Commentary: No good reason for tearing down Greystone

John Huebner, president of Preserve Greystone. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
John Huebner, president of Preserve Greystone. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Preserve Greystone is trying to stop the April 6 demolition of the historic Kirkbride Building.
Preserve Greystone is trying to stop the ongoing demolition of the historic Kirkbride Building.

By John Huebner, president, Preserve Greystone

Greystone’s Kirkbride Building is no ordinary structure. Kirkbride buildings of this type are examples of some of the best architecture this country has ever seen.

Kirkbride asylum buildings in far worse condition than Greystone have been successfully revitalized in other states without any expenditure of taxpayer money. These exceptional structures were brought back from decades of terrible neglect purely with private money and tax breaks. They now serve as popular community centers, mixed use commercial/residential villages, and tourist attractions.

This proven formula of private investment and tax breaks was rejected here in New Jersey, however, for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained. Several experienced, well funded firms expressed interest in the Greystone project, but there has been zero follow up from the State.


At 3 pm on May 13, 2015, Preserve Greystone will ask

Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury

in Morristown to halt demolition of the Kirkbride Building.

Instead of taking the private investment route, the State chose to spend $35 million of borrowed taxpayer money on a demolition contract for Greystone. The reasons given to justify this course are quite frankly insulting to the intelligence of informed taxpayers.

The State has trumpeted potential “funding gaps” that private re-developers might face, but the firms expressing interest in the Greystone project were undeterred by these hypothetical projections. In any event, the State is spending twice as much of our money on demolition as the amount of the potential funding gaps they cite. So much for fiscal responsibility.

John Huebner, president of Preserve Greystone. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
John Huebner, president of Preserve Greystone. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The State has also tried to justify its decision to demolish the Greystone Kirkbride by citing “Morris County’s need for open space,” but it is hard to imagine a less appropriate and more costly locale for “open space” than the site of a massive and exquisite stone building. For that kind of money we could build islands in Lake Hopatcong.

Recently, we heard from the Governor himself that the building “is not universally beloved” because of its history. This is the worst reason of all to waste this public heirloom.

The idea that Greystone should be buried and forgotten is held by a small minority. By pandering to this view, the Kirkbride’s untimely destruction only feeds the unfortunate stigma still associated with mental illness.

If Greystone’s history makes us uncomfortable, the proper response is an examination of our attitudes towards mental illness and its treatment, not obliteration of the edifice that reminds us of it.

John Huebner is president of the all volunteer nonprofit Preserve Greystone.

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  1. The Kirkbride builkding are Americas castles and they are all being torn. Greystone is beautiful and should be saved. We are losing our castles. Some the most beautiful Kirkbrides have been torn down.
    Danvers is gone ,Tauton is gone and Northhampton all gone. Hudson has been sold and i am sure will be torn. There still a chance to save beautiful Greystone. Its sure a beautiful building.

  2. Obviously Daryl you fail to accept or understand so I’ll say it again. The enormous upfront and ongoing costs to renovate, bring to code and maintain Greystone will not be able to achieve a long term existence through any tourism effort. While there is a very small market it isn’t enough to sustain a project of this magnitude.
    The opportunity to convert the buildings into rateable generating condos or townhomes is gone.
    The project is non sustainable as a tourism destination.
    Green space is a reasonable alternative.
    Consider yourself informed.

  3. Mike Russell, you are really un-informed. Greystone could be NJ’s Eastern Penitentiary, a mecca for photographers, history buffs, ghost-seekers, etc.. for tourism. if you go on to you will find examples around the country where private developers have re-vitalized these Kirkbride structures, and they are paying for themselves. I agree with Gerry that this is professional vandalism . It’s an outrage, and it is IMPORTANT.

  4. Oh stop your whining!
    It could have been condos and townhomes generating rateables.
    It had absolutely no chance of being a self sufficient, self funding long term existence as a museum or tourist attraction.
    So now its going to be green space. Now you preservationist have a problem with that??!!
    Please, there are greater issues of much larger importance ifacing our towns, county, state and country.

  5. It is indeed disappointing to see the types of individuals having complete control over the thousands who want this important part of history preserved for the education and enjoyment of the future generations. What they are doing and trying to do is the most hideous and moronic example of professional vandalism, all at the expense of the people. Those who are fighting to save this great building have no reason to give up nor to give in to these idiots who are so hell bent on complete destruction. Big question is, what will be the benefit after Greystone is leveled? Absolutely NOTHING. A big empty grassy lot, with the cast off beer cans and trash of the so called “walkers and joggers” will sure bring in quite a lot of revenue to the state. Oh yes, let’s not forget the cheezy little brass plaque stuck to a couple of the stones “saved from Greystone”-“HERE ONCE STOOD” Sure makes one feel just elated in this messed up world of NO VALUES. We should all feel SO PROUD.

  6. Please read this now & join the fight to preserve this historical landmark! So encouraging to think – IT’S NOT TOO LATE!!!

  7. going to the hearing today. if building demolition continues, I will work against any re election of the freeholders responsible for this questionable use of bond money and destruction of such a historic building. I wrote the freeholders weeks ago and have heard no responses from them.