The city of Hoboken was once an industrial hub. It has been a long time since the city was “a place where factories outnumbered telephone booths,” as a 1990 New York Times article put it. Although many old factory buildings have been converted into condominiums or commercial spaces, the city’s southern edge, notably the stretch along Observer Highway and Newark Street, has retained some of its old looks. Large former industrial facilities, many in disuse, loom over the skyline, prompting passersby to wonder “what those giant brick buildings are.” Hoboken Girl recently did some digging to find out what these buildings used to be and what they might be in the future.
Hoboken Land & Improvement Office | 1 Newark Street
The family of Colonel John Stevens founded the Hoboken Land & Improvement Company in 1883 to manage its real estate holdings, which originally comprised the area that later became the city of Hoboken. Stevens was a lawyer, engineer, and inventor who constructed the first U.S. steam locomotive, first steam-powered ferry, and first U.S. commercial ferry service. His estate was in Hoboken.
The building at 1 Newark Street was constructed in 1889 to house the company’s operations. The building is notable for its brickwork. It now houses various small businesses including a coffee shop, a Realtor, and a daycare center. Two sets of narrow-gauge railroad tracks from the days when Hoboken’s trolley system was still in use, can still be seen outside the southern entrance of the building. A redevelopment plan that proposes to turn an adjacent parking lot into a hotel is currently crawling through the courts.
Lackawanna Terminal | 1 Hudson Plaza
Built in 1907 by Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad (DL&W), the elegant Beaux-Arts building was once an important hub of the DL&W network, which connected Hoboken and New York City to large swaths of upstate New York and Pennsylvania. The building is now owned by NJ Transit and is still used by thousands of commuters every day. It has gone through major restoration since the 1980s. The original interior, with the marble staircase, cast iron railing, and Tiffany glass skylights, has been preserved. The old clock tower, destroyed by a storm in the early 1950s, was restored in 2008.
The YMCA Building
The YMCA Building is attached to Lackawanna Terminal and can be accessed through a staircase south to the waiting room. It was originally constructed in 1922 and was used by train crews for eating (the second floor) and sleeping (the upper floors). The interior has fallen to disrepair, and most parts of the building are in disuse now, according to a document by the Hoboken City Government.
Hudson & Manhattan Railroad Repair Shops | 55 Hudson Street
The brick building next to the bus terminal served as a repair facility for The Hudson and Manhattan Railroad (H&M), which opened the PATH system in 1908, according to Library of Congress records. It was the first repair and maintenance facility for H&M. Photos in the Library of Congress show various work stations and equipment in the building. There was also an elevator lift inside that allowed rail cars to be hoisted from the subway tunnel up into the facility for repairs, which was considered an innovation back then.
The Records Storage Building | Demolished
Less known than the Lackawanna Terminal Building, the Records Storage Building once sat at the intersection of Huston Street and Observer Highway and was built by DL&W. The red brick structure looked simple, but in fact, had a few elegant designs including the narrow windows with cast iron grilles and bronze corner turrets.
The building was built in 1904 and stored DL&W’s paperwork. Throughout the railway’s long decline, the property also fell into disrepair. The structure had “extensive deterioration of the roof” and suffered “ongoing water infiltration,” according to a NJ Transit assessment. The state Department of Community Affairs ordered the building to be torn down in 2020 since the damage was beyond repair.
The Engine House | Inside the Railyard on the South Side of Observer Highway
The single-story, rectangle structure in the rail yard, which now has “RELATIONSHIPS” painted on the brick wall facing Observer Highway, was DL&W’s Engine House. When it was in use, trains could go directly from the rail yard into the building for repairs. NJ Transit now performs its train maintenance elsewhere and the building is no longer essential to the operation of the rail yards. A redevelopment plan dated 2005 recommended the building to be demolished, but so far it is still standing.
Neumann Leathers | the block at 300 Observer Highway
The compound was once the site of R. Neumann and Co., which was founded in 1863 and produced leather goods. A taller section was added to the original four-story structure in 1919. There is a letter dated March 28, 1960, in the archive of Hoboken Historical Museum, in which the company described to the city’s Department of Revenue and Finance the factory’s sewage treatment (“60% of our water finds its way into the sewer. The balance is mainly evaporated.”) and its production process (the leather is first soaked, then air-dried, then applied a water solution.)
Production ceased sometime after the 1960s, and the premise has since housed various small businesses and artists. Multiple redevelopment plans have been proposed and thrown out due to zoning regulations. The original Neumann family sold the property to four developers in 2014, but the legal and regulatory fights have dragged on. A new proposal has been under discussion since March. If passed by the city council, it will turn the premise into a mixed-use complex that houses art, retail, and residential spaces.
Molding Mill Company Building | 503-511 Newark Street
A 1906 Industrial Directory of New Jersey lists this address as belonging to Hoboken Molding Mill Company, owned by a notable resident Perry E. Hall. A plan to convert the lot to a hotel is under review.
Observer Highway Firehouse | 5 Observer Highway
The firehouse which sits on an island at the split of Newark Street and Observer Highway was originally constructed in 1892. It served the city for the next 130 years, except for a two-year intermission from 2003 to 2005 during which it went through a major restoration. The exterior of the building was fully restored, and new equipment and structures were added inside to improve its function.
Windsor Wax Company | 611 Newark Avenue
The two-story building was once the site of Windsor Wax Company, which produced floor wax. According to records at Hoboken Historical Museum, the factory started to operate sometime in the second quarter of the 20th century (there was an entry for it in the 1946 local business directory.) The property suffered a fire in the 1930s but continued to operate until the 1980s. Since then the building has stayed abandoned. A redevelopment proposal is being reviewed by the city council. If passed, it will be ground-floor retail, green roof, and 60 residential units.
Chambord Place | 51 Harrison Street
The building once served as a production facility for My-T-Fine Pudding. An undated photo in the archive of Hoboken Historical Museum shows a “Cocomalt My-T-Fine Pudding sign” on the rooftop. Right now the building houses several gyms and art studios. A plan to redevelop the property is under review. A major component of the redevelopment plan is a 25,500-square-foot supermarket on the ground floor of the building.