James Betelle, Where Are You?

The Search for a Lost Architect

James Betelle, Where Are You? header image 1

Nearly every city built at least one public school with some degree of Gothic decoration. Few of these buildings are masterpieces, but as a whole they form an architectural phenomenon yet to receive adequate study. — The Only Proper Style-Gothic Architecture in America

Reference

Terminology | Building Guide |Timeline | Bibliography | Quotes

TERMINOLOGY (top)
It is the rare school that survives with its original name intact. What was built as high school in 1925 is probably now a middle school. Grade schools are often renamed on a political whim.

My policy, therefore, is to indicate a building’s current name, but use its original name in general discussion. This provides consistency with period documentation, but also aids outside research (such as those Googling their alma mater). Categorizing and classifying architecture is a maddeningly imperfect science, as styles and movements clash and blend in seemingly infinite combinations. For the sake of consistency, I use the following terms in general discussion:

Collegiate Gothic. Alternatively called Academic Gothic, English Gothic, Jacobean, Tudor, Tudor-revival and “wow, that school looks like stately Wayne Manor.” Because it is really an amalgam of all those styles, Collegiate Gothic is the most sensible term for Betelle’s signature style.

Federal. Also referred to as Georgian, Neo-Classical, Greek Revival, Colonial and “wow, that school looks like Hill Valley Court House.” I use Federal pretty much just because I like the sound of it, and it has the fewest letters.

Art Deco. Art Deco is a somewhat recent label for what at the time was called Modern or Modernistic architecture (often accompanied by a sneer from American architects suspicious of this vaguely fascist European trend). Towards the end of his career, Betelle designed a number of handsome schools in the style.

BUILDING GUIDE (top)
Below is a selected list of Guilbert & Betelle buildings, ordered by state and town. They are designated by their original name, with current name or status in parenthesis if markedly different from date of completion. Those with specific articles about them are linked, but you should search the site for other references.

New Jersey

South Orange and Maplewood

Newark

Jersey City

Summit

  • Franklin Elementary
  • Jefferson Elementary
  • Summit High School (Summit Middle School), 1923
  • Washington Elementary, 1931

East Orange

Vineland

West Orange

  • Thomas A. Edison Jr. High, 1927
  • West Orange High School (Seton Hall Prep)
  • Gregory School

Montclair

New York

Connecticut

  • Cos Cob School, c. 1916
  • Greenwich High School (Greenwich Town Hall), 1925
  • State Normal School, New Britain (Davidson Hall, CCSU), 1922

Delaware

Pennsylvania

  • Science Hall, Lincoln University, 1925
  • Thaddeus Stevens Jr. High School, Williamsport, 1927

TIMELINE (top)
In which the major events in the life of James O. Betelle are listed for the casual reader to assess the grand scope of his life. His family tree.

  • April 1, 1879 James Oscar Betelle is born in Wilmington, Delaware To John W. and Anna J. Betelle.
  • 1901 Joins Cass Gilbert in New York City
  • 1905 Travels to Europe to study architecture
  • 1909 Heads drafting room of John Russel Pope, where he meets Ernest F. Guilbert
  • April 20, 1910 Announces partnership with Guilbert in Newark, NJ
  • December 1, 1916 Guilbert dies.
  • 1918 Joins the Army Sanitation Corps at the age of 39.
  • 1919 Betelle begins work on Delaware Rural Schools program with Pierre S. du Pont
  • 1922 The Marshall School in South Orange, New Jersey, opens
  • Aug, 31, 1922 Named architect of Newark Public Schools
  • 1927 Elected a Fellow of the AIA
  • April 28, 1927 Renamed as president of Newark Chamber of Commerce
  • Aug 6, 1927 Betelle returns from 3-month trip to England and the Continent.
  • June 25, 1928 Betelle resigns from Newark Board of Zoning Commissioners, citing “press of business”
  • January 22, 1929 Betelle leaves for 3-month vacation to Mediterranean countries
  • 1929 Betelle meets Marie Louise Vonamor Cohan in Newark, New Jersey
  • July 16, 1930 Betelle returns from Modernistic architectural tour of Germany, Austria, Hungary and France via White Star liner Majestic
  • Sep. 13, 1930 20th Anniversary of Guilbert & Betelle celebrated
  • July 24, 1931 Newark’s Weequahic HS approved; School of Fine and Industrial Art completed
  • December 2, 1932 Returns from a two-month “trip out west”
  • Dec. 22, 1932 Betelle and Marie wed
  • Dec. 9, 1933 Purchases home in Short Hills, New Jersey, moving from 40 5th Ave NYC
  • 1939 Betelle retires, desiring “some years of leisure…as I could afford to take it”
  • June 1, 1941 Betelle home robbed of $60,000 worth of jewelry
  • June 3, 1954 Betelle dies of heart failure in Florence, Italy, at the age of 75
  • August 29, 1959 Marie Betelle dies of brain hemorrhage in New York, at the age of 52

BIBLIOGRAPHY (top)
The following is a selection of the journals, books, newspapers and private and public collections from which I have drawn my research. Those with specific posts on this site associated with them are linked. “JOB” indicates articles written by James O. Betelle.

  • The American Architect (American Architect, New York)
    New School Buildings, State of Delaware, JOB; June 16, 1920
  • The American Institute of Architects
    James Betelle Biography; Compiled by Charles E. Krahmer, A.I.A., Baldwin Memorial Archives, April 13, 1955
  • The American School Board Journal (The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, Wisc.)
    Architectural Styles as Applied to School Buildings, JOB; April, 1919
    New Grade Schools Buildings of South Orange and Maplewood, NJ, JOB; January, 1926
    The Superintendent of Schools and the New School Building, JOB; January, 1928
    Columbia High School, South Orange and Maplewood NJ, JOB; January, 1928
    What an Architect Does for His Money, JOB; January, 1930
  • The American School & University (American School Publishing Corp., NY)
    The Unusual School System of a Suburban Community, JOB; 1928-1929 Yearbook
  • The Architectural Forum (Rogers and Manson, New York, N.Y.)
    The New School building, The Architect, and the Board of Education, JOB; March 1928
    Checking Schedule for New School Buildings, JOB; March, 1928
    The Essex Club, Newark; May, 1928, Plate 127,128
    Nine Senior High School Buildings; December 1931
    Great Neck High School
    Bronxville High School
  • The Architectural Record (The Arch. Record Co., NY)
    Modern American Schoolhouses, Some Recent Examples of Specialized Buildings – Guilbert & Betelle, Architects, Rawson W. Haddon; September, 1914
  • Architecture – The Professional Architectural Monthly (Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY)
    The Trend in School Building Design, JOB; May, 1932
  • Columbia High School, Maplewood, NJ
    Various items from their archives
  • The Encyclopaedia Britannica; 14th Edition, 1929; Vol. 20
  • School Architecture The Evolution of Public Education in a New Jersey School District, Henry W. Foster; W.F. Humphrey Press, 1930
  • Fortune Story Magazine
    A Great Architect; October, 1929
  • The Newark Public Library
  • Delaware School Architect Celebrates; Publication and date unknown
  • Photography collection
  • The Newarker
  • Chamber of Commerce publication, various articles
  • Stone Magazine (Stone Publishing Company, courtesy of Peggy Perazzo)
    Art of Marble Polishing Based on Scientific Theories; July, 1924, The Construction Drama; July, 1924, Sulpher Impregnated Sandstone;_ June, 1924
  • Time Magazine
    School Builder; August 24, 1931

QUOTES (top)
Having been featured randomly in the sidebar.

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

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

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

Influence is like money in the bank, the more you use it the less you have. — James O. Betelle

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

Guilbert & Betelle are teaching us how we may learn to look away for a time from a too close dependence upon historical styles and to walk alone for a season into a more nearly American style of Architecture. — Rawson W. Haddon, Modern American School Houses

Nearly every city built at least one public school with some degree of Gothic decoration. Few of these buildings are masterpieces, but as a whole they form an architectural phenomenon yet to receive adequate study. — The Only Proper Style-Gothic Architecture in America

An architect should be a man with broad cultural training, and conversant and familiar with all topics and things. — James O. Betelle

Mr. Betelle was a kindly man who appreciated good work from his employees and had a personal interest in their welfare. The epitaph he chose for Mr. Guilbert’s grave might well be repeated for Mr. Betelle — TO LIVE IN HEARTS WE LEAVE BEHIND IS NOT TO DIE. — Terese A. Coburn, Secretary to Betelle

Newark knows how—so does Architect Betelle. — Tom Fleming, A Real History of Newark and Notable Newarkers, 1917

The architects who constructed Columbia High School gave us a building that will serve us well for many, many years to come. It is solid, it is comfortable, it is clean and warm and it maintains an educational outlook that is both modern and classic. I don’t think we can ask for much more from our buildings. — American School & University, 1978

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn. — John Cotton Dana, Inscription over entrance of the Newark Normal School

The public schools are in the place to us of arms and troops and fleets. They are the nurseries of men. — Rev G. Doane, Inscription on the Cleveland School, Newark

Let us live with our children — Friedrich Froebel, Inscription over kindergarten entrance, State Normal School, Jersey City

I heartily recommend Mr. James O. Betelle of the firm of Guilbert & Betelle. He is a genial man, easy to work with, and considerate of the needs and pocketbook of his clients. — Pierre S. du Pont, Hagley Museum and Library

Guilbert & Betelle, of Newark, N. J., were the architects to whom our thanks and congratulations are due for adding to the beauty of the world. — School-Arts Magazine, 1915

Updated: 5/9/08