Newark, 1955-1959

by Marilyn Lucas Blaho


I commuted to college from Caldwell to Newark Rutgers on the 29 bus that rolled down Bloomfield Avenue, stopped at Washington Park where I hurried through the park to classes on Washington Place, or across Broad Street to Rector Street, where the buildings shook from the heavy truck traffic on McCarter Highway. After class I waited on Washington Street which was one way up past the Newark Library and from there back to the end of the line stop which used to be the trolley station at Central Avenue in Caldwell.

The trolleys must have stopped not long before because I remember taking the trolley to high school football games in Glen Ridge, the field being right on Bloomfield Avenue. The tracks made a path right down the middle of the road and when the busses started, Bloomfield Avenue was smooth and dark all across, instead of the rails underfoot and those electric wires overhead which flashed with sparks and scared me when I was a little child.

Newark Rutgers, and I would love to see others' memoirs of the time, was a haven of incredible scholarship in the heart of a Newark which was still in its grandeur of a magnificent city crowned with beautiful parks, wonderful statues, bright and shining movie marquees, tall buildings from the Pru to Bambergers which I remember had nine or more floors. First Hahnes, then S. Klein, where I bought wonderful dresses for $10, Kresge's, Orbach's, and a lovely shoe store across the street from Orbach's where I only looked--I could not buy shoes that cost $9.98! Streets teeming with shoppers and workers, at each light, a crowd waited to cross. The big stores had restaurants and cafeterias, many of my classmates worked at Hahne's and the others. They were serious, studious and grateful to be attending college, holding high hopes for success in medical school, teaching, sciences, nursing, pharmacy, law and journalism.

Our professors were amazing--graduates of the best schools in the country, Harvard, Columbia, etc., I can't imagine how Newark Rutgers attracted them, but it was our wonderful gain. While my friends who went away to college in central Pennsylvania studied PA history, we had amazing guest and staff profs who were from Johns Hopkins, for example, teaching Roman and Greek classics, and many went on to very prestigious appointments after they left us. Our favorite English prof had been (at least the rumors persisted) a resistance member during WWII with the scars to tell, and he spoke of women he had loved in every meaning of the word, he admired us young fresh-faced girls and made us blush.

Student life: well, not much. We all returned home, most had jobs to support themselves. I was a freshman at age 16 because I had skipped a grade in elementary school. In my class was my older brother who had been a Marine in Korea and was starting college the same year I did. By this time he had a child and worked full time as well as attending college. One of his friends, a Navy vet, married my sister. In my sophomore year, I took an advanced writing class and was the only member who was not a Korean war vet. They attended college on the GI bill, were serious, no-nonsense guys who wrote about their experiences in the service and beyond. Little me, 17 years old, baby of the family, totally innocent, learning to write.

My friends were for the most part Newark residents who went to Weequahic (spelling?) High School and Arts High School. They were scholarship students who could not have gone to college otherwise, and there were no fashion shows or new cars in our lives. I am still friends with several and they have had long successful careers, some happy marriages with wonderful children.

Crossing Broad Street: from Washington Place we had 10 minutes to get to classes on Rector Street, the corner of which is the site of NJPAC nowadays. If we were lucky the lights were with us. There was that wonderful dark stone church, the Robert Treat Hotel, the new Y was just built, then down the wind tunnel of Rector Street to the former brewery building with OPA paintings on every floor landing. The wonderful library was in that building, a huge several-story room with stacks below and a second level which overlooked the main floor. The building vibrated under our feet. It was a former Ballantine brewery and the heavy iron structure supports were visible.



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