James Betelle, Where Are You?

The Search for a Lost Architect

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An architect who agrees to design a building for an absurdly small fee has but little respect for his services—but then he probably knows what they are worth. — James O. Betelle

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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