Historic Preservation as Catalyst for Reinvention: A Case Study

The G. G. Green Building in Woodbury, Gloucester County was listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places in 2001 for its significance in the area of community development and its architectural significance as a vernacular example of the Romanesque style applied to a commercial building.  Despite this protection, after a period of vacancy and neglect, the building was almost demolished.  The story of its preservation is a compelling case study that shows the potential for adaptive reuse to serve as an engine of community redevelopment.

Constructed in 1880 by prominent businessman George G. Green, the impressive brick block in downtown Woodbury originally housed commercial retail space, offices, meeting space, and a 1,000-seat opera house.  The Green Block was the largest building in Woodbury and the center of civic and cultural activity.  Green amassed his fortune first through the manufacture of patent medicines and then through successful business enterprises throughout the county.  He utilized his wealth locally to spur Woodbury’s development and support community welfare.

The opera house was later converted into a movie theater, which was active until its closure in 1955.  When the interior was converted into a large retail space, an incompatible false front was installed on the second story exterior.  The building was vacated in 2000 and then deteriorated to the point that it was scheduled to be demolished in 2012.

RPM Development, LLC, however, realized the potential for this once-grand building and proposed a reuse plan for the block.  Under the guidance of the National Park Service and the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, the developer completed the restoration and rehabilitation project in 2013.  The project relied on a complex financial package, including a low-income housing credit and federal investment tax credits.  The creation of a preservation easement was another requirement of the sale of the building from the city to the developer.  The Historic Trust holds the easement, which will protect the unique architectural features – such as the windows, cornice, and historic masonry – that contribute to the building’s historic significance.

Senior housing now occupies the upper floors of the structure while stores at the street level will again contribute to Woodbury’s downtown commerce.  This project illustrates the success that’s possible when tools, strategies, and financial incentives are merged with a community’s desire to preserve its tangible links to the past.

Is there a similar example in your town that is a potential candidate for reinvention?  Does your town have a successful preservation story to tell?

By Dorothy Guzzo

Dorothy Guzzo is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Historic Trust, where she oversees the Trust’s administration of the historic preservation matching grant and loan programs.  Previously, she served as the Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer for the State of New Jersey, where she also worked as a grants and project manager overseeing the restoration and development of the state-owned historic sites.  Ms. Guzzo has held elected office and served on her municipal planning board and local historic preservation commission.