South Mountain School, South Orange, N.J.

South Mountain School in South Orange, New Jersey, was the last of the original slate of grade schools to be built for the South Orange-Maplewood School District by Guilbert & Betelle. Originally called The Wyoming Avenue School, it was completed in February, 1930. There is frustratingly little historical information about it, relative to the other schools that were constructed at the time.

These images are from the May, 1932 issue of Architecture magazine, from The Trend in School Building Design, an article by Betelle profiling many of Guilbert & Betelle recent work. It features a period photograph of the school and plans of the first and second floor (the basement is not shown).

South Mountain PlansSMS is situated on South Orange Avenue, a very busy main road; there would never be cars parked along there today. SMS now has two additions flanking either end of the structure, which luckily have done little to mar the original school plan. SMS is a small school, and has a lovely symmetry; the Auditorium and Gymnasium flanking the front hallway creates the two “wings” flanking the central entry tower.

Each classroom was designed with its own little coat room, which I recall well from my time there. Many of them remain. It is lucky, as a 1970 School Board Survey by Englehardt and Englehardt recommended,

“Regular classrooms are chopped up by coat closets. If the closets were removed, there would be far more instructional space. Some pairs of rooms could also be opened up together. Doors to classrooms might be rehung and coats stored adjacent to them in recesses.”

There was an extreme drop-off of grade-school age population in the 70’s (The Fielding and Montrose schools were closed), so it’s likely this and other recommendations were seen as needless modifications. Luckily.

I recently revisted and toured the school. Many original details remain, but many are gone, replaced to meet code (like ugly blue metal firedoors) or just good old fashioned neglect. Here are some images.

16 thoughts on “South Mountain School, South Orange, N.J.

  1. Ryan King

    Mr Weintraub, I went to SMS (you were a classmate of mine i believe) and I remember our Kindergarten Class room as a seperate addition that was used as a bomb shelter is that addition still in place?

  2. Steve Weintraub

    Ryan! Great to hear from you!

    Yeah, the Kindergarten addition is still there. There’s also a newer addition on the opposite end. Given all the land behind the school, I’m surprised they never built in that direction. In any case, neither addition detracts from the original plan too much, which is good.

    1. zeek

      that land behind the school which so many of us affectionally called the field provided countless hours and years of recreation. From touch football to softball games, basketball, so many fond memories of SMS.

    2. zeek

      Thanks for the pictures, my guess is taht if I saw the auditorium today it would seem tiny. It was a beautiful school.

    3. zeek

      Thanks for the pictures, my guess is that if I saw the auditorium today it would seem tiny. It was a beautiful school.

  3. Kathleen

    I found this site by mistake and what a great mistake! I am a graduate of SMS (1974)as was my father (1950) and uncle. I have fond memories the school, the dance & ballet lessons taken there and of the teachers! I even remember the nurse (Ms. Clune) who had worked with my grandfather (a doctor) & loved to tell me stories about him! Thank you for this site & the information-I live far away now, although my family still lives in SO-I don’t get “home” near enough….but since we lived right around the corner (below Grunnings!!!!) I see the school on visits!

  4. lee neuwirth

    Thanks for the pictures! I graduated from SMS in 1945 (I think). We used to play soccer every day behind the school in the fall, and softball in the spring. I have many fond memories of the school. We once had a drawing class with the school as subject. I remember Mrs. Puffer and Mrs. Newell who I think joined the WACs and Mrs. Lanthier(?) and the names of many of my classmates, so if any of you are around e-mail me!! (I also used to go to Grunings when it was “The Top”). I lived on Mayhew Drive between Twin Oak and Tillou.

  5. Tom Rosen

    I went to SMS grades k – 6 and my two brothers as well, Bruce and Peter. I have many fond memories of my early childhood there. Especially Mrs. Yam, my 1 st grade teacher. She taught me how to read! Anyone remember Finnigan? It was such a nice place to grow up and the village later became our hangout. Grunnings at the top? Where for one dollar you got a hamburger and a coke at the counter. From time to time I look at the school as I pass by. Someday I would love to visit the halls . Anyone remember the custodial’ s name? Love to hear back. Tom

    1. zeek

      Ahhh, Mrs. Yam, the epitome of a teacher and a delightful human being. And yes I remember Mr. Finnigan, a stern principal if there ever was one. Such a nice place to grow up…and yes Grunnings at the top!!

      I remember Mr. Anthony as the custodian when I was there. There may have been another custodian as well, not sure of the name. Mr. Michaels seems to come to mind….but that’s a guess.

    2. zeek

      I think the custodian was Mr. Anthony.

      So many good memories, especially Mrs. Yam and lunch at Grunnings at the top.

  6. Jack Cumming

    I am a proud SMS grad, graduating from 6th grade in 1948. Lucinda Carter was the Principal to BBC whom I was often sent for discipline. Miss Newell came back from the war which she spent in New Zealand. Mrs. Lanthier was the only teacher with whom I was comfortable. Later Walter Fanburg and I were classmates at Princeton. Now I live on the beach in California and I can’t honestly say that I miss South Orange though it seem like a nice village for those who fit in.

  7. Bob Donovan

    Proud student during mid-70s at this wonderful school. Wondering if anyone know about Mr Epstein or Mrs Adams?

  8. Robert Eisenman

    Was wondering if anyone knows what became of Suzanne Oppenheimer, Class of 1948 or 1949, now that her Family Name is so much in the news? Father was a cousin of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

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