Archive for the ‘Unusual Homes / Buildings’ Category

Kip’s Castle

Note: This blog entry was written in 2005 and, obviously, some things have changed. This article is presently being updated to include the changes.

Frederick Kip was a textile magnate who moved to the United States from Europe in 1902. The story, as it is commonly told, is that Kip’s castle was transported stone by stone from Europe to Montclair, NJ and reassembled next to the Klasztor Salvatorian Fathers Monastery. The 9,000 SF Norman Castle style mansion has 30 completely recreated rooms including the original stained glass windows, wood banisters, old-English quarter-sawn oak paneling, turrets, arches and deep set windows set on every wall – even a small chapel complete with mahogany mantelpiece. Large iron gates complete with giant stone pillars on either side frame the driveway entrance. The driveway itself is a long, winding switchback road that snakes up the hill in 3 lengths, the side of which is lit by lamp poles spaced every 50-100 feet.

I received an email from a relative of Kip which disputes the story I mentioned above, about how Kip’s Castle was built and its origins. Regardless of its origin, the castle in its heyday was large and ornate, but most of the internal beauty did not survive thanks to the actions of the second owners. In 1980 the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh came to America from India, allegedly seeking medical treatment. In reality he was fleeing tax evasion and other criminal charges. The Bhagwan, a self appointed spiritual guru since the early 1970s, taught an eclectic doctrine of Eastern mysticism, individual devotion, and most notoriously, sex. His followers, many of them well-educated, middle class citizens, surrendered all their worldly goods to him, some even changing their names. By the time the Bhagwan came to the US, he had amassed over 400 centers world-wide with over 200,000 followers.

To announce his arrival in the US, the Bhagwan placed ads in Time magazine proclaiming spirituality through sexual freedom. He also purchased the castle after being influenced by his personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, who had attended Montclair State University. Residents of Montclair and the surrounding towns were not overly pleased with this development as hundreds, even thousands, of red-and-orange robed followers of the Bhagwan flooded into the area, renting or buying almost every available housing space just to be near their spiritual leader. “We are very concerned about our property values, our children and about this becoming an international HQ for a free-sex cult,” said one Montclair resident in a newspaper interview.

The Bhagwan promptly covered the old stone walls of the castle with sheet rock, the wood floors with linoleum, and the stained glass windows were smashed to allegedly prevent the followers from being influenced by “materialism”. But Montclair residents had no need to worry for long – the Bhagwan as it turns out, had bigger plans. The following year, he purchased a 65,000 acre ranch in Oregon and moved himself and his followers out of NJ.

The Bhagwhan called the Oregon property Rancho Rajneesh. The 100 square mile commune, eventually known as Rajneeshpurum had its own airport, restaurants, and police force. The Bhagwan would visit small local towns each day, slowly converting the town into part of his commune. The process was quite simple, and reminiscent of tactics used in European invasions. If you inject your own culture into another, eventually your culture drives out the original culture. When the Ranjeesh followers would finally outnumber the local residents, they would elect other members of the group to be mayor, council members and other political office. Before long, the nearby town of Antelope, Oregon was absorbed into the compound. (Looks like Montclair really dodged a bullet on that one!)

The Bhagwan’s success would not last, however. His second in command fled the country with a large amount of the Bhagwan’s money after she was accused of arson and attempted murder. She was arrested in West Germany and extradited back to the US. By now the Bhagwan had attracted the attention of several government agencies including the Attorney General’s Office as well as Immigration. He was arrested and charged with immigration violations, pled guilty to 2 counts and was fined 400,000 and forced to serve his suspended sentence outside the US. Much like that garbage boat which tried to enter country after country without success before being sent home, he finally was able to return to his native India where he died of heart failure a few years later. The city of Rajneesh, Oregon reverted to its original name Antelope, after the state determined that the conversion of the town violated separation of church and state.

Back in Montclair, in 1984, Kip’s Castle was bought by the law offices of Schwartz, Tobia and Stanziale (purchase price: $850,000). Nearly twenty years later, the lawyers are planning to move, and there is a very real chance that Kip’s Castle may be knocked down to create condos and townhouses. The asking price for Kip’s Castle, the carriage house and the 15 acres of property is $4.8 million, but it is believed that the proposed development is worth upwards of $30 million.

The future of the Castle is bleak, which is why the Preservation NJ website, which focuses on preserving historic buildings and properties that are threatened by neglect or development, considered it one of the most threatened properties in Essex County. It will take a great amount of money and willpower to buy the property and resist the urge to develop it in the manner which has been proposed. Clearly, there is big money to be made. It remains to be seen whether money or history will prevail.

I was really impressed with the castle. Inside & out you can tell it was made with high quality material and built with old fashioned quality hand construction. Sure, the inside now has standard plaster walls and modern lighting, but it’s not hard to imagine what this building must have been like at the turn of the 20th century. What will become of the property is still an unknown, but I will always remember my visit to Kip’s Castle. There simply is nothing else like it in North Jersey that I know of. The office manager was extremely nice and showed me just about the entire building, pointing out interesting features such as the expensive Dutch tile (called Delft) used to cover the walls of the bathroom, and the curved glass windows in the waiting area. I must say a big thank you to the law office of Schwartz, Tobia and Stanziale for granting me a brief visit to the property.

More pictures of Kip’s Castle can be found here

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Gods Ark of Safety, Frostburg, MD


While driving along Route 68 in rural Maryland you might see this large partially constructed building, its steel beams connected to one another but never finished, and you might keep on driving not even giving it another thought. “Just another unfinished building” you might think as you continue on west towards Virginia or West Virginia or points beyond. But you’d be wrong. It isn’t an unfinished building, it’s an unfinished ark, as in the Noah’s Ark. In 1974 Pastor Richard Greene proclaimed that Jesus told him to build an ark. The ark would be a full size replica of the original Ark constructed by Noah before the biblical floods. 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high it would serve as church and a conference center to help- meet the needs of the church and the community at large. Donations were collected but construction did not begin until 1999. 13 years later the project appears to have stalled as donations have slowed considerably. Whether it will be finished is unclear as the church seems unfazed by this fact. They believe it has drawn attention to the church and helped shine a light on the teachings of God and is a reminder that one day Jesus will return, taking his followers with him to heaven.

You can learn more by visiting their website at You can visit the ark at 18606 Cherry Lane, Frostburg, MD, and it is viewable from Highway 68 just after exit 34

Coast Guard selling off two lighthouses to the top bidder

The lighthouses need a lot of work however. About 5-6 years ago I convinced the Coast Guard to let me go w/them on one of their spring maitenance runs to all the lighthouses in the delaware bay so I got to visit them up close. Some of them are only accessible by climbing a ladder from a rocking board deck up to the lighthouse because they’re built on top of a submerged shoal. Yhose were fun to climb. I am not sure if I ever posted pictures or not but if I didn’t I’ll have to post those. Lighthouses, especially those away from the coastline are amazing, I can only imagine what it must be like to be in one during a severe storm all alone. I’m going to see if I can contact the person who buys this one (if it sells) and interview them for a project I am working on. Should be interesting to see how they restore it to liveable conditions.

If you’re thinking of going to midgetville: DON’T. You will be busted.

I happened to be in the area and felt like driving down Annie’s Road. When we got to midgetville I was tempted to pull in just to see what’s changed in the couple of years since I last visited. I know there’s been a few incidents with paintballs being shot so i expected to be eyeballed. I’m not a kid, I have my wife and son in the car so I figured at best I’d get a look see but no trouble. I passed the first entrance, figured I’d go to the second entrance… and discovered it’s been sealed off, barricaded by giant concrete highway dividers.

So if you go in, you have to exit the way you came in. Cause any troubles, you aren’t getting out. More then likely if you pull into their street you will be questioned since there’s only 6-7 houses and everybody knows everybody and their car. Anyone who doesn’t belong will stick out. This means you.

Luna Parc

When one enters the gates of Luna Parc, you are welcomed by colorful signs, whimsical mailboxes and a sidewalk covered entirely in various colored tiles. In fact it seems almost everything is covered in beautiful tile work, and not those 4×4 inch tiles you find in the bathroom. I mean intricately designed, hand laid pieces of tile. There is also a sense of whimsy to the designs, almost Dr Seuss like in the way pieces curve and move, and how different elements are married together, such as this mailbox.

There were plates of every color all arranged neatly, same with a half dozen plastic colanders hanging from the ceiling. There is all sorts of art work and carvings all thruout the house, and various collections, such as a collection of dice, numerous lava lamps, and even a gigantic fishbowl full of the plastic snap on pieces that close off a loaf of bread….

By far the coolest room was the bathroom. First of all this as the biggest bathroom I’ve ever been in, easily 20 feet wide. More importantly it was  a circle, and everything was against a wall with an overhead shower in the middle of the room. As expected the entire room was covered with beautiful tile work, and color flowed (literally) thru a series of differently colored gravy boats. I won’t even talk about the bidet….

Ricky grew up in Morris County, and in the mid 80’s had started looking for a place of his own. The building was in major need of repair, but Ricky immediately was able to envision it the way he wanted, and has spent 15 years working on his art, and working on the property which is still a work in progress.  He often asks for help with supplies whenever he needs a large quantity of a certain materials (such as large quantities of   Mrs Butterworth bottles), to the point where sometimes the yard looks like a junkyard. The 5 acre property has art everywhere, from the enjoy bench to the tiled covered table to the Eiffel tower made from bowling trophies. Then there are small little houses (huts might be a better word) that remind me of little displays you’d find at those winter wonderland sections you find at stores that sells gardening supplies.

One of the huts will be a Christmas themed hut, which will either be Santa’s workshop, or more likely a place where kids meet Santa. Another hut was based on a story told to him by his father. While in Italy, a big whig in the Catholic church, possibly the Pope, but I believe more likely to be a bishop, visited this small poor town. A boy on crutches ambled by and the bishop declared the boy healed, and voila! so he was. The boy threw away his crutches and walked normally from then on. The hut is dedicated to religious icons, miracles and faith, complete with a half dozen discarded crutches outside.

In Ricky’s workshop was displayed all of his jewelry, which, I must say was absolutely gorgeous. he had small and large pieces, intricate and simple pieces, pieces for the bookshelf, and pieces to be work. He really is very talented as a jewelry maker, and one piece caught my eye, pictured below. I believe it went for $300.

Although you can not visit his home except by invitation, you can see his work at craft shows and fairts in the tri-state area, visit his webpage for details on where and when he’ll be on display.

36 more homes to be torn down in Hoffman grove

Part of federal buyout plan

IN A MATTER of weeks, 36 homes in Wayne will no longer exist, and, uncharacteristically for New Jersey, nothing will be built in their place. These are houses whose home is a flood plain — first to fill with water from the Pompton River, last to dry. For years, residents in the Hoffman Grove neighborhood have endured the river’s swell, their homes overtaken by the flow, then left damp and moldy in the ebb.

More than inconvenient, the area is seen as dangerous to residents and first responders, and expensive to insure. And so begins part two of the biggest home buyout in the state, in which Wayne pays market rate for 105 houses located well within the Passaic River basin. “If we save one life, we are making a truly significant impact,” Sgt. 1st Class Robert Little of the state Office of Emergency Management told The Record.

And that makes it worth every penny. Wayne has spent $500,000 of its own money so far, and $10.5 million in federal and state funds. The first phase of the buyout last year resulted in 34 houses being razed. There are about 105 houses in all. Flooding is also expensive. Wayne takes second place in the state for property lost in flooding, Staff Writer Andrea Alexander wrote Friday. Atlantic City is first. In 2007, the year of the terrible April nor’easter, the National Flood Insurance Program paid $152.6 million for more than 7,000 claims made by New Jersey residents. Returning Hoffman Grove to its natural state is the only answer.

unusual buildings now home to quirky food eateries

like burgers from a gas station or hot dogs from a railroad car

Burgers from a gas station? Coffee from a Fotomat? Hot dogs from a train? Yes, in North Jersey you can get all three — as well as prosciutto from a bank, espresso from a train station and cocktails from an 18th-century barn. Thanks to pricey real estate, the area has become home to some interestingly set restaurants — some of which you may have driven past a thousand times, never knowing they served food.

Here are a few worth checking out next time you pass:

Roseee’s Filling Station: 79 Harrison Ave., Garfield; 973-478-7674.

You don’t have to think too hard to figure out what this roadside diner used to be. The former Sunoco gas station has retained much of its auto-themed past, filling up customers with uniquely named salads and sandwiches in the two-bay garage where tune-ups and oil changes were performed prior to 2000.

Longfellow’s Coffee 2 Kiel Ave. (corner of Route 23 and Kinnelon Road), Kinnelon; 973-283-1551 or

If you drove up to the 7-by-17-foot kiosk prior to 2004, you could get photos printed, copied or enlarged in a parking lot Fotomat. Now you can get coffee, lattes and other hot and cold beverages, all without getting out of your car.

Hot Dog Caboose 211 Greenwood Ave., Midland Park; 201-444-2531 or

The 100-year-old caboose, which pulled up the rear of an operational train in Pennsylvania until the mid-1970s, previously acted as a gift shop and model train store in its current location. Since 2006, it’s ditched the Lionel memorabilia in favor of serving jazzed-up Sabrett hot dogs, hot sausages, ice cream and soda.

La Strada Deli 231 Godwin Ave., Midland Park; 201-670-9233 or

These days, the only accounts being balanced at this former New Jersey First National Bank are those of local diners picking up lunch. Since 1993, Italian favorites have filled the renovated space, homemade stromboli and bruschetta among them. Other chilled items are kept safe in the downstairs walk-in refrigerator positioned in an old vault.

Café Angelique 1 Piermont Road, Tenafly; 201-541-1010 or

The Tenafly railroad station has seen its fair share of history between its opening in 1872 and closing to passenger trains in 1966. It’s also seen some since, having served as a clothing store, a beauty salon and, beginning in 2004, an upscale French-inspired café where coffee and confections are always pulling into the station.

The Barn359 Sicomac Ave., Wyckoff; 201-848-0108 or

In 1779, in the midst of an agrarian age, the building was erected as a barn. In the early 1920s, it was converted into a tearoom. And in 1929, in the midst of Prohibition, it was flipped into a speakeasy, providing homemade booze for workers from the local silk mills. The food followed soon thereafter. In May, The Barn will celebrate its 80th anniversary as a burger, rib and steak joint where the booze flows legally and only the diners graze.