Harbor Hill - the Mackays gilded-age Long island mansion -  more charitable events were added to the schedule as well as a few professional engagements.

Dancing and singing "Sidewalks of New York", with former Governor Al Smith,
2 March 1935
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Still enjoying her celebrity status throughout the 1930s, the former diva was much photographed at events from charity functions to dog shows.

At the Westbury Dog Show, 28 September 1936
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

In 1936, Anna Case renewed her songwriting efforts, which you can read about here.

30 April 1938 Des Moines Tribune

She also could be heard occasionally on the radio, most notably on a 1938 Mother's Day special which also featured silent screen star, Mary Pickford.

The Golden Rule Mother's Day radio special, 8 May 1938

The little village of South Branch was always in her thoughts. In the 1920s she purchased her childhood home just south of the church, renaming it Le Reve - The Dream -  and gave it to her mother. She visited often and sang at Somerset County's 250th-anniversary celebration in 1938, and at the dedication of Hillsborough's War Honor Roll in 1943.

At Somerset County's 250th anniversary,
23 May 1938 Home News

As she had during the first World War, Anna Case dedicated herself to the war effort. She entertained servicemen at the weekly dances held in New York City at the Arcadia Ballroom, and even wrote a song to rally America - "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We'll Pull Together."

Performing for servicemen during WWII
at the Arcadia Ballroom in New York,
December 1943

After her mother died in 1949, she kept Le Reve and used it as a country retreat, dividing her time between her New York apartment and Hillsborough.

At the unveiling of fellow Metropolitan Opera diva Frieda Hempel's portrait,
February 1957
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Always ready for a photo-op, Anna Case was on hand to honor past and current divas in the 50s and 60s.

Veterans Benefit with Maria Callas, 11 January 1957
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Congratulating Joan Sutherland at her Englewood, NJ recital,
23 February 1961

In 1974 she gave the house to the South Branch Reformed Church to be used as their parsonage - a function it still serves today.

22 August 1957 Courier News

Before she passed away in 1984, she bequeathed her 167-carat emerald necklace to the Smithsonian. She also provided the Metropolitan Opera with an endowment and set up a scholarship fund for young singers through the Santa Fe Opera.

At her East 92nd Street home.
From the cover of the 28 February 1970 Opera News

With all of the many "firsts" Anna Case had throughout her long career in the opera, concert, recording, film, and radio fields, one of the most interesting just might be something that took place twenty years after she passed away.

Dina Emerson in the world premiere of "Tone Test"

Dina Emerson as Thomas Edison's favorite soprano Anna Case. American Opera Projects and the Lincoln Center Festival presented the WORLD PREMIERE of "Tone Test" at the Clark Studio Theater as part of the 2004 Lincoln Center Festival.
[Photo by Richard Termine, courtesy American Opera Projects and Lincoln Center.]

In 2004 composer Nicholas Brooke debuted a new one-act opera titled "Tone Test" about a man obsessed with the music he hears on old Edison Phonograph records. The score for the opera actually uses samples of Edison Diamond Discs. The other character in the opera is none other than Anna Case - played by singer Dina Emerson. So, it appears that Anna Case may be the only real-life opera star that is also a character in an opera!

Now that's the way those bios should wrap it up!

07 December 2017

Amsterdam School

The story of Hillsborough Township's Amsterdam School begins more than seven years before students first entered the building with the 1983 passage of a state law allowing schools to finance construction projects through "lease-purchase". Previously, major building projects required a voter-approved bond issue. Lease-purchase, however, only required approval by the local school board and the state Department of Education. In this type of financing, a construction company completes and owns the improvement - often including an entire school - then leases it back to the school district for a length of time until the purchase price is paid off.

9 October 1988 Courier News
After the Hillsborough school budget failed at the polls in April 1988, board members were nervous about a $4 million bond referendum for improvements and additions at several schools - including major improvements of high school athletic facilities - set for May. Notably absent in the referendum - which passed by a 2-1 margin - was any money to build a new elementary school in the Blackwell's Mills section of the township, even though one had been contemplated for some time.

It seemed like every school district in central New Jersey was getting into the lease-purchase game that year - but not without plenty of controversy. Taxpayers, dismayed that construction plans were being contemplated without voter approval, objected in many towns. Improvements in Passaic Township and at Hunterdon Central High School were held up for months and years while the courts got involved.

3 September 1989 Courier News
It was against this backdrop that Hillsborough submitted plans to the state in January 1989 for the 600-student, 58,000 square foot school on an as-yet-to-be-built road that would share its name with the school - Amsterdam. After the state sat on the plans for 5 months with no approval in sight, the school board found a way to move the plan forward by changing the status of the lease-purchase from "passive lessor" to "active lessor", which would allow construction to begin while the state was still reviewing the plans.

31 August 1990 Courier News
School board members warned that if the school - which was expected to take 14 to 18 months to complete - wasn't ready by September 1990, there would be 200 students in Hillsborough without seats for the 1990-91 school year. Amazingly, the school was completed on time, and, despite some initial complaints about widespread redistricting, was praised all around.