Sunday, August 05, 2007

North Plainfield - Ledger - McCutchen Home slated for Yeshiva

Published in the Star-Ledger, Sunday, August 5, 2007

From old to young: McCutchen Home slated for Yeshiva

Star-Ledger Staff

A stately North Plainfield mansion formerly used as the McCutchen Friends Home for senior citizens is to be converted into a yeshiva where young men pursue religious studies primarily within Orthodox Judaism.

A yeshiva now operating in Springfield, Union County, is under contract to purchase the elegant Queen Anne-style edifice on Rockview Avenue, said Theodore Gast, the yeshiva's attorney from Watchung.

Terms of the sale between property owner Yearly Meeting Friends Home, a Quaker organization, and Yeshiva Tiferes Boruch have not been disclosed. But the 15,000-square-foot mansion and extra building space in the form of a nursing home addition and apartments -- all sitting on 2.09 acres making up what equates to a city block -- was on the market for $2,250,000, officials said.

"It's a magnificent structure, really something to behold," Allen Rosenberg, the real estate agent who handled the transaction for Coldwell Banker in Warren Township, said of the mansion, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Regarded as one of the country's premier examples of Queen Anne-style architecture, the three-story mansion is surrounded by a vintage stone wall and gardens once offered for tours, Rosenberg said.

"It's the showcase of the Washington Park historic district," said Frank D'Amore, who lives in the district.

Representatives of the yeshiva are expected to appear before the zoning board on Aug. 29 or Sept. 5 to gain a use variance to operate on the property, which is zoned for residential houses. Eighty students would attend the school.

"We hope the sale goes through," said Carol Stern, a Newark attorney representing Yearly Meeting Friends Home.

Meanwhile, the yeshiva is holding off on pursuing its case before the Springfield zoning board involving a school it opened in a converted split-level home. It maintains the new school on South Springfield Avenue is operating no differently from the one operating out of an Evergreen Avenue home the township approved years ago.

"It's essentially on hold because of the anticipated move to North Plainfield," said Bruce Pitman, the attorney representing the yeshiva on that case.

Mayor Janice Allen said she hopes the yeshiva, if it gets approval to locate there, will be open to welcome community members inside as the senior citizens home had traditionally done.

As of June 1, the property was no longer considered tax-exempt, meaning it was returned to the tax rolls with the expectation that taxes would be paid on its assessment of $1,462,600, Tax Assessor Barbara Flaherty said. Before June, it was regarded as a nonprofit, tax-exempt nursing home property, as it was and continues to be owned by the Yearly Meeting Friends Home.

The prospect of injecting new life into what little remains of a once-thriving Jewish population in the Plainfield-North Plainfield area has the Jewish community cautiously optimistic about the yeshiva's establishment.

"This might encourage some people to move into the area," said retired Rabbi Moshe Samber, who once led a conservative congregation in Plainfield.

"We absolutely welcome them into Somerset County," said Orthodox Rabbi Shmaya Krinsky, spiritual leader of the Chabad Center of Southern Somerset County.

Sheri Bechtel contributed to this report. Cathy Bugman may be reached at or at (908) 429-9925.

Online story here. Archived here.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.