The Estate Section of Montclair could be the next area to receive a landmark designation, which could require the owners of about 180 homes to fall under a historic preservation review when some facade changes are proposed.

The 283-acre area is bordered by South Mountain Avenue, Hoburg Place, Crest Drive, Briar Hill Road, Stonebridge Road, Eagle Rock Way and Melrose Place and is home to mostly stately Tudor, Georgian and Colonial revivals, but also includes a few Craftsman and Queen Anne homes. 

There are four local landmark districts in Montclair where alterations of structures are subject to Montclair Historic Preservation Commission review: Town Center, Upper Montclair, Pine Street and Watchung Plaza. In 2020, the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission withdrew proposed landmark designations  the Oakcroft Historic
District and the Wheeler Street Historic Districts after
members heard from about half of the affected homeowners, who said they were concerned with property rights. 

Last year, the township received a $24,999 grant from the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office to conduct a study for the Estate area. On July 29, Marianne Walsh and Scott Weiczorek of E2 Project Management presented to the Historic Preservation Commission  the survey and the recommendation that area be given a landmark designation. 

Of the 306 properties reviewed, 146 were considered “contributing” to a landmark designation as they were constructed during a period of historic significance, in this case from 1885 to 1945. Thirty-three properties were considered “key contributors,” meaning they have historical significance on their own due to architecture and/or connections to people of historical importance, Walsh said.

Under existing regulations for properties in areas with landmark designations, those classifications would require that changes to facades be approved by the Historical Preservation Commission. The commission is currently drafting design regulations specific to residential properties within landmark districts.

Quite a few of the homes were considered non contributing due to when they were built, which was after 1950, but still are “architecturally harmonious with the district,” Walsh said. 

“We look to see if the area is still telling a story of a time in history,” Walsh said.

Much of Montclair’s Estate Section was first planned to be included as part of Llewellyn Park, south of Montclair Township in West Orange. Llewellyn Park is known as one of America’s earliest planned suburban communities, according to the report. 

An 1857 map of Llewellyn Park, one of America’s earliest planned suburban communities, shows it originally included much of what’s now Montclair’s Estate Section, marked off in red.
An 1857 map of Llewellyn Park, one of America’s earliest planned suburban communities, shows it originally included much of what’s now Montclair’s Estate Section, marked off in red.

The homes have all been well-maintained to keep their original historical architecture as well, Walsh said.

Early prominent landowners within the Estate area included industrialists, piano manufacturers, railroad and steamship barons, bankers and insurers, manufacturers and textile merchants looking for a country escape from the hustle and bustle of New York City at the end of the day. The section saw its largest building boom from 1925 through 1930, before the market crashed, Weiczorek said.

Currently, most of Montclair’s landmarked historic districts are composed primarily of commercial buildings, except for the Pine Street district, which includes some residential buildings. The Wheeler and Oakcroft were the first two areas composed of private homes to be surveyed. The Estate Section would be the third area.

Historic properties in Montclair may be locally designated or listed on the National and/or State Registers of Historic Places. Listings in the national or state registers are considered honorary designation, and alterations to those historic properties do not require review by the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission.

Under the town’s ordinance for alterations of a structure in a locally designated landmark district however, a homeowner could be required to apply for a certificate of appropriateness when making changes to a home’s facade. Those changes would have to follow the township’s Historic Design Guidelines, and the plans would have to be approved by the Historic Preservation Commision. 

A certificate of appropriateness is sought for any major modifications to a structure that can be visible from the street, including: demolition or improvement of any structure; relocation of a structure; change in exterior elevation of any structure or any improvement by addition, alteration or replacement; new construction of a principal or accessory structure; and any change in existing or addition of new signs or exterior lighting. 

Changes to interiors, changes not visible to the public and changes in paint colors do not require certificates of appropriateness. Repairs or replacements of roofs, windows, doors and siding, clapboard or masonary do not require approval as long as the replacements are exactly replicated. But these guidelines pertain mainly to commercial buildings, because currently Montclair only has commercial landmark districts. 

Amendments to the certificate of appropriateness guidelines will be redrawn to include residential districts. On Tuesday, Aug. 10, the township council night voted to contract with architect Stephen Tilly in the amount of $23,750 to prepare a set of Residential Design Guidelines. The review is covered by a grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s State Historic Preservation Office. Tilly is charged with changing design guidelines to streamline the process and to eliminate some elements that currently require full review.

“By adding the residential guidelines we hope to let the homeowners know what can be done to exterior facades and assuage the fear of residential historic districting,”  Kathleen Bennett, chairwoman of Montclair’s Historic Preservation Commission, said.

The move to include residential guidelines is in response to the effort to create residential districts on Wheeler Street and Oakcroft Avenue. 

“Many homeowners who opposed the idea wanted documentation in the design guidelines to see what would be expected in case of changes to their residences,” Bennett said.

Since the Estate area has been researched and is considered a potential landmark district, it now falls under the township’s demolition review ordinance and requires Historic Preservation Commission oversight for a demolition permit.

The survey itself does not constitute a decision on local landmark status; the commission will review the data and have its own discussion at a subsequent meeting where public input will be welcomed.