James Betelle, Where Are You?

The Search for a Lost Architect

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It seems as though this masterly architect built his own career on an architectural plan—with everything in its proper place and dovetailing, with no part out of harmony with the other. — Fortune Story Magazine, October 1929

South Mountain School, South Orange, N.J.

July 18th, 2006 · No Comments · Architecture

smsSouth Mountain School in South Orange, New Jersey, was the last of the original slate of grade schools to be built for the South Orange-Maplewood School District by Guilbert & Betelle. Originally called The Wyoming Avenue School, it was completed in February, 1930. There is frustratingly little historical information about it, relative to the other schools that were constructed at the time.

These images are from the May, 1932 issue of Architecture magazine, from The Trend in School Building Design, an article by Betelle profiling many of Guilbert & Betelle recent work. It features a period photograph of the school and plans of the first and second floor (the basement is not shown).

South Mountain PlansSMS is situated on South Orange Avenue, a very busy main road; there would never be cars parked along there today. SMS now has two additions flanking either end of the structure, which luckily have done little to mar the original school plan. SMS is a small school, and has a lovely symmetry; the Auditorium and Gymnasium flanking the front hallway creates the two “wings” flanking the central entry tower.

Each classroom was designed with its own little coat room, which I recall well from my time there. Many of them remain. It is lucky, as a 1970 School Board Survey by Englehardt and Englehardt recommended,

“Regular classrooms are chopped up by coat closets. If the closets were removed, there would be far more instructional space. Some pairs of rooms could also be opened up together. Doors to classrooms might be rehung and coats stored adjacent to them in recesses.”

sms2There was an extreme drop-off of grade-school age population in the 70’s (The Fielding and Montrose schools were closed), so it’s likely this and other recommendations were seen as needless modifications. Luckily.

I recently revisted and toured the school. Many original details remain, but many are gone, replaced to meet code (like ugly blue metal firedoors) or just good old fashioned neglect. Here are some images.

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0 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ryan King // Aug 21, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    Mr Weintraub, I went to SMS (you were a classmate of mine i believe) and I remember our Kindergarten Class room as a seperate addition that was used as a bomb shelter is that addition still in place?

  • 2 Steve Weintraub // Aug 21, 2006 at 4:18 pm

    Ryan! Great to hear from you!

    Yeah, the Kindergarten addition is still there. There’s also a newer addition on the opposite end. Given all the land behind the school, I’m surprised they never built in that direction. In any case, neither addition detracts from the original plan too much, which is good.

  • 3 Kathleen // Aug 24, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    I found this site by mistake and what a great mistake! I am a graduate of SMS (1974)as was my father (1950) and uncle. I have fond memories the school, the dance & ballet lessons taken there and of the teachers! I even remember the nurse (Ms. Clune) who had worked with my grandfather (a doctor) & loved to tell me stories about him! Thank you for this site & the information-I live far away now, although my family still lives in SO-I don’t get “home” near enough….but since we lived right around the corner (below Grunnings!!!!) I see the school on visits!

  • 4 lee neuwirth // Jan 24, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Thanks for the pictures! I graduated from SMS in 1945 (I think). We used to play soccer every day behind the school in the fall, and softball in the spring. I have many fond memories of the school. We once had a drawing class with the school as subject. I remember Mrs. Puffer and Mrs. Newell who I think joined the WACs and Mrs. Lanthier(?) and the names of many of my classmates, so if any of you are around e-mail me!! (I also used to go to Grunings when it was “The Top”). I lived on Mayhew Drive between Twin Oak and Tillou.

  • 5 nate pham // Feb 9, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    I still go there and a lot has changed. the hall ways are really small.

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