Blog: Save Montclair’s Historic Social Fabric

BY  |  Friday, Oct 07, 2016 12:15pm

Baristanet-BlogsThe community’s unique social fabric of people and economic diversity is what mostly defines Montclair’s “sense of place” and this identity is the most important legacy to preserve to “Save Montclair.”

To quote Aldo Rossi, “One can say that the city itself is the collective memory of its people … The city is the locus of the collective memory.”

Montclair’s significance to American history, aside from its valuable architectural development, is that it is a place remembered for diversity and freedom when there wasn’t freedom elsewhere. There were diverse landowners in neighborhoods like Frog Hollow and nearby Crane’s Gap, documented since before the American Revolution. This remarkable history is just part of the social fabric, there is even more. There are those who gifted fortunes to insure education and good quality of life for all. This rare and diverse social fabric is emblematic to Montclair’s longtime community, its identity and its memory.

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Frank GG: Consider Montclair’s Past When Planning for the Future

BY  |  Friday, Apr 20, 2012 1:45pm  |  COMMENTS (34)

Below is a statement from a 1909 development study, the Nolen Report, that resulted in today’s existing characteristics of Montclair Center. The study was attempting to develop a town center for what was then the second richest community in the United States. (Note that the width of South Park Street was due to the requirements of parallel parking for limousines!). The new projects currently on the township’s table ignore Montclair’s valuable past and the unique characteristics that make Montclair someplace and not just anyplace. Nolen’s 1909 statement is even more significant today, since we are about to lose all of what made Montclair one of the finest places to live, and what could be preserved to be one of the most important destinations of cultural tourism in the New York area. The images at bottom are from the Nolan Report, the Donato Digeronomo Collection and the Montclair Times 1922 Houses Collection.

The Nolen Report statement:

The Montclair of today has already, largely through thoughtlessness, created innumerable scars, blots upon the fair, natural face of the country, and, except in the beauty of private places, it has added little to atone for its destruction. The continuation of the present policy would be fatal. The Montclair of tomorrow should witness the preservation and, in some cases, the restoration of the natural attractiveness of the place, and should provide in many ways a new and more appropriate type of town development, one that will be worth more than its cost and add immeasurably to the daily satisfaction of everybody living in Montclair. The banding of the townspeople together to achieve these results will do even more-it will nourish a better town spirit. (John Nolen, March 6, 1909)

The Nolen Report prepared for the Municipal Arts Council of Montclair in 1909 was an urban planning survey that would have been used to provide an appropriate type of town development. Mr. Nolen’s examples suggest a rural English countryside hamlet look for buildings and a Town Commons, using the site of the old cemetery (now the Siena Building site). Since Victorian and Shingle Style architecture was going out of style, several houses and buildings had Tudor makeovers: 80 South Mountain, 121 South Mountain,14 Undercliff and the Marlboro Inn are examples of Tudor makeovers. I would think that from the 1910s to the late 1930s several local builders were engaged to satisfy this demand.

What we have at Montclair Center at present as an existing built condition is a combination of various buildings that came to be one by one prior to 1910 and then afterwards new additions that follow the Nolen Plan’s recommendations.

The Nolen Plan, however, is the strongest design concept in Montclair’s planning history that led to the general built landscape that characterizes the town today. The Nolen Plan concept and the natural landscape are what make Montclair valuable and unique. It was created to correctly develop a town that was then the second wealthiest community pro capita in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century. I would strongly urge the Township to evaluate and respect the guidelines of the Nolen Plan in any further development of Montclair Center because it is an extremely valuable study whose implementation set the tone for Montclair’s unique and valuable built landscape.

Recycling the Nolen Plan into the present and respecting its guidelines as much as possible would insure maintaining Montclair’s important historical characteristics, thus reinforcing local property values.

My Favorite Place: Pals Cabin

BY  |  Wednesday, Feb 15, 2012 10:30am  |  COMMENTS (41)

What was Thomas Edison ‘s favorite dish? Just a mile away, he had an industry producing over 2,900 patents of the world’s first electrical appliances, while his wife received international scientists and other inventors. Did the Edison houseguests, like Madame Currie or Eastman (Kodak) try the famous mushroom soup? Edison’s daughter, who also lived in nearby Llewellyn Park in a fairytale inspired rustic French Style Castle, affrescoed with madrigal scenes, did she take her kids to Pals for hotdogs? Or her brother Governor Edison, who lived next door in his Buckingham Palace inspired stone mansion? Of course!!

Pals Tap Room was a favorite spot for the local industrial age millionaires, who ventured over the Mountain at Eagle Rock to enjoy local grilled fare, while hobnobbing with other celebrities. They came to enjoy the view of the dawning of the new world, the spectacle of the skyscrapers rising in the distance, illuminated by Mr. Edison’s miraculous invention of electric lights. Guests from the nearby five star Hotel Montclair, (now the site of the Rockcliffe) would venture to Pals for the famous grilled meats and mushroom specialties. Montclair and Llewellyn Park, perhaps the wealthiest neighborhoods in the world at that moment, lay just at the foot of the hill. At that time, the roster of names was said to be like opening one’s medicine cabinet….Colgate, Yardley, Wilkenson, Merck and then there were the Sinclairs, the Goodyears, Auchinclosses and Roosevelts, many of whom enjoyed cruises together on luxury liners or trips to nightclubs in Bermuda, some “hot spots” designed by the very same internationally famous nightclub designers of Pals Tap Room. Continue Reading

Frank GG: Saturday Night Fever Revisited

BY  |  Tuesday, Oct 25, 2011 10:00am  |  COMMENTS (22)

Like a mirage that appeared and vanished, the legendary Studio 54 — the club that ruled late 70’s early 80s NYC nightlife — opened last week for just one more night thanks to a spectacular party organized by Sirius Radio.

I was 17 on Studio 54’s opening night. I went regularly, twice a week for its duration. Last week, we danced and danced and danced just like back then!

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A Visit to Paterson

BY ,  |  Saturday, Sep 03, 2011 10:00am  |  COMMENTS (3)

Baristanet’s great friend Frank Gerard Godlewski visited Paterson yesterday, two days ahead of President Obama, both to see the splendor of the great falls and the misery caused by hurricane flooding. He sent us this Flickr set and passed on some information for donating money or time.

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Coasting in Montclair

BY  |  Wednesday, Jan 26, 2011 10:02am  |  COMMENTS (2)

Barista Kids recently ran a list of some of the best sledding launches in Baristaville. Now historian, architect and curator Frank Gerard Godlewski gives us a history lesson on the best sledding launches of long ago.

This 1890’s photo illustrates a group of Montclairians begining a coasting descent from the intersection of South Mountain and Hillside Avenues, originally the site of a natural spring.

Defined by all old maps as a horseshoe-like configuration, this place served as a starting point for villagers’ sleigh riding meets. (On the pictured 1857 map, it looks like an amphitheater.) This spot was still a favorite public venue after the springs were closed; townspeople would meet there to go coasting. The springs site was replaced with a Second Empire French Mansion (pictured in the 1890’s photo) that was demolished to build the current Gates Mansion in 1902. Continue Reading

Featured Comment

Montclair is relatively heterogenous and, it could fairly be said, takes pride in its diversity. Has Montclair named a street or school after Dr. King? Why is that?

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