We all have family heirlooms that pass through generations. Usually they’re small things like photos, military medals, or jewelry. But for five generations, one Montclair family’s heirloom has been a house at 102 Lorraine Avenue. And now that house is about to enter a new phase of its history.
Built in 1902 by Edwin Goodell, the Fernald Gonzalez House was bought by the current owner’s grandparents, Charles Fernald and Olga (Hoff) Fernald, in December 1923. Since that time, the house has been in the family, and the family has been in the house.
“The curtain is closing on five generations of the Fernald-Hoff family in Montclair,” says Martin Gonzalez, the last in the family line of to have the keys to 102. “As no one in the family is spending much time here any more, it’s time to release the house for another family to enjoy.”
Having such a long unbroken chain of ownership for one house in Montclair offers a distinct view of the town’s history. Perhaps the most notable part of its provenance is that while the house sits in the middle of a prime suburban-commuter community, that was not at all the case when it was built at the turn of the 20th century.
In a “Historic Provenance Report” of the property written by local historian Frank Gerard Godlewski, he notes, “It probably served primarily first as a weekend getaway in a resort destination . . . This building and neighborhood were probably part of a development project conceived for recreational living and entertainment for its proximity of the nearby developing Country Club, across Grove Street.”
Gonzalez sees the house’s lineage as “a very interesting glimpse of a Montclair that is no more—as a weekend ‘sporting’ resort community,” and says the architecture suggests a house that “was built with a very different vision of Montclair, as weekend or seasonal resort community for well-to-do New Yorkers—sort of like the Hamptons of today, than that vision of Montclair we know so well now, as predominantly a bedroom community to NYC.”
Even the basic architecture helps tell this story. The large bay windows and multiple porches suggest weekends of tranquility and taking in scenic views. Godlewski says the house is “emblematic of fine Montclair architecture” from the era, pointing out that “the hybrid classical revival craftsman design is similar to several works by the notable Montclair architect Effingham North.”
Now that the house on Lorraine Ave. is being readied for sale, Gonzalez is making sure that his family’s history is preserved. He’s assembling a booklet of photos to complement Godlewski’s historical report—a document that can become the new heirloom for the next generations. “We’re saying farewell to a house that has treated so many Fernald-Hoff generations so well,” he says, “and preparing to hand over the house in the best possible shape to a new family to enjoy.”
Before that next family adds its own chapters to the house’s story, Gonzalez is both mindful of the house’s historical importance and grateful for what it’s meant to him and his ancestors. “Anyway you look at it,” he says, “five generations of enjoying the town—and amazingly, all members of each generation spent some time in the house in Montclair—is a heck of a good run in our transient American society.”
Color photos by Mike Peters; historical photos courtesy Martin Gonzalez.