Where there once was a complex of buildings brimming with patients and staff now stands a testament to destruction and neglect, with only the central Kirkbride Building remaining. And if the state of New Jersey continues on its path, the iconic centerpiece could join its fallen brothers as early as this winter.
Bill Quinn, spokesman for the state Treasury Department, told the Daily Record the Treasury Department is still open to ideas about how the remaining historic buildings at Greystone could be saved. But after reviewing the six formal expressions of interest it received in the spring, the state still does not see a way to make redevelopment a feasible alternative. Quinn said there was a funding gap of $11 million to $25 million dollars that the state would have to make up.
And while they haven’t strapped themselves to the wrecking ball or formed a human shield just yet, the Preserve Greystone group has taken up the cause of saving the historic landmark before it is lost forever.
“Greystone is the kind of structure that people often travel to other continents to see -- a true American castle, a marvel of human achievement. It's also a symbol of values we need to hold onto and misjudgments we need not to forget,” said Preserve Greystone Board of Trustee member Adam McGovern. “It started as a model of humane treatment of the mentally ill, then became a symbol of overcrowding and bad conditions. But at one time it was home to as many people -- patients, staff, and their families -- as a city.”
Greystone, built in 1876, was constructed as part of the Kirkbride Plan, according to the Kirkbride Building website. The plan, championed by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Kirkbride in the med-19th century, advocated moving patients from county jails, private homes and basements of public buildings into state mental hospitals. These hospitals followed a typical floor plan that included long rambling wings staggered so each connected wing received sunlight and fresh air that was meant to promote privacy and comfort for patients. The building form itself was meant to have a curative effect.
According to McGovern, the story of Greystone, good and bad, needs to be preserved.
“Famous people walked through Greystone, from Woody Guthrie to Allen Ginsberg's mother as patients to Bob Dylan, who made a pilgrimage here to visit Guthrie, to the cast of HOUSE when a season-opener episode was filmed there,” McGovern said. “Breakthroughs like the study that discredited lobotomies were conducted there and thousands of ordinary people lived there too. We hear their stories at every public event we hold and even the ones without fond memories feel the place should be preserved as a monument.”
McGovern said Preserve Greystone has thousands of citizen supporters has been meeting with fellow New Jerseyans, attending public festivals and historic conferences to get the word out, and dialoguing with government representatives for years.
“Preserve Greystone initiated a conversation with the Christie Administration which is ongoing. It was our discussions with State-level representatives that initiated the studies that have now been conducted to determine the viability of rehabilitating and repurposing Greystone. This has yielded several very ambitious and promising proposals that have been submitted to the State. The State has announced plans to demolish Greystone anyway,” McGovern said. “Our job now is to channel the citizen outrage that has met this decision, and keep in contact with the State to persuade it to explore the great options its own process led to.”
Ideally, Preserve Greystone would like to see any of the solutions presented to the State, and publicly viewable moved forward.
“International developers with credible resources and serious proposals have approached the State, though we feel the State is focused on reasons not to save Greystone rather than exploring the prospects for making it work,” McGovern said.
McGovern said people who care about the “waste of an irreplaceable
public resource and a landmark of New Jersey and American history: should make
their concerns known to Governor Christie at:
Governor Chris Christie, Office of the Governor, PO Box 001,Trenton, NJ, 08625
McGovern said other interested supports should visit the Preserve Greystone site get the news to anyone you know in New Jersey.
“Greystone could be a magnet for heritage tourism,” McGovern said. “And the bottom-line value of that, as well as the benefit to our State's reputation, is at stake here, so people from farther away should have a say in it.”