Montclair History: The Darden Sisters, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine

BY  |  Friday, Apr 14, 2017 2:45pm

The Darden House montclair

The Darden sisters, Norma Jean and Carol Darden Lloyd, currently living in Manhattan, have immortalized their magnificent Montclair home and family history in a 1978 book now reaching its fifth edition, Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine.

Their parents, Dr. Walter Darden and his wife Mamie Jean, had acquired their Montclair property at 266 Orange Road in 1946. The house employed a butler, a maid and a gardener. Dr. Darden built the garden apartment complex behind their home as a business venture.

The Darden House montclair

Dr. Darden, was born in Wilson, N.C. He was an alumnus of Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., and of the Howard University Medical School in Washington. He moved to Newark to join a colleague and stayed on in private practice. He was one of the first black men to be a guest in the audience of the then-segregated Cotton Club of Harlem where he acted as physician.

Among his patients, friends and Montclair houseguests were Sara Vaughn, Lena Horne, Billy Eckstein, the Duke Ellington band, as well as Sammy Davis Junior. From the sports world, Larry Doby, Jackie Robinson, Monte Irving and the Newark Eagles baseball team that meet frequently at the Darden house. The Dardens with Harold Shot and Congressman Peter Rodino did fundraising and organizing for the Montclair chapter of the NAACP. The Dardens were also affiliates of education pioneer Mary McCleod Bethune and hosted her often in their home in Montclair.

Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine intends to be a historical family cookbook, but it is of even greater value as it presents an exceptional social history. Norma Jean and Carole Darden also have two restaurants in Harlem – Miss Mamie’s at 366 W. 110th St., named after her mother, and Mrs. Maude’s at 547 Lenox Ave., named after her aunt.

The Darden House montclair

Both graduates of Sarah Lawrence, Carole was a social worker, Norma, a Wilhemina model before they wrote the 1979 cookbook that launched them into the celebrity food world.

The recipes and family stories in Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine came from their Southern roots: corn pone, spareribs, peach cobbler, banana pudding. Their grandfather, Charles Darden born before the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, was a great inspiration also. Papa Darden, a former slave that became an undertaker was quite known for his recipes for fruit based wines and pine needle beers.

A request to cook for a Channel Thirteen event led to the birth of the Darden Sister’s catering company. Catering has its own challenges they say, like one time they packed up Norma Jean’s Porsche in front of their home on Orange Road before doing a catering gig and the huge quantity of coleslaw began to create a big white puddle under the car. Another time, an order of fried chicken fell out of the back door of the delivery van and was stolen by onlookers waiting at a bus stop. Norma had to buy more chicken and two fryers and then find a hiding place where she could prepare it on the fly at the event. Years later, when a space opened next to the catering kitchen, it seemed natural to open a small restaurant.

When the cookbook came out, despite its glorious history, the Hahnes Department Store in Montclair declined to sell the book. In an interview on the Martha Stewart Show, where Norma Jean was presenting her story, she said that she had learned many recipes from her father. Stewart smiled and asked, “Oh, your father was a cook?” Norma Jean smiled back at Stewart who had apparently not read the book and replied, “No my father was a medical doctor.” The audience giggled.

The Darden House montclair


Today, the Darden House is the lovingly preserved home of Senator Nia Gill, Thurston Briscoe, and Bradley Gill.

Montclair History: Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, An Innovative Woman

BY  |  Wednesday, Mar 08, 2017 3:02pm

Lillian gilbreth

The Gilbreth “Cheaper by the Dozen” house at 68 Eagle Rock Way in Montclair (now demolished)

Today, we celebrate International Women’s’ Day as part of Women’s History Month to showcase the achievements of notable women from the past and present. However, back in the 1920s -30s -40s it was perhaps quite “remarkable” for a wife and mother from “comfortable” Montclair (then the second wealthiest town per capita in the USA), to be acclaimed as an engineer and inventor, so perhaps for this reason, Montclair’s Dr. Lillian Gilbreth kept a reserved profile.

Did you know that the magic “triangle” in kitchen design as we know it today, is thanks to Gilbreth, the “Cheaper by the Dozen” Montclair’s mother of 12? And the world-famous pedal operated domestic garbage pail? Gilbreth worked with her husband (previously a building contractor) as a team of motion efficiency experts for industries.  The Gilbreths lived in a 14-room Victorian at 68 Eagle Rock Way in the Stonebridge section of Montclair and are subjects of the novels and films, written by son Frank Jr. and daughter Ernestine. It’s curious to think that the children wished to pay tribute to their remarkable mother with fictional works “Cheaper By Dozen” and a second book and film, “Belles on Their Toes” when their mother was such an amazing and accomplished figure in real life. One of the 12 children had died before the Cheaper by the Dozen book was written and the book apparently served to memorialize the fact that there were 12.  

The original 1950 film, is shot in California but attempts were made to characterize the atmosphere of life in our “signature suburb” with their house, the neighborhood, the Lackawanna Train Station and even a dance at Montclair High.

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Montclair History: Afterglow “Knocks a Homer”

BY  |  Tuesday, Feb 21, 2017 1:00pm  |  COMMENTS (3)


Afterglow, a panoramic neighborhood at the top of the mountain in Montclair, is one of those magical places of rare and outstanding beauty, especially for its characteristic mountain top sunsets. The legendary yellow brick road, that rises steeply from Bloomfield Avenue behind MKA, is a vintage technological feature thought to facilitate the assent by car in an era before the invention of fuel ejectors. Still at the beginning of the 20th century, Montclair was considered a “climatic station” a health resort destination for New York’s rich and famous. While the nearby, five star, Montclair Inn and the Mononomock Inn of Caldwell were thriving as a world class resorts and the big band era’s Meadowbrook Club was in full swing in Cedar Grove, Afterglow began to populate with luxurious mountain top weekend getaway estates. And long before baseball legend Yogi Berra moved to Montclair, there was Belleclaire, an Afterglow estate that served as a Yankee’s Association headquarters, hosting baseball legends Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth are among the legends of Afterglow at the estate that was rented to the Yankee’s Organization manager George Weiss, according to local historian Robert Williams and journalist Phil Read. Weiss’s home at Belleclaire, was quite the Yankee’s hangout and considered a healthy mountaintop retreat.

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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

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