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
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.