In One House, Five Generations of Montclair History

Lorraine1We 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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.
 

 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. What a great write up and story! And what a beautiful house! That stretch of Lorraine is one of my favorite in town; all of the original homes and just so, so many trees – it’s everything that makes Montclair great.

    Love all the information from the always fantastic Mr. FGG, but I don’t know how much I agree with his theory that this wasn’t built to be a year round home. It wouldn’t suprise me at all if the original owners were from New York (it would suprise me more if they weren’t, actually), but by 1890-1910 Montclair, even Upper Montclair, was posh and developed enough (relatively speaking) that most people moving out from the city were doing so to make it their perminant home. That’s the case with most of the grand homes in this Lorraine/Park St neighborhood, including the incredible 109 Lorraine across the street. And most developments in town at this time (Marlboro Park, Erwin Park) were being built as year round residences, so I’d assume this was meant as one as well.

    It does look architect designed though, and wouldn’t it be great to have discovered another ER North house in town!

    Let’s hope the house falls into hands of someone who appreciates it.These homes on Lorraine sit on large lots, and these are scary days in Montclair when a house like this goes up for sale with little in place to protect it. Let’s hope we’re not reading another story in a few months about how someone is hoping to tear this down and fit two newer homes in its place.

    Who’s a man gotta bribe to get a little historic protection and piece of mind in this town?

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