Montclair History: The Landmark Legacy of Lackawanna Plaza

Lackawanna Plaza

When the Montclair Lackawanna Station was built in 1913, it was nationally acclaimed as the most handsome suburban railroad terminal in the United States. It was built to serve the second wealthiest suburban community in America and the illustrious men and women who were shaping American History at the dawning of the 20th century. The terminal’s styling, by architect William Hull Botsford, is consistent with a design movement of new stations all over Europe at that time.

Lackawanna Plaza
A similar styled station at Danzig

When train service began in Montclair in 1857, (then West Bloomfield), a wealthy newcomer, Julius Pratt, invested $4,000,000 to create the township’s first train line. Aesthetics were remarkably important to Mr. Pratt, who also built what was considered the most amazing showplace in town, “Apple Grove,” a mansion on Elm Street (presently the Martin Funeral Home.)

Pratt also felt that the name “West Bloomfield” was not beautiful enough to attract desirable newcomers, so he rallied for the new, more picturesque name, “Montclair.” Thus, began the important aesthetic legacy when planning for the development of the township and the characteristic style standards of Montclair.

lackawanna plaza
Julius Pratt, creator of the name “Montclair”

Because of the beauty of Montclair’s natural landscape, the future development of the township was entrusted to the foremost artists, architects and planners of the time, like resident painter George Inness, his follower Fredrick Law Olmsted and thus, the Olmsted team’s student, John Nolen, who not only created Montclair’s first Master Plan, but what is considered to be America’s first Master Plan for a suburban community. The station previous to this was not considered impressive enough to serve as a gateway to this prosperous Railroad suburb. Through a cooperative effort between the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad and the town officials, the new terminal was built and all the surrounding area was improved.

The original 1857 train depot site with Toney’s Brook and “Mud Lake” currently the site of the former Pathmark Parking Lot

John Nolen proposed “Railroad stations and their surrounding areas be improved in terms of safety and appearance.” The genesis of the terminal improvement was planned and together with the upgrade in rail service from Manhattan, plans for the redesign of the site began.

The NY Times of June 29, 1913 exclaims: Montclair Joyous in New Terminal.
The author then goes on to say:

When the plans for the new Lackawanna Railroad station at Montclair were prepared, the architects made every effort to make it one of the most artistic suburban stations in the country. The Grecian Doric style of architecture was adopted with a colonnade for the main entrances through a loggia having entrances direct to the main waiting rooms and train concourse. The entrances to three driveways are flanked by gate posts of tapestry brick, surmounted by electric light fixtures of hammered copper. The grounds about the station have been improved with lawns and shrubs.

The walls of the station are faced with genuine tapestry brick and all trimmings are of marble chip concrete adding much to the beauty of the exterior of the building.

The same good taste was used in the interior decorations. The walls of the main waiting room are faced with buff colored pressed brick, the wall surfaces being broken pilasters and a molded belt course sixteen feet above the floor line. The floor is of marble chip terrazzo, the color of which was selected to harmonize with the walls. The ceiling is paneled with heavy oak beams.

Montclairians lauded the train officials for the quality and appearance of their new terminal and the Lackawanna officials received a proclamation from the residents of Montclair for their – “appreciation of the generous spirit toward the town and the spirit of friendly co-operation”. It was noted that residents would be able to reach the “metropolis from this station in 30 minutes. Surely this is bringing the great city near to our door, and it will appeal to the many a city businessman who longs to spend his nights in comfortable quiet while he breathes the invigorating atmosphere of our mountain altitude”.

Commemorative Booklet. Montclair Celebrates the Opening of its new Lackawanna Terminal, June 28, 1913.
Collection of the Montclair Public Library.

June 28, 1913 – over 300 invited guests joined in the celebration of the opening of the newly completed Montclair Lackawanna Railroad Terminal. School children lined the processional route, waving flags, as the assembled dignitaries congratulated each other before partaking in a luncheon at the Hotel Montclair, which included turtle soup, filet mignon, and French ice cream.

Notably absent from the festivities was the man who designed “the handsomest and best arranged suburban railroad terminal in the United States…” according to the Montclair Times of June 28. That young man, William Hull Botsford, died in the Titanic tragedy, April 15, 1912, and another Delaware- Lackawanna & Western architect, Frank J. Nies, took his place on the dais.

Because of the historic importance of Lackawanna Plaza and its role as an anchor that reflects the emblematic character of the original planning of Montclair, much attention must be given in future development to protect this valuable legacy. Steps can be taken in re-development of Lackawanna Plaza that could preserve the character of Montclair’s landmark station. According to international architectural historian Kathleen Bennet, Chair of the Montclair HPC:

“The Lackawanna Train Station site is listed on the national and state preservation registers (1973 and 1972, respectively). It is considered a local landmark in the Township Center Historic District (2003) where the former waiting room building is listed as a “Key” building, the highest classification in terms of building importance. This is a site with multi-faceted historic significance which could be sensitively developed to accommodate the needs of both the community and the developer. The surviving historic fabric remaining within the site of the former Lackawanna station must be saved and celebrated as highly significant to the development of Montclair. The arrival of the railroad in Montclair signaled a shift from an agricultural society into a commuter suburb. It is the reason we are the Montclair of today.”

Some Historic Views of the Original Lackawanna Plaza Area:

lackawanna plaza




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  1. Its also important to understand that the Lackawanna Train Station site is listed on the national and state preservation registers (1973 and 1972, respectively).  It is considered a local landmark in the Township Center Historic District (2003) where the former waiting room building is listed as a “Key” building, the highest classification in terms of building importance.

  2. Totally rocked! There was the BEST Rhythm and Blues music and the shoppers were friendly and talked to each other… it would take me at least an hour to shop because it was so relaxing and fun… then I would treat myself to Popeyes Chicken strips… I LOVED the red Dixieland murals… I even remember using the train to Hoboken when I was a schoolboy…

  3. Nice Article, Frank!
    Where did you get all the info and that opening day program- online?
    Where was the last photo taken -of the steam train over a large wooden trestle?
    Looks like CGrove.

    There are a lot of glass plate 1900s photos being released on RR locations around NJ incl. Montclair and GRdg via Steamtown archives. Visit the DL&W FB page to see some.

  4. Thanks RR!
    Most of the info and images come from the Montclair Public Library online database of images including the Nolen Report Rough Draft, provided by the Richard Stanton Family Archives (preserved by the librar). There is an excellent report based on research by Kathleen M. Bennett, chair of the HPC. Other items come from my history collection. The steam train is from the library database and the footnote says Toney’s Brook at Glen Ridge.

  5. Do they really want to build those big masses of building volume over Toney’s Brook and the lake that is currently the Pathmark Parking lot? (besides – the present roads couldn’t support the additional volume of traffic) I can’t understand how those big building masses could be done without water infiltration problems, not to mention pollution to the water table. Another concern are the historic concrete structures of the Grove Street Bridge… they are quite an advanced engineering feature for the day, done with the collaboration of Thomas Edison who owned Portland cement. (I love the luminous glass globes… some prominent Montclair homeowners ordered them for their gateposts) Edison did similar collaborations for structures at Silver Lake in Bloomfield/Belleville for the Newark Subway. The bridge feature and luminous globe gateposts should not be lost by this development.

  6. Thanks Frank.

    The new, 100+ page Lackawanna Redevelopment Plan bothers me. I expected better, especially the allowed heights and minimal stepbacks. (Martin?)

    It doesn’t properly address so many issues: the expanses of solid, ground level walls & dead spaces, the orientation of the supermarket, the Grove Street redesign, and the building material choices. Don’t get me started about the parking. Crazy.

    Thankfully, we have expedited the process. Bully for us.

  7. You wrote a FASCINATING article, Frank! (With great photos, too!)

    Seeing this makes it even more disturbing to think about what Lackawanna Plaza might become if the current plan to overdevelop it gets approved. Not only would the plan be way too dense (affecting Bloomfield Avenue traffic and more) but the changed LP promises to be nowhere near as visually appealing as the original train station.

    It seems the Lackawanna Plaza plan will be discussed at this Tuesday evening’s Township Council meeting (May 23). Hope there’s a good turnout!

  8. Yes, Dr. Baskerville thought the design tasteful.
    Well, she should stick to her strengths. Look closely at the renderings. If you like them, you are candidates for the Planning Board.
    I would pick apart the renderings, but what S the point?

  9. Thank you daveastor the Lackawanna Station certainly is a masterpiece of architecture and engineering for its time. And Frank, I agree with you.

    If you are not trained in architecture, perhaps its not within your skill set to read the architectural drawings + renderings and have a full understanding of what the built project would be like if built. The results would be the opposite of tasteful, instead, destructive.

    Its also a shame that the Fourth Ward has already lost too many landmarks, like the Washington Street YMCA, The ME African American Cemetery, Saint Vincent’s Hospital by Dudley Van Antwerp (where I was born!! LOL) Wheeler’s Mill, some Crane Farmhouses, The Baldwin Estate, The Bierman House and soon, The Aubrey Lewis House. The proposed project ruins most of the historical fabric of the landmark site. Its a pity that the the Fourth Ward will no longer have landmarks.

  10. “The proposed project ruins most of the historical fabric of the landmark site. Its a pity that the the Fourth Ward will no longer have landmarks.”

    The 4th Ward has never, ever cared about historic preservation….telling the truth and shaming the devil.

  11. The 4th ward cares little about historic preservation and Dr. Baskerville knows nothing about land use and architecture. While on the Planning Board she approved the overbuilt footprint for the now Valley and Bloom site.

    She also approved the Assisted Living facility while on the Board and gave away like 85 downtown public parking spots there to developers with nothing gained in return. That actually hurt our commercial downtown real estate business.

    Baskerville appears to fall for every dangled threat and crisis claim the developers use on her. And they are working her again now playing those constituent fears.

    The fact is for this 4th ward Lackawanna 4th site, she and the Council sat on their asses for two years jerking around with the developer. After saying it was the smartest fiscal move in the world to bring a municipal complex there — now they’re letting the same developers get over and not bring in the municipal government. But where the serious public explanation why?

    The real reason is they’re afraid of growing public pressure from their own delays after not delivering a development and supermarket quickly enough to that space. Baskerville’s supporters are not concerned about the Lackawanna train station as a historic building. “The white folks uptown got a new supermarket right away when A&P folded…why can’t t we”? And that’s the heat now.

    Remember how the 4th ward handled the loss of the historic Washington Street Y, one of the first all black Y’s nationally and clearly a historic building from Montclair’s racist past? Not a whimper when it became part of the Bullock school build, even with the loss of the kids gym and pool down there.

    Without substantial preservation public push back on all this today..expect this Council to try and ram rod a development through now.

  12. The demographics of the 4th ward constituency have changed over the last 5-7 years. There are new residents and homeowners who are independent thinkers and do not see everything through a race-tinted lens.

  13. Removing the anchor landmarks of Montclair’s Fourth Ward is bad and lowers real estate values, not only in the Fourth Ward but all over town. But what is worse, is what these characteristic landmark buildings are being replaced with. These new re development constructions are the nails on the coffin of the community’s existing social fabric and old time Fourth Ward residents are being driven out because of the rising non affordability. I find it irresponsible of the council to promote this type of redevelopment currently on the table. Even if these over scaled out of character building volumes offer some affordable housing, the units will go to lists of applicants, mostly from elsewhere and not to Fourth Ward Residents in need. Also – why hasn’t a bi-weekly pop-up groceries market been organized in Glenfield Park and Nishuane Park? Its wrong to push through distasteful and inappropriate building volumes just to resolve the need of a grocery market. There are more intelligent solutions. The demographics of the Fourth Ward constituency has dramatically changed over the last 5 – 7 years because there has been no attempts to preserve the social fabric and the neighborhoods.

  14. This is a Super Cover from the “Commemorative Booklet. Montclair Celebrates the Opening of its new Lackawanna Terminal, June 28, 1913.
    Collection of the Montclair Public Library.”

    I searched the Digital Library vigoursly, and cannot find this booklet.
    Do you have it, and more images from it?
    Pls check your email.

  15. “There are new residents and homeowners who are independent thinkers and do not see everything through a race-tinted lens.”

    Well, they’re not Republicans and Democrats. So what do we call these new folk? Independents?

    Do you have to live in the 1st Ward to run for 1st Ward office?

  16. I’d wager that most folks don’t have the luxury of being able to care about historical preservation, to far down on the list.

  17. While I would like to disagree, I’m going to defer to your insight on this one about residents of Montclair, stayhyphy. I think preservation is important, so, I agree, I am part of a small, outlier segment. A segment that I thought was diverse…but, obviously an anomaly.

    In the bigger scheme of things, I like to think that limited economic means is NOT an obstacle for people’s capacity to do something for the greater good – and make it a priority. I won’t concede that point. We’ll just have to disagree how many people like that are living in Montclair.

  18. “I like to think that limited economic means is NOT an obstacle for people’s capacity to do something for the greater good – and make it a priority”

    Whose greater good? Don’t put the cart before the horse. Its NOT a greater good if no one cares. Just saying most would agree that things like health care and education come first. Historical preservation is pretty low on the list of social goods.

  19. “Whose greater good?” Exactly. “Just saying most would agree that things like health care and education come first.” Without question. It’s just these, as you tie them in here, are not greater goods. These are ‘good for me’ type of things. Healthcare is about wallets and education is big because their children in the system. Not a greater good.

    HP has been and continues to decline in this town as an important public good…and hence the same decline in public policy. It is no big mystery and certainly not because our residents are focused on the more selfless, national issues. It is simply the township is getting younger and HP has never had a youngish following. Many of the long-tim participants still active are no longer relevant or hold positions of influence.

    I’d rather residents admit they just don’t care. But, to say most residents don’t have the luxury of caring… Well, I’ll just leave it there.

  20. What is not being understood is that the best and most important benefit of historic preservation for Montclair is the preservation of the existing social fabric for the existing community and for those who are attracted to Montclair for its beauty and it’s diversity. You begin by perserving neighborhoods and their longtime residents within their existing homes and streetscapes. You fix what’s broken and introduce improvements. You begin by insuring affordability and maintaining neighborhoods with their familiar scale and streetscapes, anchor buildings and landmarks. You preserve the social fabric by not introducing over scale redevelopment that is out of character with the existing landscape and lives, that outprices long time multi generational residents from the existing community. This is the mistake that would be made allowing for this type of overdevelopment that the proposed Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment project would do. It is not tasteful, instead, it’s ugly because it’s inappropriate… it will have people flying from this blunder.

  21. N o w i t i s 8 5 , 0 0 0 S q u a r e F e e t.

    2 , 0 0 0 + C a r T r I p s D a i l y.

    B i g B o x R e t a i l.

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