Some Newark Thoughts

by Alan V. Karr


I had a business meeting in Lyndhurst today, and ended up driving first to Mazur's bakery and then through Newark via McCarter Highway for the first time in a long while. (I was trying to get to Best's but I got there FIVE MINUTES LATE! THEY CLOSE AT 4 PM! GRR!)

I have a lot of thoughts and memories dating back 30-40 years. I may ramble on here, you can help fill in the blanks\gaps but here goes. I am in my mid-40s & from Queens but my mom was a first generation Italian American, one of seven who was born on Harrison Street, in Belleville, in 1925. Mom and most of her immediate family are long gone though. Apparently, Frank Sinatra's mother was a midwife (at least!) and assisted in her birth. She claimed that Frank was a distant relation but I have no proof of that. Her real name was Giovannina but the nuns in her school or church Americanized it to "Jenny", and "Jean" she became.

Many of her brothers and sisters and cousins lived in Belleville, Lyndhurst, N. Arlington, Nutley. Many moved (Colonia,New Brunswick, California), others stayed there for life. But, Newark was her hometown downtown and she had a lot of fond memories. She worked in Bamberger's and as a "Rosie The Riveter" met my dad in the assembly line of a factory making aircraft parts. She worked there with her sister & sister in-law too, dad was a foreman. I'm placing this in 1942 because they got married at St. Anthony's church in N. Newark\Silver Lake in 1943.

Now I am trying to piece this together. My dad lived in Astoria. He (dec. in 1996) took the NYC subway in Manhattan to Chambers St. The factory was near the old Erie N. Newark Station (more, plus a funny story a little later). So without being around to see those (magnificent, yes?) demolished Jersey Central RR terminals, I'm assuming he took a RR ferry to the Jersey City Erie terminal (which was atop the Hudson Tubes\PATH Pavonia Station & where Newport Centre is now) and then a train to N. Newark.

After awhile this 3-4 hr commute was a killer so he got his dad to buy a house on Rte 7 (River Rd?) N Newark, but they didn't stay long. I could point it out if its still there. In 1992 we had to sadly pay respects to a relative & the funeral home was nearby the locations mentioned above. It seemed very safe to walk, Sept\Oct.? I believe it was autumn. We walked a few blocks south down the street, and what looked like a Hispanic pentecostal-style church with a marquee on a side st. My dad said, hey I think we went to the movies there. This theatre was the??? Then he said, hey there's the train Station (Erie N. Newark, long abandoned) with torn up steps\railings. The coup de grace was that there was a factory nearby, I think this was marked Carter-Wallace then (as you know they made contraceptives). My dad said, hey I think I used to work here and I said ,"You used to make condoms?!" We all got a big laugh at the end of a sad day.

I'm too young to remember those Newark glory days, and too far away to realize the daily changes. Yet, I do have some memories and I probably know my way around NJ better now then ever, (I go to & through on business and attend Jets games). Because I have so few close family ties left it feels distant but due to the family history I feel somehow very drawn to it. Is that strange???

Our closest uncle moved to Colonia c. 1962. We used to drive through NJ (no Verrazano yet) and past the A-B factory. I always loved that sign at night and vowed to visit when I grew up but alas, due to insurance considerations unlike other plants no tours. Another Newark plus! He passed young, about 9 months before the riots. He would have been devastated I'm sure, and I've seen all the posts here but I have to concur from an outsiders point of view-the city WAS terrific, yet found itself in the midst of a sea change of economics, culture and corruption. NJ taxes & tolls were getting outrageous.

Outsiders stirred foment in the projects. Unions, and I'm not anti-union were helping to put factory after factory out of business. Dugan's, who also had a factory in Queens, is a sad story, (I said where's the trucks? the goodies? my dad said, bankrupt. I said what's that. He said "gangsters stole money" - so what really happened??). So was Mrs. Wagner's etc. BTW, when taking NJ Transit (ex-PRR? CNJ Aldene track?) from the South into Newark Penn Station recently you could see for years signage on a factory ruins what looked like a toy soldier with no head- was that REMCO? (they made toys & games like Fascination)

Corporate takeovers and\or cost-cutting shortcuts put Hoffman\Pabst, Rheingold, and Ballantine (my dad's favorite) out of business (supposedly, Pepsi bought Rheingold in E. Orange just for the bottling) My dad had a machine shop and we used to, time and again in a pinch, bring some special metal parts to Bennett Heat Treating on Ferry St. often in late night hours. Very nice people and nice to see they are still in business. It always seemed like a giant pain to get there if you exited off of the turnpike and I swear we came a little close to ending up in the drink one time, crossing over some rails (but real bumpy-like, not at a nice RR crossing!)

You drive all over Newark and see wonderful yet extremely puzzling remnants of a mysterious\greater past - what WAS that neat looking bank\office at the corner of Avon & Clinton I saw today? A bigger question still, why are yesterday's social ills still afflicting Newark?? Broad & Market is still a shambles, loaded with crap dollar stores and no retail vision - S. Klein's is still "on the square" and still crumbling! Accosted by panhandlers (so 1980's) at stoplights on McCarter Highway a block or two before Route 280, also around the block from Bamberger's\Macy's near Hobby's Deli (is it really any good?) - why? Is that the sign of a healthy city? (IMO, no)

In the early 70s I took a bus from Port Authority in Manhattan with Mom to see uncle in Nutley, downtown looked real dirty & abandoned. The bus seemingly drove past the "1000" Ballantine buildings-why that route? I used to take a Reading-CNJ commuter train in the late 70s from Newark Penn St to the Philly suburbs to see my college girlfriend. This was 2 years after Conrail was formed, it looked like a 40s diner on rails (I learned later it was a Rail Diesel Car originally owned by the Boston & Maine sold off & got more years of use) I loved the trip and the train except after tiny Westfield (& after you saw graffiti proclaimed "I'd rather be dead than live in Bound Brook" ) the track showed years of Reading-CNJ (and by proxy B&O) neglect and threatened to jump the track. The service &trains long gone I know.

As a (too young) railbuff I enjoyed Newark Penn Station and the Keystones on the pew-like waiting room seats. I was disappointed terribly to see the tiled PRR logo in the center of the floor now covered by an information booth-vandalism of a high order IMO. This Reading train was pre-skywalk c. 1978 and because I was always brave, never hesitated to venture out to Bamberger's\Macs which was fast becoming the weakest sister in the chain.

Fast forward to '95 or so. My wife's cousin got a job with the Italian consulate in a huge, seemingly abandoned\dark bank building right across from Prudential (you'd walk up stairs to a bank lobby that was closed-what bank was\is it?) We were *very* cautious but it seemingly a bit safer to walk around. Today, as back then, I didn't see any police around at all and that would be my first step - have cops all around like happened in Manhattan. Stop the petty, "broken windows" & street crime and go from there.

I really don't see a grand plan - you have arenas that people park next to and scram from after the game. Look, if Hoboken could do it, and Jersey City could try, then Newark should too. Unless you think its too late. If you remember the Cities Service depot where IKEA is or the Schlitz billboard coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel this will all make some sense.


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