Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. unveiled the county’s Kip’s Castle renovation plans Wednesday designed to bring the century-old home into the 21st century while maintaining its historical integrity.
On hand to hear the county executive describe Phase One of the renovation project at the summit of Kip's Castle Park were Verona Mayor Frank Sapienza, Deputy Mayor Bob Manley, Verona Township Manager Joseph Martin, Kip's Castle Conservancy members Anthony Ambrosio and Jane Eliasof, as well as Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill and Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura
“We have restored the roadways, paths and lighting with grant money from Green Acres and open space,” said DiVincenzo. “We will complete phase after phase until it looks like it did in 1902.”
This next phase of Kip's Castle renovations will include fixing or replacing some of its original stain glass windows, replacing the roof to ensure it remains water-tight to preserve the furniture and decorative paintings, adding some ramps and a chair lift to make the first floor handicap accessible, installation of a handicap-accessible bathroom and various masonry work for the deterioration of archways.
Comito and Associates of Newark will design the $1.5 million project while Dell Tech of Trenton will complete the renovations to the property located at 22 Crestmont Road in Verona. The project should be completed before Winter 2013, officials said.
Although the Rhine-style castle, built by Frederick Kip from 1902-1905, may resemble an old English residence, it has many roots in Verona.
The castle, built for Kip's wife, Charlotte Bishop Williams Kip, was constructed using trap rock from the Marley Quarry, which used to be at the site near where Bloomfield Avenue meets Pompton Avenue.
The castle was the home of Frederick E. Kip and Charlotte Bishop Williams from 1905-1926.
Charlotte Williams is credited with both the design and decoration of the building. Construction actually started in 1898, but was stopped because Charlotte Williams was unhappy with the design.
The castle, which was originally in Montclair, now straddles the border of both Montclair and Verona.
In the 1980s, there was a rumor if Verona didn't buy the 11-acre property, a religious cult was going to. The rumor turned out to be true and for five years an Indian religious cult that wore purple robes with black hoods bought the house.
While there, the cult painted the entire first floor white, removed all the original door knobs and replaced almost all the stain glass windows. The windows were kept in the carriage house before they were sold to a man in Montclair. In total, 82 stain glass windows were sold off.
After the cult left, it sold the property to a law firm, who turned the top two floors into offices. Now the top two floors are not open for any tours because they are filled with Essex County offices.
The improvements at Kip's Castle is especially significant for Kip's Castle Conservancy member Anthony Ambrosio who recounted a close call when the castle was almost torn down to make way for 144 senior living residences.
“I said, “Not in my lifetime and not in my backyard,” he told the crowd on Wednesday. “Joe D. showed up and spoke to residents. He is a true leader and understands what people need.”
Instead of tearing it town, Kip's Castle and its 11 acres were purchased by Essex County for $5.6 million and is now used for tours and various outdoor activities.
“Thank you to the mayor, Verona council and township manager for working to preserve Kip's Castle,” said DiVincenzo. “But the real credit goes to the community. It's about our children, our grandchildren and the future.”