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March  20

That Ranch is History

Ranch_house_on_ridgewood_3 Almost a full year after a controversy over whether the Best of All Possible Ranch Houses in Glen Ridge should be demolished, it has been. A new house is rising on the site of the 1956 ranch at 451 Ridgewood Ave., despite the initial objections, last spring, by the Glen Ridge Historic Preservation Commission, which found the ranch to be one of the best of its ilk in town. 

Gr_ranch_before Back to the drawing board and many meetings later, developers eventually won the right to tear the structure down. Though in a historic district, the house wasn't deemed "contributing." Mayor Carl Bergmanson says the new house will be built in the footprint of the existing structure, only taller.

Pictured (top) the new construction. Pictured (bottom) the original ranch.

March 20, 2006 in Comings and Goings | Permalink


Let me see if I understand: the house was in a historic district. Okay, fine, umhmmm. But it somehow didn't "contribute" to the district? But if people wanted only structures that "contributed," they'd simply build another Williamsburgh, no, everything all carefully planned out and no incongruous design elements? Isn't some of the point of a "district" that there's some architectural variety within it? It's a district, not a museum of one style. The evolution of the American ranch house, even if the style isn't currently in favor, is in fact a very interesting part of American design's history.

To build in the "footprint" of another, demolished building is hardly to replicate it, too. It certainly doesn't mean that a developer will follow even the basic style of what is now gone. Suburban office parks replace farm buildings all acrossNJ, for example. So Mayor Bergmanson may be being more than a bit purposely cute if he honestly thinks that building in the "footprint" of a ranch house, whatever goes up there, is somehow in keeping with the intent behind even the designation of a district, let alone the prior architectural realities.

Posted by: cathar | Mar 20, 2006 5:12:57 PM

Haven't we had this discussion before?

Posted by: njholdem | Mar 20, 2006 5:49:47 PM

Don't think any Historical Preservation Commission would designated a 1956 ranch home worthy of preservation unless it were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

While this ranch and the grounds were very presentable, it just isn't a style which is very marketable today. But being on Glen Ridge's showcase road, a developer will make a quick profit by constucting a larger McMansion on the site. Furthermore by utilizing the existing footprint, they probably avoided any objections by the neighbors and planning board.

Posted by: softrider | Mar 20, 2006 5:50:00 PM

Softrider, "marketable" shouldn't be the sole consideration, should it? Even on Glen Ridge's "showcase road?" Aren't there even realtors out there sharp enough to successfully market a ranch house?

My main concern, honestly, here is the bastardization of language. A historic district is just that but God forbid an individual stricture doesn't "contribute"...the "footprint" of a building is somehow equated with a fair stab at preservation... it goes on and on. Yet if we expect politicians and zoning board members to tell the truth to us, we should first expect them to know what words and phrases accurately mean and convey. My concern really isn't the preservation of a lone ranch house, but to allow a term like "footprint" to somehow convey similarity of architectural intent.....

Posted by: cathar | Mar 20, 2006 6:00:33 PM

i liked that house, aarrrrgggggggh.

Posted by: julia | Mar 20, 2006 6:17:58 PM

Seems to me you are reading the mayors statement differently from me. You may want the word footprint to convey similarity of architectural intent, but I don't see anything in the mayors statement that says that.

I could (and did) see the point of the mayors statement to be that the new structure will not occupy any more of the lot than the "original" house. In my opinion, this is a good thing.

Posted by: gerald | Mar 20, 2006 6:37:18 PM

Gerald, we can differ about what "footprint" means here. But while fitting into the foundation (so to speak) of the original structure isn't quite the same thing as building up and even out on the new upper floors. (Think of a Colonial-era blockhouse.) So yes, the lot will probably seem a lot more crowded with the new structure. You might then want to wait before deciding whether or no this is a Martha-like good thing.

My concern is that use of a word like "footprint" here confuses the issue, conveys that somehow things remain the same. We both know that won't remotely be the case. There is a difference in footprints between loafer and workboots, after all.

Posted by: cathar | Mar 20, 2006 6:46:56 PM

It is sad. I liked the old house; it was cool and had character.

Posted by: caris | Mar 20, 2006 7:46:58 PM

Lot coverage is a major consideration for a planning board. By utilizing the existing foundation (aka footprint) the developer insures a faster approval of his proposal. So as long as they don't violate any height restrictions, it is difficult for a planning board to reject the proposal once the historical designation is overturned.

I too liked this ranch on Ridgewood Ave and always admired how well the owner kept up his property. For a ranch, sounds like he received a fair price. I wasn't aware of the controversy till I looked at the previous postings.

Many years ago we originally moved out of Montclair since we were looking for a ranch and couldn't find one we liked in the area. Yet we had difficulty selling our ranch a few years ago as buyers were looking at the larger, multi-story colonial type dwellings which are so prevalent in this part of the country.

Is this progress, that's difficult to say and probably more a matter of personal opinion. But for a developer, it is merely business and in this case an opportunity.

Posted by: softrider | Mar 20, 2006 7:48:18 PM

We will see the day when all these cool 50s-60s-70s homes: split levels, ranches, etc., are valued as much as our old and less livable victorians.

It's too bad no one in nj appreciates them.

Posted by: peet | Mar 20, 2006 7:58:05 PM

"Footprint" as used here is a technical term meaning perimeter. It doesn't mean template or model, and has nothing to do with appearance or style. I believe the mayor meant that the house will not occupy any more of the lot than the existing house and will have the same property-line setbacks (a frequent issue with projects like these), but that it will have more square footage than the original house because it will be taller.

Posted by: Karin Robinson | Mar 20, 2006 8:02:31 PM

Add me to the list of people who liked that house.

To me, there are beautiful homes in all architectural styles. When most people think of "ranch" they think of some 1950s monstrosity. But if you drive through communities such as Essex Fells, you'll find magnificent, well-thought-out ranch homes, many of them built by the same architect but each of them reflecting its own style.

Someone please help me out with the name of this architect...I believe his name starts with a "T."

Posted by: Miss Martta | Mar 20, 2006 8:09:44 PM

It was A very nice ranch home ...some ranch homes are much more effient then other style homes... The GRHPC would not let us put a 6inch vent on our addition, if it were visable from the street even on the side of our house, times have changed tearing down and going MC MANSION seems..no problem

Posted by: rocky | Mar 20, 2006 8:26:03 PM

Ranches are very liveable. Very convenient for both the active family or for senior citizens. However they are not efficient when it comes to energy consideration or land usage. Everything is quite spread out. Consequently one find them more often in the south or west where land is plentiful or where temps are less extreme.

If I recall correctly, this house was one the market for quite some time. For it's price range, one could have probably gotten a lot more living space from a convenient multi-story house. So unless one had a need for a one story home, there probably weren't too many interested buyers who were willing to pay the asking price. Instead only a developer would speculate that he could make a profit by tearing down a prefectly good house and building a much larger structure on the existing foundation.

Posted by: softrider | Mar 20, 2006 8:57:45 PM


What do you mean by it not being very energy efficient? Some of the most energy efficient homes ever built were ranches.

Posted by: face | Mar 20, 2006 10:05:45 PM

Miss Martta, I believe the architect you are thinking of is named Timson.

Posted by: Byron | Mar 20, 2006 10:48:33 PM

You can add me to the list of people who liked this ranch house. However, the HPC is required to follow the law of the State of New Jersey, not their own preference (or that of the mayor).

In Glen Ridge, we are fortunate to have an historic district to help protect the many historic homes that we have (more than 75% of our housing stock was built before 1945, and the historic district covers 85% of the borough). As nice as the ranch house was, the state statutes do not offer much protection to houses that are 49 years old (it was built in 1956, and the application came before the HPC 49 years later, in 2005).

Another advantage to the historic district is that it also limits what can be built or rebuilt on any lot in the district (including this one). In addition to preserving the existing streetscape, this facet of the law often acts as a disincentive to those who would tear down non-conforming homes in the district. That's where the marketability of the existing house becomes an issue for the owner of the property. I guess in this case it wasn't enough of a disincentive.

Posted by: Carl Bergmanson | Mar 20, 2006 11:03:02 PM

Ranches are not energy efficient since they have a high level of exposure to the elements in relationship to the interior living space. Since they don't have to bear a heavy load structure, the walls of a ranch are often thinner (hence less insulation value) that that of a multi-level home. They also tended to have large picture windows and skylights, which are less energy efficient than a normal wall. Also remember that homes built in the 1950's didn't have the additional insulation as energy cost were much lower than today.

Again bear in mind I was referring to the ranches you find in this area, most of which were built in the 50's. I would agree with "face" that an energy efficient ranch or contemporary house can be built with today's technology.

Posted by: softrider | Mar 20, 2006 11:13:17 PM

Obviously the word "footprint" only confuses one poster here.

Posted by: gerald | Mar 20, 2006 11:14:05 PM

This was my favorite house in Glen Ridge. Now we will have to look at yet another poorly designed large home with not a single ounce of design quality.

The two new Ridgewood Ave. homes (on the hill near the school and near Bay Ave.) lack this quality in the design. Just look at them next to the other houses on their blocks. Notice how many design elements are in the surrounding homes. How the eye travels in and out or up and down. How gorgeous the proportions are in many of the homes in our town. Good design makes these homes wonderful to look at no matter how many times you have passed them taking your kids to school.

Glen Ridge has been blessed by homes designed by talented architects. If someone is allowed to build here, it stands to reason that only architects with talent be allowed to design them.

Posted by: babaloo | Mar 20, 2006 11:21:06 PM

>>"We will see the day when all these cool 50s-60s-70s homes: split levels, ranches, etc., are valued as much as our old and less livable victorians."<<
Posted by: peet | Mar 20, 2006 7:58:05 PM>>

Especially the ones designed by Mike Brady

Posted by: i'm fran, dammit | Mar 20, 2006 11:28:20 PM

No, gerald, but I am aware of the slipperiness of language, so don't try to be catty. Because the ranch house was less than 50 years old, it could be demolished, no matter that it was part of the historical district. So a new house can go up that will (I'm only guessing here) somewhat resemble 50-year-old and up homes in the district,

So much for a 46-year-old home. Any new home that fills this "footprint" will, of necessity, have a very different look to it. So much, too, for the integrity of the historic district, which is thus compromised by new construction. No one else notices that?

Posted by: cathar | Mar 20, 2006 11:42:54 PM

2006-1956= 46

oooh the new math drives me crazy and makes no sense.

Posted by: pissant | Mar 20, 2006 11:47:15 PM

While I agree with your obvious eye for design details, babaloo, I would draw a line at letting "only architects with talent design them." Who'd even decide who has the right talent and who doesn't? Homeowners? The Mayor and council? Robert Venturi or Steve Isenour on a fat fee basis?

Posted by: cathar | Mar 20, 2006 11:48:13 PM


Municipalities and Historic Districts are creations of the State Legislature. We can only do what they empower us to do. Do I think that they should allow the municipalities to give their HPCs more power to protect their districts? Yes, and I'm sure almost every mayor in the state would agree with me. It would be more likely to happen if we mayors could donate as much to political candidates and parties as the developers do.

And I agree about both of the houses you mention, the word I would use is bland.

Posted by: Carl Bergmanson | Mar 20, 2006 11:48:30 PM

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