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Who Would Have Thunk It? An architectural gem is hiding in plain sight STORY AND PHOTOS BY KATE ROUNDS


here’s nothing hidden about the Interpretive Center in Liberty State Park. What’s hidden is its architectural pedigree. This “wildlife interpretive center for the study and exhibition of the indigenous wildlife and environmental aspects of the park” boasts an award-winning design by well-known postmodern architect Michael Graves. OK, so I’ve jogged around it, walked around it, biked around it, viewed its exhibits, and even attended a Walt Whitman lecture in its auditorium, and the words “postmodern” and “award-winning” never entered my mind. It took a new book, The Best Architecture Outings near New York City (Rutgers University Press, $19.95) to bring it to my attention. Authors Lucy D. Rosenfeld and Marina Harrison write, “Graves combined familiar traditional forms of architecture—including columns and gables and imposing entrances—with a contemporary aesthetic.” The “intimately sized” center was designed in 1980.

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1 MINERVA STREET This is Denis Carpenter’s third house in Jersey City. He had a row house on Sussex and a boarding house on Pacific, but this one is unique. It was designed by GRO Architects, which is owned by two Jersey City residents, Nicole Robertson and Richard Garber, who have designed a range of projects in Hudson County. Carpenter had input into the floor plan and shape of the house which is a stone’s throw from the Garfield Avenue light rail (proximity to the light rail was a must) at the end of a little dead-end street called Minerva. An affordable lot ($45,000) was another requirement. “I had a lot of ideas about flow and room usage,” he says. It’s got 16-foot ceilings, and it’s maintenance free. I also wanted guest rooms for friends and family members.” The house is made from precast concrete, it has solar panels to offset energy costs, and cosmetic cedar on the outside, which will eventually turn gray to look like a Cape Cod. He and a friend who is a landscaper planted a thousand bulbs, which will produce purple and yellow flowers. Carpenter says he wanted the outside to have a “beachy” feel. You can see the statue of liberty from the garden, which is next to a large vacant lot, owned by the city. Carpenter has plans to turn it into a community garden and dog run. He calls his house “very tight, very quiet, very simple—there’s nothing fancy about it.”—Kate Rounds

42 • Jersey CITY Magazine ~ SPRING & SUMMER 2010

Jersey City Magazine