Developed as a transportation hub and financial center, Exchange Place was considered the "center" of Jersey City from the 1890s to the 1920s. It started on ten acres of reclaimed land from the Hudson River at a cost of $140,000. Its recent redevelopment has helped restore the historic area and brought the return of a number of financial and commercial institutions. The removal of former sites at the Paulus Hook area, such as the Colgate-Palmolive Company complex, which stood on Hudson Street for 150 years, has given way to corporate towers and Jersey City's own skyline along the Hudson River. It was the New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company (NJRR) that initiated the placement of a terminal on the Jersey City waterfront. In 1839 it bought the riverfront property owned by Isaac Edge, a well-known mill operator, and began the long process of building a bulkhead on landfill and pilings then began in the 1850s. The bulkhead extended the foot of Montgomery Street into the Hudson River.
In 1853 the New Jersey State Legislature granted approval of the railroad's purchase of the ferry franchise and water rights from the Associates of the Jersey Company for $485,000. The transaction was upheld by the US Supreme Court in an opinion rendered by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. The common council of Jersey City further enabled the development by passing an ordinance permitting the use of certain wharves and piers on the Hudson River for a ferry operation, dating back to pre-Revolutionary War times. In 1858 the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) bought the assets of the NJRR and "built a 500-foot long passenger station with five tracks and started a ferry service to Cortlandt Street at 10-minute intervals" (Pearlman). The two-story brick structure, located just north of Montgomery Street at Hudson Street, had towers at each corner. Architect Job Male designed the depot facility. The old NJRR depot west of Hudson Street that dated back to 1837 was also renovated.
In 1873 a new railroad terminal, designed by Joseph Wilson, was constructed by the Pennsylvania Railroad and was damaged by fire ten years later. Architect Charles Conrad Schneider designed a replacement and more elaborate terminal. Modeled after a terminal in Frankfort-on-the-Main, Germany, the seven-story PRR Terminal was built in 1891, completed in 1892, and became the largest terminal in the United States. The arched roof of the building had a single span of 250 feet. Four elevators also brought passengers to and from the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, known as the "Tubes," which were one hundred feet below the structure. This terminal also succumbed to fire in 1898 and was replaced the following year. It was demolished in 1953 and the site used as a parking lot for many years.
The PRR built a ferry house in 1891. It once accommodated ten ferries offering passengers transport on new "double-decker" ferries between Jersey City to Cortland Street in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island for a nickel. New Jersey truck farmers brought their produce to Jersey City to ferry across the Hudson River to New York City as they had from before the Revolutionary War. In 1901 the PRR completed its transportation project at the foot of Exchange Place with an office building that had an entrance at 26 Exchange Place. It was razed in 1960.
Another railway development by the PRR was the construction in 1891 of the elevated railway, built along eight blocks of Railroad Avenue (renamed Christopher Columbus Drive) and east of Grove Street, traveling over a viaduct near the terminal to Newark Avenue. Its purpose was to extend the PRR railway through part of Jersey City. Its purpose was to eliminate the dangers to pedestrians inherent to grade crossings and subsequently reducing insurance rates from fewer casualties. These considerations took precedent over aesthetic considerations and resulting pollution affecting neighboring tenement apartments.
After the turn of the twentieth century, electric trolley cars owned by the Public Service Company ran its service from the PRR terminal at Exchange Place taking passengers south to Bayonne and other parts of Hudson County. The Public Service depot was next to the Pennsylvania Railroad ferry slip, had a large covered shed, and sheltered several trolley lines for the city.
The development of Exchange Place attracted a number of financial institutions and businesses. Some of these were: The Evening Journal (now the Jersey Journal) at 37 Montgomery Street, Jersey City Printing Company at 37 Montgomery Street, Commercial Trust Company at 55 Montgomery Street, New Jersey Title & Guarantee Trust Company at 81-85 Montgomery Street, Jersey City Post Office at Montgomery and York Street, Prudential Insurance Company of America at 111 Hudson Street, and First National Bank (now First Jersey) at One Exchange Place.
The bustling Exchange Place complex, however, soon stood as the testimony to an earlier transportation era. The PRR, having developed a transportation center in downtown Jersey City began to focus more of its attention across the Hudson River. The PRR opened Pennsylvania Station in New York City in 1910. It gave commuters railway access to mid-town Manhattan via the new Hudson River tunnels. In 1913 it began the Lincoln (formerly Hudson River) Tunnel from Weehawken. Passenger train service was rerouted though its Pennsylvania stations in New York and Newark. The business center for the city found its way to Journal Square.
The PRR did update ferry service at Exchange Place by building three two-story piers for freight and passenger service by 1931. Ferry transport, however, had already slid in popularity when the Holland Tunnel opened in 1927. The mounting costs of maintaining and operating the Jersey City facilities against incoming revenue resulted in the discontinuation of regular ferry service in 1949. Exchange Place was also affected by the demolition of manufacturing plants in the downtown section of the city. The Wilson and Meseck Lines used the waterfront to run excursions to amusement parks at Rye Beach (Westchester County, NY) and Rockaway Beach (Queens, NY) in the 1950s.
The PRR terminal was razed in 1963, the last train leaving on November 7, 1961; the site was used as a parking lot for several years. The removal of the trestle for the elevated railway began in September 1963. The common council of Jersey City purchased the embankment site and paved Railroad Avenue between Henderson and Warren Streets. For some observers of the city's development, "Although the old trestle once represented hope for Jersey City's financial future, its demolition . . . [was] also a hope. It is one of the first steps in the redevelopment of the downtown area" (Pearlman, Jersey Journal). The PRR sold its five acres of Railroad Avenue and Exchange Place holdings to the city, having owned more than five hundred acres overall in 1965.
When New Jersey approved the Aldene Plan in 1967, passenger rail and ferry service in Jersey City was officially deemed part of its past. The Jersey Central Railroad ended train and ferry service that same year; the Erie Railroad had closed the Pavonia Station in 1958. However, the potential for rapid transportation service in one of the most densely populated areas of the northeast could not be ignored. The PATH purchased the Tubes at Exchange Place and renovated the railway service that serves commuters between New Jersey and New York City. And in a reversal about the trains and ferries in Jersey City, the Hudson Bergen Light Rail System of New Jersey Transit returned passenger service to Jersey City in April 2000 with a convenient stop at Exchange Place, one of thirteen stops in the city. Commuters leave the Colgate Center Ferry dock to the World Financial Center and 38th Street in New York City.
Today the site of the former PRR Terminal is the J. Owen Grundy Green Acres Waterfront Park. It is built on a pedestrian pier at the foot of Montgomery Street that is part of the Hudson River Walkway and named for former local historian J. Owen Grundy.
The imposing Katyn Forest Massacre Monument, unveiled in 1991, stands at the end of Montgomery Street. It was sculpted by Polish-born Andrzej Pitynski of New York. The 34-foot bronze statue of a soldier--mouth gagged, hands bound, and struck in the back by a bayoneted rifle--stands atop a granite base that holds Katyn soil. It commemorates the massacre of over 22 thousand Polish prisoners, soldiers and others by the Soviets in April and May 1940. The Soviet troops had invaded eastern Poland by order of Joseph Stalin. The event led to the partition of Poland and the dissolution of the nation during World War II. The east side of the pediment has a bronze relief depicting the plight of starving Poles sent to Siberia.
The revitalization of the Jersey City waterfront in the 1980s gave Exchange Place the distinction of having the construction of three consecutive buildings known as the tallest in New Jersey, replacing the National Newark and Essex Bank Building on Broad Street. The first was Exchange Place Center at 10 Exchange Place on the site of the former PRR office building that was completed in 1988. Architect Harry B. Mahler of Grad Partnership in Newark designed the mixed-use building of post-modern or contemporary style architecture on 2.5 acres at the tip of Exchange Place. It is east of Hudson Street and on the north side of Exchange Place with a view of Hudson River. Located above the PATH tunnel, the center offers commuters lobby-level shops and access to the PATH elevators. The center's interior is noted for the nineteen-foot high lobby of gray granite and green marble with coffered ceiling.
Exchange Place Center is a thirty-story skyscraper of masonry and green glass; it rises 485 feet above the Hudson River and extends skyward. The masonry base has a seven-story parking garage, and the office floors rise above the base clad in green glass. Reporter John Zeaman describes the center's design: "The building's most distinctive feature is its east façade, which has a bay-like projection that maximizes views of New York Harbor from the offices. The projecting bay tapers in four telescoping stages, culminating in the triangular spire. The tapering effect creates a perspective illusion that accentuates the sense of height" (Zeaman). The adjoining PATH station is a semicircular masonry structure designed to complement the Exchange Place Center. After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, service was suspected. However, the station was renovated again and expanded for a re-opening on June 29, 2003.
The 101 Hudson Building, completed in 1992, succeeded as the tallest building in New Jersey and is now the second-tallest building in the state. Located on the site of the former Colgate-Palmolive complex, the 548-feet structure is a classic-style office building designed by Brennan B. Gorman. The forty-two-story building is crowned by a series of setbacks and has a marble and granite lobby accessed by a dual entrance. The financial firm of Merrill Lynch is one of the occupants.
In 2002, the Hudson Building gained much attention when a pair of endangered peregrine falcons nested atop the building. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish and Wildlife approved the state's first wildlife webcam, set up on the building with a grant from the Verizon Foundation, to observe the peregrines and their care for the three chicks that were hatched in the May of that year.
The Goldman Sachs Tower at 30 Hudson Street, completed in 2004, is the second tallest building in New Jersey (surpassed by the condominium tower at 99 Hudson Street since 2019). It occupies 1.36 million square feet of office space at the former site of the Colgate-Palmolive property. The architectural firm of Cesar Pelli (1926-2019) designed the office tower for the global investment banking institution. The forty-two-story, blue-tone structure, with tapered top, stands at 781 feet. The contemporary design offers occupants a panoramic view of the Hudson River, especially from the interior block-long glass atrium with the opulence of marble from Italy and France. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill L.L.P., known for its work on the Sears Tower, designed the interior. Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects are known for the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the World Financial Center in New York, among its more than 100 projects.
In 1999 the Harborside project launched a long-range plan to build office, residential and hotel properties at Exchange Place. The following properties were completed by 2002: the Harborside Financial Center that is adjacent to the PATH station; an office building above a seven-story parking garage; the nine-story Hyatt Regency Hotel on the Harborside south pier; the thirty-three story Harborside Plaza V; and the nineteen-story Harborside X that is north of the Harborside Financial Center.
New residential housing at Exchange Place include the North Pier Apartment, an eight-story building with 300 units, and Harborspire, the city's tallest apartment complex, that has two art deco residential twin towers of fifty-five and fifty stories and 445 and 417 units respectively.
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