The Kastner Mansion, a house of the German beer baron Franz Kastner from the Victorian era, is in a desirable location on a main street halfway between the city center and one of the busiest airports in the world. Photo by Darren Tobia / Jersey Digs.
A year has passed since Newark’s Kastner Mansion caught fire, and the city, thin from the pandemic, has yet to decide what to do with the historic residence.
The former owner of the building is concerned about the city’s management of the property and is now struggling to reclaim the ruined landmark she confiscated from tax foreclosure in hopes of turning it into a community center.
Although the Kastner Mansion was named one of the state’s most endangered landmarks by Preservation New Jersey in 2012, it has no formal designation on state or national registers and cannot receive historical tax credits. Photo by Darren Tobia / Jersey Digs.
The future of the Kastner mansion looked promising only a decade ago. In 2007, Denise Colon, a longtime city resident and business owner in the South Ward, bought the 19th century castle for one dollar.
It was a symbolic gesture, Colon said, when the previous owners believed they could transform the place into something meaningful.
“They gave it to me for a reason,” she told Jersey Digs.
It would be natural for Colon to convert their tax preparation company into a community center, considering that their company has always supported customers free of charge, e.g. B. Receive ID forms, fill out documents, and guide people through the city’s bureaucracy.
“When my people came to need this or that, I did it if I knew how to do it,” she said. “I didn’t even charge up.”
During her three decades on Clinton Avenue, Colon noticed a dangerous trend. People in their community invested a lot of money in vocational training, but their investments did not always result in well-paying jobs, which sometimes resulted in significant debt.
In their eyes, the community needed a center – with housing and full service – to provide a more direct route to work for the South Ward’s 60,000 residents, especially for women returning to work. The time for the acquisition of the Kastner manor couldn’t have been more perfect.
“As soon as I got the building, I thought I will. I’m going to help people get real jobs, ”she said.
But just like the old house itself, a series of accidents caused her dream to collapse. First came the real estate crisis. Then Colon became seriously ill, later diagnosed with terminal cancer.
As many people with cancer learn, life doesn’t come with a pause key. The stress of the treatments and the darkness of what she thought was a death sentence put a strain on her relationships and business.
“I was too sick to continue the fight,” said Colon. “Then my husband finally divorced me.”
Alone unemployed, without the promise of tomorrow, the rising taxes and costs of renovating a centuries-old mansion became an afterthought. With unfulfilled promises by the government of former Mayor Corey Booker to help them with tax breaks, the city was sealed off on the property eight years ago.
“I invested everything I had in this place,” said Colon. “When I say everything, I mean everything – my family, my business, my health.”
The Kastner Mansion, a Victorian-era house built by a German brewer named Franz Kastner, is located on a coveted main street halfway between downtown and one of the world’s busiest airports. It may seem understandable that the town hall should take its time to decide what to do with the property. With multi-million dollar renovations at Symphony Hall and the Krueger-Scott mansion, the real estate wealth of downtown Newark is slowly spilling south.
But the Kastner mansion is not like most real estate – time is the enemy. In 2012, it was named one of the state’s most endangered landmarks by Preservation New Jersey. And without a formal designation in the state or national registers, historical tax credits, which usually offset the costly renovations of historical buildings, are not allowed.
The sad irony is that while Colon knocks on the town hall doors to respond to her proposal submitted last year, the house remains in a dangerous condition, open to the elements. In the summer, a massive terracotta structure over the mansion door collapsed with enough force to shatter the stone stairs.
“It is unacceptable for a property to be in a spoiled, burned, unsafe condition and not respond in good faith to Denise’s letter of intent,” said Yvonne Paterson, vice president of South Ward Community Economic Development Corporation.
Paterson, a public relations professional with experience working on two presidential inaugurations, has assembled a team of business owners and design professionals called the Phoenix Restoration Consortium. The group aims to secure ownership of the house and support Colon’s mission to ensure that she no longer has to carry the burden alone.
Along the way, Patterson hopes to change the way tax breaks are applied by local governments, making them a lifeline for small business owners rather than seducing them for big companies like Amazon.
“The city grants tax breaks to these large companies, but does not pass the same considerations to small business owners, especially with all companies that have closed because of the pandemic,” Patterson said. “Denise is the epitome of someone who should be supported based on their history of business development.”
The original tower made of brown stone and the characteristic portico of the manor house are preserved. Courtesy Ascendant Architecture & Interior Design.
According to Colon’s proposal, the $ 7 million renovation would save the facade of the Kastner mansion and surround it with modern buildings.
“Our conceptual plan will make the mansion the visual jewel of what we are developing there,” said Steven Patrick, designer at Ascendant Architecture & Interior Design, also a member of the consortium.
Although the renderings are still conceptual – Patrick’s Metuchen-based company is not allowed to take measurements on site – some key features are clear: The brownstone tower and characteristic portico remain intact. The old mansard roof, which collapsed in the fire, would be replaced with a top floor with a balcony overlooking Clinton Avenue.
Over time, the property would be extended to the neighboring properties with a three-story new building and a parking lot. Courtesy Ascendant Architecture & Interior Design.
The plan was to be extended to the neighboring properties with a three-story building and a parking lot. The owners of both companies have expressed their willingness to sell their properties to Colon.
In the last two years in remission, Colon has been given a second chance in life and sees her mission with even clearer eyes. Now she is waiting to see if the city government can show her the same kind of mercy.
“I can take on the project,” said Colon. “You just have to give us the opportunity.”