These commuter ferry terminals in Hoboken, N.J., suffered from decades of neglect prior to restoration. Photo courtesy of Schtiller & Plevy Inc.


For decades, chunks of the century-old, nearly abandoned Hoboken, N.J., ferry terminal would occasionally fall into the Hudson River. Passengers stopped passing through the terminal in 1967, its six ferry slips left to rot along the waterfront with much of the rest of the structure after commuters abandoned the boats in favor of car-carrying tunnels and rail service.

Ferry service was revived in 1989, but by that time, passengers walked around the train platforms - avoiding the terminal and its slips - and used barges to reach the boats docked outside.

And while much of the rest of the Hoboken Terminal, a sprawling 1907 Beaux-Arts building that once saw 100,000 daily commuters, railroad and ferry boat passengers traveling from New Jersey to lower Manhattan was restored in the late 1990s, its ferry terminal remained an underused afterthought.

That changed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the two hijacked planes that crashed into the World Trade Center knocked out its commuter rail stations. Suddenly, ferry ridership shot up to levels not seen in decades.

Prior to restoration, the Hoboken, N.J., ferry terminal was little used and falling apart. Photo courtesy of Schtiller & Plevy Inc.

Restoration

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the region’s transportation centers, along with owner New Jersey Transit, announced they were undertaking a $125 million restoration of the ferry terminal in 2003. The money would be used to rebuild and restore the slips and terminal, including ticket offices and waiting areas, waterproofing and restoration of the terminal’s copper fascia.

New Jersey Transit officials said restoring the long-neglected ferry terminal was “one of the state’s long-range strategic plans to increase trans-Hudson capacity and enhance travel options while supporting the rebuilding of lower Manhattan.”

And that’s where architectural sheet metal and historical restoration contractors Schtiller & Plevy Inc. came in. The Newark, N.J.-based company secured an $11 million contract in 2005 to restore the copper window frames, cornices and façade.

The historical society-approved, 87-year-old, family-owned company has worked on numerous restoration projects in the greater New York area, including courthouses, city halls, churches and even prisons.

“Architects around the country usually go with somebody they can trust,” said company President Lawrence Plevy.

The restored ferry terminal after Schtiller & Plevy restored and replaced much of the copper decoration. Photo courtesy of Schtiller & Plevy Inc.

Special work

For 58-year-old Plevy, a longtime area resident, the work carried special significance. As a high school intern at the company in the early 1960s, Plevy had visited the terminal with his grandfather, father and uncle, and watched workers inspect the copper as part of an early restoration proposal.

As part of the 2005 restoration, copper pieces - some up to 25 feet long - that had been removed at that time and in subsequent years were hauled out of storage, restored and reinstalled by Schtiller & Plevy workers.

The terminal project would also require replicating much of the original copper work, which was no longer in usable shape.

That was especially difficult, Plevy said.

“When we received it (the contract), there was only two full ferry slips that we could use” for duplicating the copper, he said.

Schtiller & Plevy worked for 18 months to install rehabilitated and often replicated copper onto the new substrate made of concrete and quarter-inch by 2-inch stainless steel armatures. The extra thick armatures were required to prevent winds from moving any new or restored copper.

Using its experience from working on another historic structure in lower Manhattan, the Battery Maritime Building, company officials insisted the scaffolding be put up to allow the aesthetic pieces of copper to be saved and  reinstalled where possible.

An up-close look at the copper details restored and sometimes replicated by Schtiller & Plevy workers. Photo courtesy of Schtiller & Plevy Inc.

Scaffolds

“The whole emphasis of this job and the whole schedule of this job was based on trying to get the scaffolding up as quickly as possible,” Plevy said.

Altogether, Plevy estimated that the company used more than 100,000 pounds of copper and 25,000 pounds of stainless steel bars for the six restored slips at the ferry terminal.

“Hoboken Terminal has played a defining role in shaping our community,” said Hoboken Mayor David Roberts. “It is a vital transportation hub that has spurred our economy for nearly a century. I am delighted that N.J. Transit is restoring this historic structure to its former grandeur, but with modern amenities, to serve our current transportation and retail needs. This is truly an important project for both Hoboken and the metropolitan region.”

In March, New Jersey Transit announced the terminal was to receive an additional $10 million in federal funds to complete additional goals of the restoration project, including completing restoration of the copper-clad clock tower that sat atop the building from 1907 until around 1950. It was removed due to decades of damage from high winds and put in storage.

The clock tower was reactivated in May.

State officials aren’t finished with the terminal, however. Similar to New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, they hope to make the facility an eventual tourist attraction and entertainment destination for area residents. The project is schedule to be completed in 2010.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.