As the third oldest city in the country, Newark has a rich architectural history, particularly in public buildings, churches, and schools. However, many devastating buildings have been lost to devastating public construction projects over the years, such as the construction of I-280 and public high-rise buildings, as well as the general indifference of past eras towards older architectural forms. In this series, we introduce five Newark buildings that are in danger of being lost forever. Read more about the series here.
In 1890 the Kastners bought a plot of land in what was then the German district of Newark and commissioned a talented but lost architect to build a “beer baron mansion”. Photo by Darren Tobia.
The Kastner Mansion was one of the grandest houses in Newark. Today it is lucky to be still standing after a three-alarm fire set the property on fire last year.
Most people assumed that the October Fire was the final insult to the 19th century house that had been neglected for years. A city spokesman has confirmed to Jersey Digs that an undisclosed developer is in talks to buy it for adaptive reuse, although the details are not yet known.
The Kastner Mansion was one of the grandest houses in Newark. Today it is lucky to be still standing after a three-alarm fire set the property on fire last year. Photo by Darren Tobia.
“I can envision the city trying to take advantage of the sale with a larger package nearby so the developer can accept this project as a compromise,” said Anthony D’Agosta, partner at Inglese Architecture + Engineering.
Five years ago, D’Agosta’s company tackled what some consider to be the city’s most difficult rehab to date: The Wright-Clark mansion, which, like the Kastner mansion, had significant roof damage.
Restoring historic properties – those not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, like the Kastner Mansion – requires creative solutions as they are ineligible for federal tax credits.
The past decade has been a death spiral for the Kastner manor. The last owner, Denise Colon, had big plans to turn it into a community center. But the repairs were too much to shoulder, and she fell behind in taxes. After the city captured it over eight years ago, it was overrun by squatters, one of whom was blamed for the alleged arson last fall.
In the years following the Newark Rebellion in 1967, issues such as poverty, unemployment and crime were more pressing than maintaining aging landmarks. Photo by Darren Tobia.
“It’s not their fault,” said Zemin Zhang, chief executive officer of Newark Landmarks. “It’s just the misery of our time.” In the years following the Newark Rebellion in 1967, Zhang stated that issues like poverty, unemployment and crime were more pressing than maintaining aging landmarks.
Photo by Darren Tobia.
Even so, not everyone became so easily desperate. “The German things are well done,” joked Kristine Schueler, who is directly descended from Franz Kastner, the original owner.
Schueler has been following the news of the castle-like residence for some time and is always hoping that one day it can be restored – even if it is a squat house. “It gave me some kind of consolation that at least it was used then,” said Schueler.
Lately she’s been sifting through memorabilia and fulfilling her dream that a renovation could include a beer garden or a museum that honors the history of German immigration.
The Kastners were part of an influx of immigrants from Germany in the 19th century. Families from this period fled all kinds of calamities, including religious persecution, poverty and war.
It is not clear to Schueler why the Kastners made the transatlantic trip. According to Frank Urquhart’s A History of Newark, they were likely part of a small group of wealthy brewmasters who came to the United States to improve their social standing.
In 1890 they bought a plot of land in what was then the German district and commissioned a talented but lost architect to build a “beer baron mansion” with Franz’s initials – FJK – above the door. A feature that crashed four months ago.
The family comes from the Baden region, which has a long brewing tradition. In fact, Gottfried Krueger, founder of the Krueger Brewing Company and original owner of the nearby Krueger-Scott mansion, came from the same corner of Germany.
As the owner of a film and photo restoration company called Schueler-Everard, Schueler has restored old family photos and rolls of film. In her collection is a clip of her family celebrating Thanksgiving in the 1940s. “This is my great grandmother Sophie. She was the typical woman with gray hair, the bun and the chunky shoes, ”said Schueler. “This is a very close family – although, like most families, there were secrets.”
She mainly talked about her great-great-grandfather Theodore, Franz’s eldest son. As the man who made a fortune selling Phoenix Brewery in 1890, Teddy lived a Playboy lifestyle. According to news reports, he was one of the first Newarkers to own a “horseless carriage” and went on summer tours around Europe. After his wife tragically died giving birth to their sixth child, the widower was known to drown out his worries at burlesque shows in Manhattan.
There are things we may never know about the Kastners. Why did they start a new life in Newark? And who was the mysterious architect who built such an exaggerated mansion for them? And yet the study of history has a lot to do with restoration work: when you put everything back together, sometimes the parts no longer fit as they used to, but the spirit lives on.