Petition to save Ford Hall @Rutgers collects over 300 signatures
A student petition to save one of the University’s oldest residence halls currently has more than half of its desired 500 signatures, according to Change.org.
Ford Hall, located on College Avenue adjacent to Voorhees Mall and in front of the Hillel House, was built in 1915 as a donation by former Board of Trustees member John Howard Ford, according to Rutgers Student Affairs.
Now, as the University plans for its demolition, members of the community are demonstrating their resistance to the change with a Facebook page that directs those interested to the petition.
Elijah Reiss, a graduate of the School of Arts and Sciences Class of 2017, started the petition and said that rumors circling Ford Hall’s demolition have spread since 2013. The building was initially planned to function as an office building after it was brought up to fire code.
In conjunction with Carla Yanni, professor in the Department of Art History, and Michael Barr, a Rutgers alumnus, the trio has made active efforts to spread awareness for the history of one of the University’s oldest landmarks.
“We started the petition because we were greatly appalled to see that the University was ready to bring the wrecking ball to such an important Rutgers building,” Reiss said.
Reiss, who worked on the University’s 250th anniversary initiative and wrote his senior thesis on the history of Voorhees Mall — where Ford Hall sits — said that after Rutgers University Facilities and Capital Planning assessed the potential renovation they decided it would not be cost-effective.
On the petition’s homepage, it reads, “The administration has decided it would be 'cost prohibitive' to adaptively reuse Ford Hall given the small number of users the building could eventually accommodate.”
University spokesperson Neal Buccino said that Ford Hall was vacated in 2013 due to safety concerns. Fire inspectors and the construction code determined that the building could no longer function for its original intended use, according to an email to The Daily Targum.
“Because the building’s age and interior layout make renovation cost prohibitive, it will be demolished,” he said.
Buccino went on to restate the University’s commitment to invest in its academic mission and keep education as affordable as possible. He said any future developments to Ford Hall will be architecturally sensitive and appropriate to the setting and scale of the surrounding buildings — further enhancing the College Avenue campus while meeting the University's needs.
He was unable to confirm that Ford Hall was the campus’ second residential building.
Reiss said he backed a similar petition in 2014 when Rutgers planned on removing the white arches from Bishop Quad — the University ultimately reshaped its plans to preserve the architecture.
“While this current effort would be far more expensive than the Quads plan, we are hopeful that the University will make the right decision and keep Ford Hall standing,” he said. “We are writing letters to the administration and making ourselves known. As of now, facilities has only responded by saying that the decision has been made not to renovate and that the plot is desired for future building.”
Barr said that he knew the once-residence hall had been repurposed for approximately five years now but recently received word that the building was endangered.
Upon hearing this, he prepared a package for University President Robert L. Barchi, which contained biographical materials on the building's architect and accompanying photographs.
“In response, I've since received a response from Tony Calcado, University EVP, affirming that Ford Hall will not be renovated, largely based on a cost-benefit analysis of various proposed alternatives for the building's future,” Barr said.
In its heyday, Ford Hall housed a maximum of 67 apartments across four floors with many of the amenities that still dress residence halls, with bathrooms on each floor and lounge areas, prior to its transition in 2013, according to an article from New Brunswick Today written by Richard Rabinowitz, who lived in Ford Hall prior to its closure as a residence hall.
"The building is no longer a residence hall," said University spokesperson EJ Miranda at the time of the closure in the article. "The University is exploring its options regarding its future use."
Miranda said that due to the hall’s age and the fact that it does not contain kitchens, it was decided that it should be put to different use. Rabinowitz reported that toward its closure the building was becoming rather dilapidated and patchwork repairs were becoming common.
Yanni said she started the petition with Reiss on March 13, two days later they received 300 signatures. Having her office located across the street from Ford Hall, she figured the building would be repurposed after its closure and only recently received word of its demolition from Barr, who received a letter from Antonio Calcado, vice president of University Facilities and Capital Planning, which stated that the building would not be renovated.
“Whenever someone decides not to renovate, that is the same as eventual demolition. When a building is empty, it becomes decrepit,” she said. “Then it will be torn down, and the excuse will be, ‘Well, it was falling down. It was a fire trap. It was unsafe.’ We have to act now to prevent that from happening to this architectural gem.”
The architectural historian said Rutgers does not fare well in comparison to other schools in maintaining its architectural history. She has conducted research at two dozen college campuses for her upcoming book, regarding the architecture of college dormitories, and found that the University has the most peeling paint, rotten wood, stained siding, dangling gutters, broken windows and the most detached drain spouts.
“Ford Hall is an important building to me, but it should be important to everyone who has walked past it. It has a human scale, relates nicely to the sidewalk and brings a traditional academic atmosphere on College Avenue,” she said.
Yanni referenced the charming details and history that date back to early 20th-century architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, who was in charge of the building's design.
She said Ford Hall is 1 of 2 buildings at Rutgers, out of 700, designed by a winner of the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal — the highest award given by the professional association of architects.
“I am not saying it will be easy or cheap to renovate, but I am saying it is important to renovate,” Yanni said.