Most of my life in Newark was sandwiched
in between my delivery by a midwife on Barclay Street in Newark's
old Third Ward in 1921 and my departure in 1942 for wartime duty.
So the Newark from which I have drawn most of my Old Newark memories
have been drawn from my knowledge and experience of that era.
However, I also hold vivid recollections of the riots1
in Newark, which I believe was a major turning point in Newark's
20th century history.
During the riots, I had sat on the front porch of my Hillside
home, just 800 feet from the Newark line, listening to the gunfire
emanating from the Newark side...and concerned about the welfare
of my widowed mother living alone, in Newark, in an Elizabeth Avenue
apartment opposite the park...and being turned back after the gunfire
had ceased at the Newark-Hillside line by rifle-toting National
Later, after the riots, I recall, in visits to the Newark YMHA
Health Club in its seven-year old Chancellor Avenue building2,
I listened to stories from victimized fellow members, Newark merchants,
how businesses had been stripped bare, buildings set afire -- even
one account of a Newark butcher who had locked himself in his ice
box for protection. He had vowed to me that he would never go back
to his former business site, even to reclaim any remaining possession
of value that might still be there.
Recollection From a Different Perspective
Lou Kleinman recalled the riots from a different perspective.
At the time of the riots, he was employed by the City of Newark
as a mechanical repairman, and his job was keeping all City-owned
He recalled for me that, during the riots, he had been called
out to service fire engines in need of repair. As he told it to
me, "I sat between two Newark policemen with rifles posed outside
each rear window as we drove to the scenes of some of the fires
that had been started. It was an experience I'll never forget."
Newark Prior to 1967 Still Great City
But up until that summer in 1967, I continued to regard Newark
as a great city with my most enjoyable years there being the four
I spent as a student at Central High School on High and New Streets
from 1935 through January 1939.
I graduated from Central High in January 1939 in a class of 210.
None of us went on to fame and fortune. The only Central High graduate
I know of that made it "big"3
was Dore Schary. He went on from his family residence at 604 High
Street, corner of Court, to a life of fame and fortune as a Broadway
playwright, Hollywood producer of dozens of classic films, and head
of MGM studios.
And just as I viewed my high school years and 1939 graduation
as a peak in my life in Newark, so, too, did I view Newark as a
city at its peak. Here are some statistics for Newark in 1939 that
support that view.
What Newark Was in 1939
Newark in 1939 had 429,000 residents--approximately 36 percent
more than at the present time. Its population had been relatively
stable, showing a population increase of only 14,000 over the 19
years since 1920.
Newark's Newspapers in 1939
In 1939, Newark had four newspapers--all with "Newark"
in their name. There was the Newark Star-Ledger, The Newark Evening
News, one morning paper and the other an evening paper. On Sundays,
there was the Newark Sunday Star-Ledger and the Newark Sunday Call.
Today, only the Newark Star-Ledger remains, and it is now the
"Star-Ledger" with the "Newark" dropped. That
name-drop took place during the mid-1960s. The Star-Ledger is today
the 16th largest circulation paper in America. Its daily circulation
in a recent audit was 402,107. In 1939, it was 140,000.
Retail Stores in 1939
In 1939, Newark had 7,986 retail stores, among them five large
downtown department stores. The retail stores of Newark in 1939
By contrast, Newark today has 2,271 retail trade establishments
and of the five downtown department stores that existed in 1939,
A Leading Industrial Center
In 1939, Newark was also one of America's leading industrial centers.
Despite its limited area and one of the highest population densities
of any city in the country, Newark had 1,277 plants employing 58,264
Its huge population of factory and retail workers included very
few car owners and most got to their places of employment on the
bus lines of Public Service Coordinated Transport at 80 Park Place,
or the Newark City Subway which had opened on June 21, 1937 with
most of it in the bed of the old Morris Canal, covered over by Raymond
In 1939, Newark had 72 Public Service bus routes. Today it has
1939 Newark Wholesale and Insurance Home Offices
In 1939, Newark was also home to 1,006 wholesale establishments,
169 more than the present count. It had the highest concentration
of Insurance home offices in the U.S. It hosted the home offices
of ten life and casualty insurance companies with combined assets
of 5 billion dollars (over 60 billion in today's dollars). Today,
the Prudential is the only insurance company left.
As I see Newark Today
I keep reading that the Newark of today is undergoing a renaissance
and slowly rebuilding itself. John T. Cunningham, in his new Third
Edition of his classic book "Newark" early in 2003, hailed
the new $180 million Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) as a single
step on Newark's arduous road to recovery.
A minor-league baseball team (appropriately called "the Newark
Bears") is a recently-added downtown attraction and, I understand,
the 34-floor Newark and Essex Bank Building, Newark's tallest, now
boasts a Starbucks! And at Newark's Penn Station, there are now
working elevators and escalators to all track levels, and a Path
(formerly Hudson Tubes) railway system that runs 24 hours a day.
(I once waited overnight in New York, after a late night date, for
the first morning train to Newark).
Downtown Newark has also re-established itself as an educational
center with a host of colleges and universities4.
Further, Newark has one of the nation's busiest airports5,
and Port Newark is one of the nation's leading seaports. And, too,
the city is undergoing a housing boom of immense proportions.
One area where Newark seems to be lagging, from statistics I've
seen, is in the area of crime. Back in 1939, I could walk up to
my Third Ward home on Montgomery Street from downtown Newark in
the late-night hours without looking over my shoulder. Newark's
streets, as I recall them, pre-World War II, were relatively safe
to one and all.
Current crime statistics for Newark, while showing recent improvement,
still suggest much more crime in most areas than the Newark I recall
From published statistics, I learned that in 2001, for example,
Newark crime (per 100,000 pop.) was 34 percent higher than the national
average. Car theft was 3.57 times the national average. I have no
idea what the 1939 statistics were, but I lived with the feeling
that Newark at that time offered a safe, secure environment in which
to live and work.
Newark Jewish Cemetery Experience
Newark's crime statistics notwithstanding, I go by my own recent
experience. For many Jewish institutions of Newark in the first
half of the 20th century, their cemeteries were strung along Grove
Street from South Orange to Central Avenue.
It was always convenient for Newark's Jews to stop off at a Grove
Street cemetery to visit buried loved ones, either periodically,
or traditionally before the start of the Jewish New Year.
However, in the recent past, the cemetery area has been a danger
spot for visitors, and for some years now, the Shomrim Society,
a metropolitan area association of Jewish law enforcement personnel,
have been setting aside one day a year when they provide police
protection so that Jews can make safe Grove Street Cemetery visits--usually
just before the start of the Jewish New Year.
My wife and I go each year on the one "safe" day to
visit the graves of her parents, buried on Grove Street.
A Closing Thought
Newark has come a long way since it bottomed out in the summer
of 1967, but its recovery has been slow and painful.
It is my feeling that, no matter how much progress is made, it
is unlikely that the Newark of the future will ever retain its former
status as a prosperous and relatively crime-free city.
I'm thinking back to the days when many of us old-time Newarkers
used to walk around downtown on Saturday nights, under the lighted
marquees of Newark's 13 downtown theatres, and take in a show and
later stop in at the Petty's Drug Store soda fountain on Broad Street,
two doors south of Branford Place, for an ice cream soda.
Petty's was open 24 hours a day, carried top-of-the-line Breyers
ice cream, and made the best ice cream sodas in downtown Newark.