Before and McAfter

United States Savings Bankmcdonalds-newarkGuilbert & Betelle designed a number of banks for Newark in the early 1920s. They are frustratingly difficult to track down, because few reveal their addresses, or are probably drastically altered in appearance.

Well this one, the United States Savings Bank on Broad Street, still exists. I’ve unknowingly walked past it dozens of times, because it was now a generic, yucky McDonalds*. In fact, it’s just around the corner from Betelle’s old office in the Chamber of Commerce Building on Branford Place. I would never have given it a second glance.

I was able to identify the building thanks to a volume of The American Architect magazine from 1924, which contains a number of excellent spreads on Betelle banks (still working on ID’ing those…). A quick search revealed the address of the USSB, which apparently moved out in 1982—a pretty good run, really.

The original lot was long and narrow, but clean lines and a simple pair of Corinthian columns gave the building a strong, noble presence. The theatrical sign on the roof was certainly a unique touch for a bank (influenced perhaps by the wealth of nearby theaters), but doesn’t detract from the design.

The transformation from bank to McDonalds is startling—the columns were un-ceremoniously chopped out, leaving anachronistic stumps, and the facade was covered with stone panels. The panels continues to the building next door, stripped of what appeared to be a healthy dollop of the Beaux-Arts style.

The next time I explore Newark, I will definitely need to pay more attention to these anonymous old storefronts…

*The Google street view photo above is misleading; The McDonalds recently underwent a $2 million renovation, and seems to look much nicer now.

Update: New streetview showing the renovation:

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The Point of Pencils

James O. Betelle

The output of new works from Guilbert & Betelle plummeted in the 1930s, as the Depression caused a suspension of school infrastructure programs. The firm layed off most of the staff, which numbered over 200 just a few years earlier.

Reduced to minor, low profile jobs—building service upgrades, interior renovations—James Betelle had little need to personally involve himself with the daily operation of his firm. He went to the office infrequently, spending his time at home or traveling with his wife, having recently married in 1932. By the mid 30s, the architects in the office rarely saw the man.

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A Mission in Montclair

“In Southern California, Arizona or New Mexico, where climactic conditions are suitable and the history of the place suggests it, a school of the Mission or Spanish style would be quite appropriate. This style of architecture with its white stucco walls, low pitched tile roofs and southern atmosphere, has been made familiar to the traveling public thru the advertisements of tourists’ agencies.” – James O. Betelle, Architectural Styles as Applied to School Buildings

Guilbert & Betelle designed hundreds of buildings, and I’ve toured, driven passed, walked around or snuck into dozens of them. I’ve seen Betelle schools from Connecticut to Delaware, and have amassed a rather extensive catalog of reference material on them. And thus, I think I have a pretty good handle on the body of their work.

So when a recent email arrived alerting me to not one, but two unknown Betelles, you can be sure it surprised the hell out of me. Particularly when those buildings are part of a large college campus near my hometown, and were literally within sight when I was 15 years old.

In the summer of 1982 my mother was working on her Masters degree in ceramics at Montclair State College (now University). On the way she would drop me off with my bicycle at a school in Montclair where I was taking a photography course. After class I rode my bike to MSC to meet up with her for lunch, and hang out until she was ready to leave. I played a lot of Galaxian at the student center waiting for her.

The art studio and student center were contained in a quad of modern buildings, which I never thought to ventured too far from. If I had, I would have come across a very different part of campus; a group of old buildings with white stucco walls, low pitched tile roofs and southern atmosphere.

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Architectural Owls

New Rochelle High School

Today is Thanksgiving, and as I sit here reflecting on my good fortune (and not that of the turkey cooking a few feet away), I thought I would pay tribute to another, less celebrated bird: the Owl.

Owls have long stood for intelligence, scholasticism and wisdom, so it’s no surprise they were often used as a visual element in school architecture. James Betelle may have had a particular yen for the bird, as they pop-up more than a few times on his own buildings.

So if you’re killing time before diving into the gastronomic orgy that marks this day, take a look at this collection of Guilbert & Betelle schools where these noble birds quietly gaze over the students below.

Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Weequahic Walking Tour

If you read my last post, you know that over a weekend in August I visited Guilbert & Betelle’s Weequahic High School and took a tour of Newark’s historic High Street/Lower Broad Street area. Both were illuminating and entertaining.

If you’re interested to learn more about the Weequahic neighborhood, now is your chance. Jeff Bennet of Newarkhistory.com is leading another of his fun and interesting walking tours of this historic area on Sunday, December 14th at 12:15pm. Be sure to visit his site for full details. Hope to see you there!

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