James Betelle, Where Are You?

The Search for a Lost Architect

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The citizens of our country have continually demanded better and better educational facilities for their children, and they will continue to do so as long as this country remains a republic. — James O. Betelle, Architecture, May, 1932

The Robert Treat Hotel

November 29th, 2006 · No Comments · Architecture

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Newark in the 1910s was a city one would hardly recognize today. Driven by an influx of money and opportunity, it was a thriving commercial and industrial port.

A city on the rise needs grand structures, and certainly nothing makes a statement that a city has arrived than having a stately, luxurious hotel. Newark decided to build such a hotel, and in their local school designers, Guilbert & Betelle, they found the perfect architects.

A New York Times article from August 19, 1913 detailed the project:

“Undoubtedly the most important single operation now in progress is the work on the new twelve-story hotel which, when completed, will represent, with the land, an investment of over $1,000,000. The building itself is estimated to cost about $700,000, and it will be one of the most artistic structures in the city.

“The architects are Guilbert & Betelle and they have designed a building with an attractive façade, which will be of granite up to the third story and above that of buff colored tapestry brick and light gray and terra cotta. The office and lobby will occupy the front portion of the main floor and in the rear will be a large dining room, directly above the kitchen in the basement. The lobby and dining room will really be two stories in height with balconies across the ends which can be used for public.

“On the second floor will be the ball room and banquet hall, a room 65 by 77 feet, two stories high and with a balcony across one end. In this room the objectionable columns have been eliminated to a great extent and the large area is spanned with steel trusses.

“In the front portion of this floor will be the private dining rooms, reception rooms, and parlors. On the roof will be a well-equipped laundry.”

The hotel’s opening was to coincide with the city’s 250th anniversary, along with parades and other gala events. The Times chimed in again, on May 7, 1916, in an article titled “Newark’s First and Only High-Class Hotel”, which nicely captures the spirit of the times:

“The hotel, which in the true sense of the word Newarkers may well ‘point to with pride,’ will be formally opened on May 18. It will be known as the Robert Treat Hotel, honoring the name of the founder of the city and whose pictures and fame are now so much in evidence.

“While Newark is an industrial city, it is also a city of delightful homes, well laid out streets, a park system better than average, and other features worthy of a closer study than can be attained by a lightning dash through Broad Street by the touring motorist. The Newark Evening News well expressed its characteristic last week by saying:

‘For an industrial community of magnitude it has a beauty and attractiveness of its own. We have become a metropolis without ceasing to be provincial in the good sense of having something of the intimacy of village life. The community sense has not yielded to the impersonal.'”

Robert Treat Hotel Lobby, 1920The Hotel’s web site tells us, “Perhaps the most impressive structure of the original hotel was the lobby, where huge columns combined with intricate lighting features over a white marble steps, tile floors, and lavish rugs. There were plentiful lounge space, large palms and potted plants, and writing desks and tables on a balcony for afternoon tea.”

The lobby was sadly gutted by fire, and never restored to its original grandeur. When the 1960s addition was built, the Robert Treat painting that hung over the mantle was moved to the new wing’s sitting area, where it remains today. Few remainders of the original interior exist; the first floors having been thoroughly renovated into office space. Despite the addition, the original facade is mostly intact, save for modern windows. In this respect, the building maintains its dignified presence on the park.

Affixed to the side of the original entrance is a plaque commemorating the 75th anniversary of the hotel. It is, to my knowledge, the only recognition of Guilbert & Betelle in a public space.

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