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WHEN HOME IS AN OLD BUILDING IN JERSEY CITY By MARILYN PELO FEB. 7, 1985
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WHEN HOME IS AN OLD BUILDING IN JERSEY CITY
By MARILYN PELO FEB. 7, 1985

The article as it originally appeared.
VIEW PAGE IN TIMESMACHINE
February 7, 1985
The New York Times Archives

''IT'S finally our turn,'' Jack Nover, a downtown Jersey City tavern owner said recently. ''Hoboken and Weehawken are running short of buildings to renovate. We're just getting started.''

Redevelopment of this old city directly across the Hudson from Lower Manhattan began about a decade ago, and in the past five years there has been an accelerating interest in renovating Jersey City's 19th-century town houses and row houses and in converting its commercial buildings.

The renaissance was sparked, as it was earlier in neighboring Hoboken and Weehawken, by young professionals seeking affordable apartments, urban families wanting to be homeowners and artists searching for large working and living lofts: all spaces currently in very short supply in Manhattan.

Now the hammer-and-saw cacophony of renovation all but drowns out the lively music from the corner cantinas in the downtown historic districts of Paulus Hook, Van Vorst Park, Hamilton Park and Harsimus Cove.

''Last fall,'' said one Paulus Hook resident, ''I stood on my roof and counted 15 houses and small apartment buildings being worked on.''

Continue reading the main story

In the downtown area, signs of change are evident. A gourmet food store, an art shop and two new restaurants have recently opened not far from the Grove Street PATH Station, in a neighborhood still served by Polish butchers, Italian fish markets and Spanish produce stores.

Not unexpectly, housing prices are on the rise in Jersey City. According to Antoinette Boyne, president of Boyne Realty, ''Now, a livable house in one of the historic districts, depending on condition, can run from $140,000 to $220,000. But a shell that needs a lot of work might be only $70,000.'' There is the feeling among some residents new to downtown Jersey City that the house-hunting gods led them here just in time. ''If we had not bid first, we would have lost it,'' said Jon Zahourek, an artist who in 1981 purchased an 1890's firehouse at public auction to convert to a home for his wife, Rorry, and their 9-year- old son, Jon.

''We didn't know at the time that the guy we were bidding against had the same top price as we did,'' Mr. Zahourek said. ''I just said '$80,000' first. He couldn't afford to go higher.''

Having the last word gained the Zahoureks a dilapidated two-story building whose exterior still has the graffiti and no-parking signs.

The 3,000-square-foot first floor, where the fire wagons and horses were housed, was, with some work, a made-to-order studio for Mr. Zahourek, a sculptor and painter. ''The skylight in back was already there, the space is big enough to accommodate several large projects and the garage door makes it a cinch to move them in and out,'' Mr. Zahourek said.

The 2,000-square-foot living area on the second floor still has the original pressed tin walls and ceilings. It is furnished with an eclectic mix acquired largely by barter or moved from previous homes in Denver and Manhattan.

The Zahoureks and their Jersey City architect, John Winckelmann of James N. Lindemon, sought to preserve as much of the firehouse atmosphere as possible. For example, flanking a sitting area are a pair of fire officials' offices with 15-foot ceilings. One is an office for Mrs. Zahourek, a psychiatric nurse and therapist, and the other a bedroom for their son.

Some recent homeowners discovered Jersey City by chance. ''I'd never even heard of Jersey City until 1980 when I started looking for a Victorian town house,'' recalled Julian Hamer, a Manhattan graphic designer. ''I looked in Brooklyn and was frustrated that I couldn't find one there that I could afford. I bought a house one week after I found out where Jersey City was.''

What he found for $36,000 was an 1872 brick town house that had been haphazardly converted into a four- story rooming house. An incurable collector of all things Victorian, Mr. Hamer set about to restore the building to its 19th-century elegance.

To that end he has ''rescued'' authentic fireplace mantels and hardware from demolition sites, decorated the rooms in period wall colors and papers, and filled - perhaps even overfilled - his home with Victoriana. He has even created a Victorian back garden with dwarf plants and cast-iron benches.

With the exception of stripping paint and repointing the bricks on the facade, Mr. Hamer did most of the renovation himself, which included digging out discarded tires and radiators from the yard.

''I know I saved a fortune doing the work myself but I've spent at least $12,000 a year on materials,'' said Mr. Hamer. And to his mind the place isn't finished yet. ''There's still a lot of junk buried in the backyard,'' he said ruefully.

Arthur Prestia hasn't finished his four-story building either, partly because, as a Jersey City contractor, he is too busy working on other people's homes. But, bit by bit over the last two years since he bought it, he has turned the lower two floors of the former bakery in the Paulus Hook Historic District into a duplex apartment for himself.

Like many other Jersey City properties his purchase was in need of major restoration. ''The place was filled with garbage and was a wreck,'' said Mr. Prestia. But he saw the potential charm in the bakery storefront, the facade of which he has restored, adding a Dutch door flanked by window boxes. The first floor has a living-dining room, small kitchen and bedroom furnished ''mostly with things I picked up in the course of renovating other buildings.''

The second floor, which has two fireplaces, a pair of French windows and a second kitchen, is still largely unfurnished. But he has completed a large bathroom lined diagonally with cedar. ''I haven't decided what this floor should be, let alone how to furnish it,'' he said.

Mr. Prestia converted the upper floors into two apartments. Arthur Diskin, who owns a flower shop on Journal Square, rents a one bedroom floor-through on the third floor for ''about $600.'' After more than a decade of living in Manhattan, he moved back to his hometown last July to be closer to his business.

An Art Deco enthusiast, Mr. Diskin has furnished his apartment with 1930's pieces he has found in Jersey City's second-hand shops. ''There's lots of good rummaging around here,'' he reports, ''because of the renovations going on.''

Mark Munley, who is director of the Jersey City Department of Housing and Economic Development, wanted to be close to work too, so in 1980 he bought a condominium in a converted turn-of-the-century bank building.

''When it was done about l976, it was one of the first such projects in town, and they did a beautiful job of it,'' said Mr. Munley, who trained as a city planner at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

''They kept the best details of the sturdy old building, like the bird-cage elevator, but the apartments are completely modern,'' he said.

Furnished in comtemporary style, both his living room and bedroom have windows that nearly touch his 18-foot ceiling. Above the dining room and overlooking the living room is a large home office. Mr. Munley's maintenance is ''less than $300 and that includes off-street parking.''

Parking no doubt will soon be one of Jersey City residents' new problems, as more and more buildings are renovated and sold or rented. Already Audis and Saabs jockey for space with beat-up Chevys. As Mrs. Boyne puts it: ''Jersey City is a town of changes. It's a block by block situation. If you turn the corner, it can be an entirely different neighborhood. And it's still changing.''

Posted on: 6/24 2:42
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