November 7, 2018

Owner of Homestead Princeton Saves Pieces of Hodge Road Home

DOWN TO THE FRONT DOOR: The stately, nine-bedroom home that stood for 96 years on Hodge Road was torn down recently due to damage from a fire, still under investigation, that broke out last July. A local shop was able to salvage some of the interior features. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

The fire that burned through the roof of a home at 140 Hodge Road last July has resulted, finally, in its demolition. Over the past few weeks, the elegant, 5,802-square-foot house was reduced to splinters of wood and brick, leaving only the gracious portico to stand forlornly amid the wreckage until it was removed.

The three-alarm blaze, which was reported at about 11:50 p.m. on July 18, is still under investigation, according to Bob Gregory, director of emergency services for the Princeton Fire Department. Built in 1922, the nine-bedroom house had been on and off the market for several years. It was empty of furnishings when firefighters searched its interior the night of the fire.

But the home had a number of architectural and design features that, especially to the trained eye, were worth saving. Ron Menapace, who owns the store Homestead Princeton on Hulfish Street with his wife, Kristin, and is in the salvage business, was able to remove some of those items before demolition began.

“I salvaged some mantels, a couple of doors, and some smaller items throughout the place,” Menapace said last week. “Unfortunately, the demolition happened faster than I would have liked, and there wasn’t a lot that I could have grabbed.”

Menapace described the property as “a grand, old house that a lot of people in Princeton knew about. I just can’t imagine having some of this beautiful detail work being put into a dumpster. This is more about preservation than anything else.”

The house had been vacant since last January, and was deeded to a bank. For many years previously, it had been the home of Howard Menand, a Princeton University alumnus, professor, and dean said to have held many University events there.

Two of the mantels Menapace was able to remove will be used in the store for holiday displays, he said. Others will go to the company’s warehouse in Skillman. “We do this a lot,” he added. “We tear down old barns, usually, and salvage the wood to make custom furniture. I’m keenly interested in architectural salvage and preserving some of the history of a structure or a town.”

Menapace was also able to remove a fireplace basket and a porcelain pedestal sink. He tried to salvage a clawfoot tub, but couldn’t get it out. Pulling up some flooring was equally difficult, so he had to abandon that effort.

“They had an elevator, so I got some of the old gears,” he said. “I got the butler’s call box, too. Really, whatever I could find that I thought was interesting, I removed if I could. The portico is beautiful, but it’s not really a market for us. The contractor would salvage it if someone wanted to buy it.”

For Menapace, the salvage process was a bittersweet experience. “I had mixed emotions,” he said. “It had to be done. The structure just wasn’t safe after the fire. It couldn’t have been renovated. But we are a dealer in history here. So on the one hand, it was sad to see some of the history of Princeton being dismantled. But this town is always renewing itself. There are always new structures coming in. So it will be interesting to see what will go up in its place.”