A spot on New Jersey’s 10 most endangered places list is hardly an honor, but it might be a positive thing for Lee Brothers Park Pavilion on Lake Hopatcong.
David Helmer, executive director of the Morris County Park Commission, mused that whoever nominated the pavilion to Preservation New Jersey (PNJ), the nonprofit group that administers the list, “was trying to give us a little push” to do more to save the building.
The Park Commission has owned Lee’s County Park since 1995, when Robert Lee retired. He donated the pavilion and surrounding property on Van Every Cove to the county to prevent subdivision of the land. The commission stabilized the building, maintained the roof to keep water out, and worked on other issues, said Helmer.
According to Lake Hopatcong Foundation president Marty Kane, the organization worked with the county in 2014 to fund a feasibility study of the building by HMR Architects, a Princeton firm that specializes in historic preservation. The conclusion: Lee’s pavilion is considered a unique structure to both Lake Hopatcong and the surrounding area. It was constructed in 1923 for the 1924 summer season, according to PNJ. Most of the other summer pavilions built before World War II have disappeared.
The nomination information released by PNJ indicates that the structure has deteriorated to the point that the local fire commissioner forbade his firefighters to enter it. Mount Arlington personnel did not return repeated calls to confirm the claim.
Helmer stated that the commission stores equipment in the building. Because it was constructed before today’s codes and due to the span between floor joists, no more than 50 people should be on the main level at the same time. During its last use as a snack bar, not many people gathered there simultaneously. The county will improve the structural stability with a goal of allowing up to 75 people to use the main level.
Commission staff discussed rehabilitation of the building with three architects, Helmer added. Their proposals are due by June 28, and he envisions the restored building looking much the same as it once did. “Who wouldn’t want it to look like it did in its heyday?” he asked. Although he would like the Lee family name to be prominent, he would not commit to repainting “Good Eats” on the side of the building. “We will try not to make it look like a catering hall.”
Helmer expects that, similar to other buildings on park property, the county will rent the pavilion at a reasonable cost – more than a fire hall, less than a hotel. The commission can supply generic tables and chairs for birthday parties, showers, and similar events. Renters can contract with their preferred food service.
The elephant in the room, Helmer acknowledged, is a huge pole barn for the Mountain Lakes Rowing Club right next to the pavilion. While the club is considered by the county to be a permanent fixture of Lee’s County Park, the building does not have to remain on the water, he said. Several ancillary buildings on the site, including bungalows, are not significant to its history or current use and could be replaced with the rowing club building.
Mount Arlington has an extensive historic register district that includes the former Breslin Park overlooking Van Every Cove and the summer vacation areas known as Mount Harry and Hoboken Hill, according to Mount Arlington Historical Society records. However, Lee’s Park, covering more than 10 acres, is immediately east of the district and is not on state or national historic registers.
Brothers Clarence and Edwin Lee purchased the property in 1919 and developed it as a picnic ground and bathing beach with tour boats. They built the pavilion for a refreshment stand, bath house, and boat rental/tour boat business. In later years, it operated as a marina with a boat ramp, boat rentals, and dock slips. The lower level of the pavilion was used for a time to rent jet skis, according to the PNJ press release.
Selections for the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places are based on the presumption that the properties can be brought back to productivity.