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Brookdale Newsroom

Brookdale Students Join Effort to Preserve, Restore Fort Hancock
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Brookdale interior design students and faculty have partnered with the National Park Service (NPS) to help reimagine one of the Jersey Shore’s most iconic historical landmarks.

Over the last five months, ten students worked with professor Celeste Chirichello, instructor Erica Tufaro and NPS officials to create comprehensive redevelopment proposals for three buildings at Fort Hancock, the decommissioned military base on the northern tip of Sandy Hook.

The proposals – which were showcased to local builders during an open house tour on June 6 –  envision bringing a bed-and-breakfast, a banquet hall and a combination night club and bowling alley to the fort.

Jillian Gutleber, of Little Silver, worked with two classmates to reimagine Building 50, a 14,000-square-foot former YMCA facility located near the center of the fort. Currently, she said, the building is “not much to look at.” With a little work, however, it could be a multi-story banquet facility capable of accommodating weddings, craft fairs, trade shows, fundraisers and other special events, she said.

“Being from the area and living close by, you kind of understand the area and what was here and what could be,” said Gutleber. “Everything here is so beautiful, so peaceful, and we really want people to just take a second and imagine the possibilities. We could make this something so much more than it is.”

Fort Hancock, a U.S. Army installation that grew up around the Sandy Hook Lighthouse beginning in the early 19th century, was used for coastal defense and military training throughout World War I, World War II and the Cold War. It was decommissioned in 1974. In the decades since, dozens of the fort’s unused buildings have fallen into disrepair, putting the future of the designated historical landmark at risk.

Officials with the NPS’s Gateway National Recreation Area are now working with private developers, builders and community partners to bring new life to Fort Hancock, while preserving its historical legacy for generations to come. One challenge, however, lies in helping prospective builders envision potential new uses for each building. And that, said Chirichello, is where interior design students come in.

“We decided to create a large capstone project for our upper-level students, in which they completed many hours of research, site visits, interviews and design work for specific buildings at Fort Hancock,” said Chirichello, who oversaw the partnership with retired Brookdale professor Patty Blaser. “The final designs were presented to the NPS and are now being used to help builders imagine the possibilities of these buildings. And the work they did was incredible. Simply incredible.”

The partnership began in 2016, when teams of upper-level students were tasked with reimagining Fort Hancock’s old officers’ homes as modern residential units. Students had to conduct extensive research and meet with a variety of officials to ensure each design accounted for contemporary building codes and aesthetics while maintaining the historic character of the buildings.

The completed proposals – which included floor plans, drawings, 3-D renderings, lighting designs, furnishing plans and other specifications – were submitted to the NPS and the 20-member Fort Hancock 21st Century Advisory Committee last year.

A rendering of a night club and bowling alley in Fort Hancock's Building 70, created by Brookdale interior design students. Photo courtesy of Emily Leppig.

A rendering of a night club and bowling alley in Fort Hancock’s Building 70, created by Brookdale interior design students. Photo courtesy of Emily Leppig.

The partnership was renewed this spring, when NPS representatives asked a new group of students to tackle three larger buildings with potential commercial and public applications.

“The Brookdale interior design students’ conceptual projects were very creative, and the presentations at our recent NJ Shore Builders Open House were well received,” said Pam McLay, Chief of Business Services at Gateway National Recreation Area. “These projects really help illustrate the many ways that historic rehabilitation will make Fort Hancock a living community.”

Louise Hosseini and three classmates were assigned to Building 25, a former barracks that was one of the first in the army’s history to provide exclusive housing for women in the 1940’s. That legacy, Hosseini said, helped influence the team’s concept for a beachside bed-and-breakfast.

“There is so much historic importance here, and we really felt that during our research,” said Hosseini, of Lincroft. “We wanted to bring the building back to the past while providing for modern comforts and amenities. We proposed removing walls that were added in the 1970’s and 80’s, but we made sure to preserve the historic tin ceilings. We also designed a bed-and-breakfast that would be open to a wide range of incomes, to ensure that everyone has access to this beautiful setting.”

As proposed, the team’s bed-and-breakfast would offer dormitories and hostel-style accommodations for tour groups and visiting students while providing private suites for couples and families. The facility’s restaurant would be open to the public.

Emily Leppig, of Middletown, worked with two classmates to transform Building 70, an 8,700-square-foot former gym and postal building. Recognizing a need for both refreshment and recreation at the fort, the team decided to propose a night club and bowling alley. It didn’t hurt, Leppig said, that there was already a bowling alley in the basement.

“Once we saw it, we knew what we were doing,” said Leppig.

While preserving some of the building’s art deco characteristics, and introducing historically influenced design elements such as fans that look like boat turbines, Leppig said her team took the opportunity to imagine something new and exciting for Fort Hancock.

“The builders we showed it to loved the concept,” Leppig said. “I really hope someone would want to use our design, or even just take some inspiration from it. I would love for this little town to become something new that people would want to come visit. It has so much potential.”

The students’ designs, including specifications, floor plans and other supporting documentation, are now available to builders and community members interested in leasing a facility at Fort Hancock. To learn more about Fort Hancock or to inquire about leasing opportunities, click here.

Learn more about Brookdale’s interior design program here. 

Check out more photos of the students and their designs for Fort Hancock here