More than 125 people gathered at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) last week to see NJIT President Robert A. Altenkirch receive the highest annual honor from Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee President William Mikesell, a Newark architect. The Donald T. Dust Recognition Award honored NJIT’s two-year, $13-million restoration of the oldest building on campus, a 35,000-square foot, three-story gothic Victorian castle.
“This award recognizes much more than the successful physical restoration of an elegant and historic building,” said Altenkirch. “It honors a commitment to the well-being of a city and its people that spans 150 years, and which looks forward to a prosperous future. While the restoration of Eberhardt Hall NJIT Alumni Center emphasizes history and the architectural elegance of an earlier century, this effort is a commitment to the future as well. We look forward to Eberhardt Hall becoming an even more significant part of daily life on campus and a focal point of alumni activities.”
In giving the award, Mikesell praised the effort as a “spectacular demonstration of how the finest buildings from the past can serve new needs and new generations.”
The building was designed as an orphan asylum in 1857 by noted 19th century church architect John Welch. In 1850, Welch designed another nearby Newark landmark, St. James A.M.E. Church, which today is noted for its stained glass windows. Welch was a founder of the American Institute of Architects. Today Eberhardt Hall is considered a rare example of Victorian architecture. NJIT will use the building for alumni activity, administrative space and conference facilities.
The university purchased the castle in 1948 from the late industrialist Frederick Eberhardt, an alumnus, long-time university friend and former trustee. Cody Eckert & Associates PA, Princeton, was the architect of record, supervising the interior work on upper levels as well as the floors, moldings and other woodwork. David Gibson, of DF Gibson, Inc, Newark, was a consultant to Cody Eckert, supervising the historic renovation of the grand stair and board room on the first floor. Israel Berger & Associates, New York City, provided consulting services to NJIT for exterior restoration work. Turner Construction, Somerset, handled building and construction. A&J Consultants, Clifton, was responsible for the mechanical and electrical design. Harrison – Hammet PC, Pennington performed the structural engineering analysis.
Eberhardt Hall is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a beautiful example of the Gothic architecture of the mid-19th century, built in the Elizabethan style with elements reminiscent of 15th and 16th century castles. “It’s a rare building,” noted Gibson. “There’s only one other Elizabethan Gothic in New Jersey and maybe a handful on the entire Eastern Seaboard.”
The exterior was restored using authentic 19th-century materials — red brick and brownstone with mortars chemically matched to those used by the original builders. The university removed and repaired 20th-century adaptations such as holes for air conditioners. The front parking lot was replaced with a terraced green and a bluestone forecourt for outdoor events. Inside, the public areas on the first floor were restored, with simulated gaslight fixtures, authentic reproductions of late Victorian wallpapers and wood trims. Restorations include the creation of a grand, central lobby.
The building was state-of-the-art for its time, with modern conveniences including gaslight, steam heat and hot-and-cold running water, amenities that were rare even in the period’s most affluent homes. Contemporary records show unusual safety features including an early fire-extinguishing system and emergency exits as well as a low banister on the grand staircase to benefit children.
“In many ways, the building is a monument to the City of Newark and its tradition of compassionate humanitarianism, in providing such a gracious and well-equipped structure solely for the benefit of orphaned children,” said Altenkirch.
The Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee is the only private organization devoted fully to saving, restoring and promoting the city’s rich historical and architectural heritage. Since 1973 the Committee has helped save and restore irreplaceable structures and sculptures, won official protection and public appreciation for many landmarks and sponsored publications, tours and activities. There are more than 70 Newark buildings, districts, parks and sites listed on the National and New Jersey registers of historic places. Buildings, once registered but later demolished are not listed.
Newark College of Engineering, established in 1919, was the predecessor of NJIT. In 1973, the State of New Jersey selected the engineering college in Newark as the home for a new public school of architecture. Reflecting a now expanded mission, the institution was renamed New Jersey Institute of Technology. Today the New Jersey School of Architecture at NJIT is widely recognized for its innovative integration of computer technology into the design curriculum.
Before 1919, the engineering college was a technological school with roots dating to 1881. Today NJIT is comprised of the two earlier colleges, plus four new ones: College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, Albert Dorman Honors College and College of Computing Sciences.
The completion of the Eberhardt project capped a $140 million building program that has included a fifth residence hall, two additional parking-garage levels, a new Campus Center and six-story building for academic and other uses. “In addition to commemorating NJIT’s history, Eberhardt’s restoration is a powerful statement about our dedication to progress in the present century,” noted Altenkirch.
“NJIT’s commitment to the future at the beginning of the 21st century is both local and global,” he continued. “Through education and research, we seek to improve life for people throughout New Jersey, across the nation, and around the globe. But in the spirit of this award, the university is also very mindful of our university’s historic roots in Newark, our past contributions to the city’s social and economic well-being, and the potential of what we can contribute to its future prosperity.”