Walking Tour of Historic Park Avenue
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: The Meadowlands Museum and Rutherford Public Library
Educating others about the history of the Borough of Rutherford is one of the many goals of the Rutherford Historic Preservation Committee. Members of the HPC (Historic Preservation Committee) work together to find ways to continually preserve the historic architecture of Rutherford. The HPC has been finding ways to use technology to enhance its efforts to provide Rutherford residents with the ability to learn more about the history of the architectural development of the Borough. This is Rutherford recently had the opportunity to interview the Chair of the HPC, David Zicchinella, and the Vice-Chair, Susan Tully, about Rutherford’s first self-guided tour and the many accomplishments of the HPC this year.
TIR: Can you tell us more about yourself and your role on the Historic Preservation Committee?
David Zicchinella: I have lived in Rutherford for about 8 years but in the surrounding area for 20 years. I live in a 120-year-old Victorian and always had a passion for historic homes. I was appointed to the Historic Preservation committee 2 years ago and serve as the Chair this year.
Susan Tully: I moved here in 2018 after many years in Washington DC; we renovated a 110-year-old home. I’m an interior designer and have worked on several historic buildings and homes. I have been on the HPC for 3 years and serve as the Vice-Chair this year.
The committee’s goal is to support and encourage the preservation of the Borough’s wonderful historic architecture, and to honor its rich history and the significant contributions of past residents.
TIR: What has the HPC been up to this past year?
DZ: This has been a busy year! We worked with the Meadowlands Museum to host an online talk with the author of "Restoring your Historic Home," Scott Hanson, this spring. We launched a program through which owners can purchase special brass plaques for buildings on our Historic Sites Inventory, and we’ll be reaching out directly to those property owners soon. We gave out our annual awards for historic preservation, and we launched our first walking tour.
TIR: The HPC recently presented its first self-guided tour of Park Avenue. How did this project come about?
ST: We are always looking for ways to promote Rutherford’s history and architecture. We wanted to make people aware of how much of the historic architecture is still visible downtown. A lot of the commercial storefronts at the street level have changed over time, but if you look up to the second and third stories of the buildings you can really get a feel for what the street used to look like at the turn of the last century. And some of the other buildings still look very much as they did when they were first constructed.
DZ: While there have been in-person tours in the past, this year we wanted to modernize the experience and make it flexible and available to all. We found a service that allows us to have a self-guided online tour, with the ability to see and learn about the current buildings in person, while you see on your device how each building looked many years ago. This also allows us to connect safely with residents during the pandemic.
TIR: Who assisted with putting together the self-guided tour?
ST: This project truly had the participation of the entire committee and many others. Susan Tully was the quarterback on this project. Former resident Mary Melfa graciously lent us a treasure trove of historic documents, postcards, and pictures from her private collection. Our Secretary John Trosky scanned and organized those images, and Leo Nakashian worked with the Meadowlands Museum to source other images. The Rutherford Library shared images with us. Bill Galloway, Susan Muller, and Borough Historian Rod Leith provided additional information, and other members proofread and tested the tour and are helping with publicity. Our Council Liaison Ray Guzman worked with the Borough to ensure we were able to fund the project.
TIR: Can you tell us more about the self-guided tour?
DZ: This is the first tour and includes downtown from the train station past City Hall to the Masonic Temple. The text is primarily from the Historic Sites Inventory, as well as other historical research and the recollections of residents about how the town has changed over time. The images are from as early as the turn of the century. The tour allows you to go at your own pace, at any time. All you need is a smartphone with internet access to load the page. It’s intended to be used as you walk through town, but you can check it out online from any location. Click here to access the tour.
TIR: Does the HPC have plans to create other self-guided tours?
ST: Yes! We are working on a tour coming up for this Veterans’ Day. We are also beginning to work on tours for Halloween (next year) and on other significant Rutherford areas.
TIR: What else does the HPC have planned?
DZ: Our last big project this year is updating the Historic Sites Inventory, which documents our historic buildings. A scan of the last survey, from 2006, is on our website. The update will include new photos, additional information, and an online format that is easier for residents to access. We’d love for residents to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if they have information about the architecture or history of their homes or other buildings. We’re on Facebook and we also have a website.