Pohlmann Hall
Ogden Avenue, New Jersey, 07307
   
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Interior Description

Original Appearance

Significance

Ownership Chronology


Physical Appearance

Pohlmann's Hall today exhibits architectural detail from its original construction and from two subsequent building periods. These coincide with its three different periods of ownership and usage: the first construction, about 1874, as Pohlmann's Hall, possible a privately operated Tern Verein, or German athletic and social club; a renovation, c. 1918, as the headquarters of L.O. Koven, a manufacturer of boilers and heating equipment; and its adaptation with minor renovation after 1950, when it became the quarters of J.S. Kessler and Company, manufacturers of funeral supplies.

Pohlmann's Hall is a three story above basement brick rectangular structure built on an east-west axis on the edge of the north-south Palisades escarpment in the Heights section of Jersey City. Measuring approximately 60 feet by 120 feet, the principal façades face west, on Ogden Avenue, and south, here the façade faces what is now a large parking area. A secondary elevation faces east, overlooking Hoboken at the base of the escarpment and the New York skyline. The fourth, and least significant, elevation abuts the adjacent building lot, and is unfenestrated with the exception of a recessed light and air areaway.

Reflecting its original use as an athletic and social club the exterior is architecturally divided on the west and south by pilasters and gables, and the rear section, for primary use for gymnastics and large social gathering, is defined on the west by a straight parapet. The outline of the former projecting cornice, as illustrated in the historic photographs, is visible today as a stuccoed band which runs along the gables and parapet on the west and south elevations. The former gable and cornice on the east elevation has been rebuilt as a stepped parapet.

The west and south elevations on the forward section of the building have large pilasters at the junction with the rear section. These pilasters, which coincide with the base of the gables, consist of receding and protruding brick sections which from panels. The lower panel follows approximately the height of the first story, while the upper panel stretches two stories in height and terminates with an arch. It is capped by a band course and a small rectangular panel. The original cornice above the pilasters has a projecting horizontal section for emphasis. The long upper panel of the pilasters also articulates the original two story interior of the real section. The three stories on the from section are emphasized by brownstone string courses which occur at the window sill level.

The west, or front, elevation of the building has five bays, the center of which is strongly emphasized by its width and elaborate detailing. The two outer bays on each side have 2/2 double hung sash windows topped by projecting brownstone lintels with crown molding supported by corbels. The central bay has differing architectural treatments for each of its stories. The first floor entrance, inspired in part by classical architecture, consists of pilasters topped by projecting consoles which support a second story porch with balustrade. The pilasters are divided by horizontal moldings into three sections representing the base, column, and capital of classical architecture, and are decorated with recessed panels and carving. The frieze and corbels are also carved and molded. The balustrade consists of flat masonry sections with arched openings, paneled corner posts, and a projecting horizontal capping. All of these elements are made of brownstone and appear to be original.

The double bronze entrance doors have a single glass panels which are decorated with elaborate metal scrollwork. There are matching sidelights and a similar decorative treatment on the broad transom which extends the full width of the opening. This bronze doorway appears to date from the first (Koven) renovation; a historic photograph which shows a projection wooden doorway on this entrance and on the second window opening to the south.

The second story consists of a molded brownstone pediment supported by pilasters with paneled sections. There are double 2/1 arched windows topped by a large segmental arch under the pediment. The third story treatment consists of double 2/1 arched windows capped by an arched brownstone hood with carved decorations. The central bay is capped under the gable by a circular window with projecting decorative brownstone trim. These upper story elements all appear to be original.

In front on the building there are open areaways with basement windows below the two outer bays on either side of the entrance. These are protected from the sidewalk by a steel railing which has an opening on the north for a stairway leading to the basement door beneath the main entrance. A historic photograph shows a cast iron balustrade. The brownstone entrance steps shown in the photograph remain.

The forward section of the south elevation has four bays which match the window bays found on the front elevation, as well as a circular window in the gable which matches that on the front. The two central bays have a steel fire escape. The rear section has five bays which match the window details on the front section, with the exception of a doorway in the middle bay on the ground story. The window hoods on the upper two stories, although made of carved masonry rather that brownstone, match the front hoods.

The historic photographs indicate that these two upper stories previously had five elongated arched-topped windows capped by a semi-circular brownstone hoods with details similar to the one found on the third story central bay on the west elevation. Above the windows were five circular windows matching those found elsewhere on the building. These elongated windows provided light to the former two story gymnasium. The windows were changed as the use of the building changed during the Koven occupancy, when the third story level was created in the gymnasium space.

Along the entire south elevation, there is an open areaway with basement windows. The basement level on the forward section of the building is constructed of brick, while the rear section is built of rough-coursed masonry.

The east elevation has four stories of five bays each. The central bay on the basement story has a doorway, and the windows on the ground have been partially in-filled with brick. Under the stepped gable parapet is another circular window; this elevation originally had elongated windows matching those on the south elevation.

The historic photos of the east elevation show a painted band with the words, "Pohlmann's Hall", stretching across its width. They also indicate a rear extension built in at least two sections, consisting of a stone basement story, a brick first story, and a timber third story with large glass windows decorated by timber frame detailing. This addition provided a broad view of the Jersey City, Hoboken, and New York skylines, and served as a "biergarten" adjunct to the building.

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Interior Description

The first floor of Pohlmann's Hall consists of two section: a central hall with medium sized rooms and a stairway in the front, and a very large room and second stairway in the rear. The center hall is entered through a vestibule measuring approximately six feet in depth, fifteen feet in width, with walls covered to a height of six feet with Danby white marble panels above a six inch high Verde antique marble base. A molded plaster cornice runs around the ceiling. The upper walls and the ceiling are covered with lincrusta in different geometric patterns. Ceiling height throughout the first floor is fourteen feet.

The vestibule entrance features a chestnut revolving door assembly consisting of four framed glass panel doors and curved side panels that project into the vestibule and hallway. The side panels have curved glass sections over curved wood sections made of vertical matched boards. This assembly is capped by a projecting cornice that follows the curvature with Colonial Revival style moldings. A broad single light transom extends across the top of the assembly.

The main hall measures approximately 15 by 45 feet, and has an additional open section toward the left rear which leads to the elevator and fair stair. Two doors along the right, or south, wall lead to a front and meddle room, formerly a single room. Along the left wall a door leads to another front room. At the end of the hall, opposite the revolving entry, a four foot doorway leads to the rear section of the building. A molded plaster cove cornice like that in the vestibule runs around the main section of the hall. The walls and ceiling are of plaster, and the hardwood floors are covered with linoleum. The three entrances to the front rooms have eight foot, single panel, grain painted wood doors, with six inch oak molded casings. Only the plaster cornices in the hall and vestibule appear to be original; other features seem to date from the Koven renovation.

The two rooms to the right of the entry are separated by a later partition dividing the original 22 by 45 foot room. A large high colonial style plaster cornice runs the perimeter of the entire space, and this molding has been reproduced in wood on the west side of the partition (front room). The front room has two windows facing west, and two facing south. The windows and doors are cased with 6" wide double-faced oak architraves. Below the windows are oak radiator enclosures capped with marble sills. A door in the northeast corner leads to a lavatory. The walls and ceiling are plastered, and the floor is covered with oak strip flooring. The second room, created by the partition, also has two windows on its south wall, but these do not contain the radiator enclosures. The cornice is not replicated on this side of the partition.

The room at the northwest corner of this floor measures approximately 20 by 30 feed, and appears to have some of its original detailing. The windows, and the door to the hall, are cased with 19th century moldings, and there are recessed wood panels between the floor and the window sills. A plaster cornice, which also appears to be original, runs the perimeter of the ceiling. The door opening from this room to the elevator alcove is not original, and the floors and part of the walls are covered with modern materials.

The elevator, dating from the Koven renovation, has a narrow but deep metal car with decorative elements of the period. The metal firedoor and surrounds leading to the stairway are grain-painted. The square open well stair with marble treads features cast iron balusters and newel posts, while the banister is oak.

The large open room is the rear section of the first floor and measures approximately 45 by 70 feet. Two rows of columns running east to west partially divide the space: the row near the center has three 8" cast iron columns with molded bases and flange caps supporting a 10" by 12" timber girder with molding along its juncture with the ceiling. The row closest to the north wall has three 7" turned timber columns supporting a similar girder.

There are four windows along the south wall, with a doorway in the middle, in a bay formerly occupied by a fifth window. There are also four windows along the east wall which have been partially infilled to reduce the size of the openings. All of the windows have wood architraves, jambs, and panels below the sills, similar to those on the windows in the northwest corner of the front section; these features also appear to date from the original construction. On the north wall there are five arched top windows with plaster jambs and wood sills which open onto the recessed light and the air areaway. In the northwest corner of this room there is an office which is separated from the main space by a glass and wood partition. This partition does not reach the ceiling, and probably dates from the Koven renovation.

At the rear of the building, along the northeast wall, is a firedoor leading to the rear stairway. The stairhall is similar to the one in the forward portion of the building. A lavatory is found on the west wall of the stairshaft.

Maple strip flooring is found in this rear room. Flooring strips at the front of the room are laid in a geometrical sunburst pattern on axis with the front entrance. This pattern may date from the original use of the building, when this diversion from the other flooring pattern served some ceremonial purpose. The ceiling is covered with 12" square acoustical tiling.

The second floor plan resembles that of the first except for a few additional partitions which define slightly different rooms. The central hall, which is reached from the stairway or elevator along the north wall, provided access to all the rooms on this floor. It is smaller that the hall on the first floor because of a small central room on the west elevation. The walls are covered with modern plywood paneling. The three rooms on the west elevation, and the south central room, have original trim: plaster walls and cornice, 19th century moldings around the windows and doors, and recessed wood panels between the floor and window sills. The floors are covered with vinyl marble tile, and the ceilings are covered with acoustical tile.

The large rear room to the east has a single east-west row of steel columns down the center which support a timber beam. This room was originally two stories in height, and this column row was installed at the time the additional floor was created. Because the window on the east and south walls did not exist until the Koven alteration, they feature only simple molded surrounds. The flooring is of maple strips. As with the other floors, a metal firedoor leads to the rear stairwell.

The third floor originally had only the front section; consequently there is no central hall. Instead the stairway and elevator open to a large room which extends to the south wall. There were originally two rooms along the west wall which have been partitioned into three. The windows in these rooms have original trim like that on the floor below.

Two doors from the large central room lead to the rear room, which has trim similar to its second floor counterpart.

In the basement, brick walls support the structural partitions defining the central hall above the front section, and brick piers support the columns above the rear section. The floor is concrete, and windows open to the wells along the south and west walls. Certain details, such as a board ceiling and some built-in wooden cabinets, appear to be original, and may have served as support spaces for the "biergarten" at the rear. Large windows and two doors on the east wall originally led to this addition, but now open onto a narrow ledge.

The attic space, which can be reached from both the front and rear stairwells, contains ten timber trusses that lie in the north-south orientation. Built of substantial construction, these were designed to provide a clear span for the entire floor area below as well as to support the low-pitched roof. Two of the trusses are full length, while the other eight terminate at the east-west brick wall which separates the stairway and elevator shaft from the remainder of the structure. The trusses are of the type identified as a Waddell "A" truss, which is an expanded version of the king post truss. It was used during the late 19th and early 20th centuries for spans ranging from 25 to 75 feet. The full length trusses have a tie beam which is a single 6" by 12" timbers which are let into the tie beams at the ends of the truss, and butt-joined at the apex. A 1 ½" steel tension bar runs from the apex down through the tie beam. Along each side there are two queen posts, or vertical members, which measure 6" by 8" and are tenoned into the rafters. Each post has a diagonal brace in the direction of the king bar where they meet with a short compression beam. The purlins supporting the roof on top of the truss are 3" by 10" timbers spaced 32 inches on center and supported by mailing blocks. A catwalk runs down the center of the trusses.

The installation of these trusses was necessary to provide the clear spans and extra strength required for the gymnasium below. Except for the addition of subsequent reinforcement along the north wall, they remain in excellent condition. There age, size, design, and condition make them important as a good survival of late 19th century timber technology.

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Original Appearance

The earliest historic photograph of Pohlmann's Hall indicates that certain decorative treatments have been changed, but overall the original form and general appearance of the building remain. The most noticeable difference is the removal of the large projecting bracketed cornice which extended along the east, south, and west elevations. It was replaces by a plastered parapet which maintains the original roof outline.

The second major difference is that the building was originally polychromed, with a light color on the flat wall surfaces and in the recessed panels, and a darker color on the brick trim details. The string course, lintels, and window hoods, which are brownstone, were also apparently painted in a dark color. The words "POHLMANN'S HALL" were painted in bold letters on a fence along the front of the adjacent lot to the sound, and along the top story of the east wall.

On the west elevation, the main entrance had a projecting doorway made of glass and wood, and a similar one also existed on the south window on the first story. A cast iron fence separated the sidewalk from the window wells.

On the south elevation, the rear section had tall arched-top windows on the second and third stories which reflected the two story space on the interior. Above these windows there were circular windows with detailing similar to the extant windows in the gables. The east elevation had the same tall windows.

A three story addition originally projected out from the east wall over the escarpment. It had a stone foundation, a brick second story with windows facing east, and a timber third story. The third story, which met the level of the first floor of the principal buildings, was decorated with timer joinery details over large glass windows. Its roof had two sections: a flat center with sloping sides in front of the main building, and a shed section to the south.

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Significance

The structure known as Pohlmann's Hall is significant in the areas of architecture, commerce (as offices for a nearby industry), and for its use as a social/recreation center. Although it has been altered over the years, for the most part sympathetically, its original form and architecture remain evident, and it contains intact and unusual structural features. The architectural significance of Pohlmann's Hall lies in its siting, it its expression of late 19th century public architecture in Jersey City, and in its expression of the design of a German athletic/social club. Its industrial significance comes from its two periods of adaptive reuse - as the headquarters for the Koven Boiler Company, first, and its subsequent use as the offices and factory for the Kessler Company. Its social/athletic significance comes from its original use as a social and athletic hall, in some ways similar to the pure German athletic clubs know as a Turn Verein, but with more of a purely social function, to serve the substantial German community which resided in the Heights section of Jersey City and in Hoboken, which lies adjacent to the site.

Pohlmann's Hall is located in the Heights, or Hudson City, section of Jersey City. This neighborhood, which is located atop the southern end of the Palisades escarpment, overlooked the City of Hoboken, abutting the base of the escarpment, and the New York skyline beyond. The site of the building is an irregular lot located opposite the intersection of Ogden Avenue and Ferry Street, directly on the edge of the escarpment. The structure fronts on Ogden Avenue, the easternmost street in the neighborhood. The lot slopes at first gently, then steeply, toward the rear, with a steep drop of approximately 40' down the side of the escarpment, to Mountain Road, a cobblestoned route which is one of the few streets to actually scale the escarpment. Directly below the site Mountain Road intersects Paterson Plank Road, a historic route from the Hudson River which scaled the Palisades to the Hudson County ridge and descended the west side of the ridge to the Jersey meadows.

Although the exact date of construction for Pohlmann's is not known, it is not on the Fowler and Bromley Atlas of 1873. The property was purchased from the Roemmelt and Leicht Brewery, which operated from 1857 to 1879 on the hillside and flatlands around Mountain Road. A reference in the 1874 Gopsill Directory of Jersey City lists Pohlmann, Diedrich, lager, Ogden Av c. Ferry," and the next directory (1875-6) lists "Pohlmann, Diedrich - hotel, restaurant and lagerbier, Ogden Av c. Ferry near Elevator." The Pohlmann tract was purchased from Roemmelt and Leicht, and references cited herein for Diedrich Pohlmann as a purveyor of lager may refer to Roemmelt and Leicht's products. Subsequent directory listings through the years, until 1906, list the establishment as variously as "hotel," "saloon," "hall," and "pavilion." One notable variation in the directory listing is for 1888-9, when ownership is listed as "Pohlmann, Minetta, wid. Diedrich." There are not directory listings after 1905-6. Historic photographs of the period also show signage, both freestanding and painted on the east elevation, "Pohlmann's Hall."

In order to understand the building's role within the community, it is necessary to examine the German settlement patterns in the area. Hudson City (which was not consolidated with Jersey City until 1870), Union Hall and West Hoboken (which became Union City in 1925), and Hoboken had a significant German population. In fact, the census of 1880 indicates that Hoboken was one of the most German on communities in the nation at that time. Examinations of the fire insurance atlases and local directories reveal numerous German churches, businesses, and residents. There were several German operated breweries in addition to Roemmelt and Leicht; most prominent was the William Peter Brewing Company of Union Hill. Hoboken was the location of the steamship docks of the Hamburg American Packet Company, the North German Lloyd Steamship Company and the Holland America Lines. Boyd's Directory of Jersey City (1909) listed three Turn Societies in Jersey City, and one in Hoboken, two German boat clubs in Hoboken, seven German Halls on the Hudson City area of Jersey City, and twelve in Hoboken. In addition it listed the Eastern Plattdeutscher Club in Hoboken, and the Verein Eintracht, Hoboken.

Recreation, athletics, and social activities played a prominent role in the life of the German community, and Pohlmann's Hall was a focal point. Its site was ideal to serve both Hoboken and the upland communities. Immediately adjacent to Pohlmann's was a steam driven incline elevator which ascended the bluff, connecting Hoboken with Hudson City; it was in place as early as 1880. In 1884 the North Hudson Railway Company (later a part of the Public Service transport network) erected a trestle connecting the heights with Hoboken for its surface streetcar system, dispensing with the inclined plane and stationary engine formerly employed at the head of Ferry Street. There was a terminal atop the bluff adjacent to Pohlmann's, and via trestle the cars descended to Hoboken, running on an elevated trestle along Newark Terminal, on the Hudson River. Streetcars left the trestle at Ogden Avenue, and continued northward to West Hoboken, North Bergen, Weehawken, and Guttenberg.

The siting of Pohlmann's was specifically chosen because of the prominence it afforded the building, because of its proximity to transportation, and because of the commanding view from the building's interior, and in all likelihood because of the proximity of the Roemmelt and Leicht Brewery. Since the building is freestanding, and was clearly visible on the east, south and west sides, the elevation for each of these was designed to clearly express both its architectural style and its public function. The latter was especially true on the east side where a painted banding prominently read "Pohlmann's Hall". The original design of the interior also stressed the spectacular prospect towards New York with its placement of windows and location of spaces for specific social and athletic functions.

The architectural style of Pohlmann's reflects the preference for Italianate detailing that existed at the time in the New York metropolitan area. The arrangement of the fenestration and doorways is symmetrical on each section of the facades, the corners are emphasized by full height pilaster-like brick detailing, and the windows have projecting hoods supported by corbels. The central bay on the west façade is strongly emphasized by different detailing for each story. The original projecting cornice also emphasized the building's front section, corners, and east elevation. Unlike other social halls in the area, which were often on the second floor of a building with commercial stores below, Pohlmann's architectural design strongly articulated its role in the community.

Both the site and the functional layout of Pohlmann's interior space significantly express the uses to which the building was put, with different functions occurring at different levels, occasionally going to extraordinary pain to achieve the terracing. The siting and design of Pohlmann's reflects this classical approach to organizing these activities. The original design and construction of Pohlmann's organized several of these functions at different levels. The beergarden existed on the lowest level, the exercise and social hall at the next level, and a small hall and private salons on the top level.

Pohlmann's served many roles in the community. As mentioned earlier, the first references in local directories indicate its prominence as a purveyor of beers, at which time there existed an adjacent brewery. In later directories and in the newspaper references, it was the scene of private parties, musicales, and gymnastic activities. Mrs. Cartherine Schubert Young of Jersey City recalls attending gymnastic and social affairs in the building, and specifically remembers athletic workout on mats in the rear room. The multi-functional use of this great room is suggested by the clear span of the beams at the attic level.

Another important function was that of a hall for concerts and social occasions. The 1908 Hopkins Atlas of Jersey City identifies the existing building as "Pohlmann's Concert Hall," and the rear portion, now demolished, as the "dance hall." Although Mr. Theodore Conrad, a local historian and Ogden Avenue resident, corroborates Mrs. Young's recollections, he also remembers his mother going to social occasions in the "biergarten" on the rear. Mrs. Young also remembers songfests for children being held at Pohlmann's. Local newspaper research does not frequently mention Pohlmann's Hall, but its few citations note dinners and dances held by various civic and fraternal organizations.

The reason for the closure of Pohlmann's Hall are not known. It is known, however, that it was closed by 1915, and that its subsequent owner, the L.O. Koven Company, purchased it in 1917. It is possible that the advent of the World War was a factor as there was a decided anti-German bias in Hudson County at the time. (The nearby street, "Germania Avenue," was changed to "Liberty Avenue.")

L.O. Koven & Brother purchased Pohlmann's Hall in 1917, and moved their clerical force from downtown New York to Jersey City. The Koven Company, and early and major manufacturer of stoves, boilers, furnaces, and galvanized metal products, dates from 1881, and their first plant structure was in the small strip of lowland in Jersey City at the base of the Palisades, directly below Pohlmann's Hall. Over the years the plant grew into a major industrial complex employing several hundred people, and the buildings were located along Paterson Plank Road, which scales the Palisades from Hoboken to Union City, as well as clustered around the steep Mountain Road ascent to the top of the bluff.

Thus, when the Pohlmann's Hall became available, Koven joined the growing number of local industries which were moving their office forces to the west side of the Hudson. It was at this time that the significant interior and exterior alterations were made to adapt the structure to office use. On the interior the major alteration was the insertion of the third floor in the former gymnasium/hall. On the exterior, the rounded arch windows were installed to match those original windows on the first floor in size, type and configuration. The original brownstone headers were reproduced in metal and the front on the building was altered with the new front doors with elaborate grillwork; considering the nature of the Koven products, it is likely that the alterations were done "in-house." Most significant was the elimination of the frame beergarden at the rear and the substitution of a parapet wall for the cornice, which by Koven acquisition was in derelict condition, and further did not lend itself to the purposes of the Koven Company. According to Mr. Gustav Koven, son of the president of the firm at the time, the basement of the building was used by engineers who were developing motion-sensitive measurement device at the nearby Keuffel and Esser works in Hoboken; the K&E buildings were erected on pilings in a former swamp area, and the buildings vibrated with passing traffic or movement with the building. These engineers leased the Koven basement, which was built on bedrock, for their instrument development.

Koven moved its operations to Dover in the mid-1960's, at which time the property was purchased by the J.L. Kessler Company, manufacturers of funeral supplies. As far as can be determined there were not significant alterations of the interior spaces during this occupancy. The property was sold in 1984 to the present owners.

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Approximate Ownership Chronology

Pre-1874 (site)
1874-1888
1888-c.1915
1915-1917
1917-1963
1963-1984
1984
Roemmelt & Leicht Brewery
Diedrich Pohlmann
Minetta Pohlmann (widow of Diedrich) and/or heirs
In Court Receivership
L.O. Koven Boiler Company
J.S. Kessler Company
Investment Properties II

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