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.