James Betelle, Where Are You?

The Search for a Lost Architect

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To be good architecture, the design of the exterior of the building should express the character and purpose for which the interior of the building is used, as “truthful expression” is just as desirable in architecture as it is in all other things in life. — James O. Betelle, The American School Board Journal, April, 1919

The Franklin Murphy House, Newark NJ

October 14th, 2006 · 5 Comments · Architecture, Miscellaneous

Franklin Murhpy House

The only private residence Guilbert & Betelle designed (that I know of) was the Franklin Murphy House in Newark, New Jersey. Franklin Murphy had quite a life; born in 1846, he fought in the Civil War as a teenager, seeing action at Gettysburg. He went on to found the Murphy Varnish Company in Newark, and later became the 31st Governor of New Jersey, serving from 1901-1904. In retirement he was very active in Newark politics and civic movements, including a stint as Essex County Parks Commissioner. He died in 1920 at 74.
fm-house-views.jpgI’m not sure when the house was built; the accompanying photographs are from the April, 1928 issue of Architectural Forum, but obviously it would have been built before 1920. The house still stands, situated on a corner lot near Branch Brook Park in Newark; fitting, as Murphy was instrumental in its creation. Given James Betelle was also a very active member of the Newark civic scene, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were friends and this was a special commission for the firm.

Franklin Murphy House - First Floor PlanThe house itself is in the French Country style, with a lots of intersecting gables, dormers and a few Gothic touches. The L-shaped plan enclosed a large garden flanked by a service yard with a substantial 5-bay garage (one of which was dedicated to washing the cars). The two-storey living room had a 2nd-floor overlooking gallery, and it had four maids rooms. That’s a lot of maids…perhaps Murphy was a slob? Next time I’m in Newark I’ll try to do a driveby and get some pictures to see how it’s held up over the years.

UPDATE: I bit more research confirms this house belonged to Murphy’s son, Franklin Murphy, Jr. Junior did indeed have a live-in staff; a valet, three servants, a cook and a waitress. He died at the home suddenly in 1932 at the age of 58. Of note, he was a member of the Essex Club– so it’s a safe bet he knew Betelle well, leading to the commission of the home.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ray D. // Jan 5, 2007 at 4:34 pm

    The house has held up. I lived there for quite some time. My mother still lives there in fact. It’s a great old house with a lot of history.

  • 2 Steve Weintraub // Jan 10, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    Great to hear! I’m glad its steward is someone who appreciates it :)

  • 3 Thomas DeLeasa,lll // May 17, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    I was there on May 17,2015 for a estate sale It was an incrediblely impressive house!! I was told by the people running the sale it sold for $850000 It was like a walk thru a time machine, I would have loved to get to the sale on Friday the 15th but my loss Truly an archeticture marvel in its day!! I hope the new owner restores it to its former glory!!

  • 4 Steve Weintraub // May 17, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    Thomas – I think the home is actually in excellent condition. The kitchen, as I recall, is a bit dated 80s mish-mash, but everywhere else seemed very original and in good shape. I do hope as well the new owners maintain it.

  • 5 jeff freeland // May 27, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    This house would have been pretty typical of the late 1920s. Architectural journals were quite up to date. Their purpose was to show other architects what was new and up-to-date. There would have been little delay from completion of a building to its publication.

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