Category Archives: Diary

Schools of Summit, New Jersey

SMS from Street

After completing my tour of CHS’s clock tower on a Saturday morning in April, I continued on to check out the Guilbert & Betelle schools built in the nearby town of Summit. The firm designed the high school and a number of grade schools, much as they did in South Orange and Maplewood, so I was curious to see how they compared.

Summit High School
My first stop was the sprawling Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School, the former Summit High School (SHS), built in 1922 and expanded in 1927. There was a lot of activity on the grounds; baseball and soccer games, parents with kids and cameras streaming in and out of the building. I hardly looked out of place walking the perimeter with my own camera in hand, snapping away at the building.

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A Climb Up Columbia’s Clock Tower

CHS Tower This past Saturday I had the rare treat of being given a tour of the clock room and astronomical observatory of Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey.

As an alumnus of CHS, the massive clock tower has always been a source of some mystery. Lucky students have the chance to climb it, either for astronomy or the infamous “egg drop” experiment, but in general it is off limits. Studying the building in detail in relation to my James Betelle research, time and again I’ve read about the great telescope, the sometimes-working clock and rumored mysterious spaces.

Alan Levin, head of the Science Department, was kind enough to indulge my curiosity and meet me on that cool, clear morning to lead me up all those steps. He was full of interesting trivia and observations, which I will pepper throughout. At the end I’ll have a few bonus tidbits. Continue reading

Hallowed Ground

Ernest Guilbert GraveI finally visited Ernest Guilbert’s gravesite. I had made an attempt a while ago, but the office was closed. Evergreen Cemetery in Hillside, NJ, is over 150 acres, so I wasn’t about to look the hard way.

I went directly to the office, a charming little Mansard Victorian building near the main gate. The clerk was quickly able to find the record book entry for Guilbert. We discovered that his lot had three plots; his, his wife Anna, and a third, still empty and available to any Guilbert descendant. Guilbert died December 1, 1916, and according to the cemetery records, the cause was “Anemia”, and was buried on the 4th.

The clerk noted that near the lot was a tall monument, which would help locate it. I walked to the area on the map she circled, and spent about ten minutes looking for it. I couldn’t find it. I tromped back and forth where I thought it should be countless times, and was starting to get frustrated. And then I saw it, in a completely different location than I thought it should be, by about 50 feet.

The monument the clerk noted was actually Guilbert’s. It’s a tall stone, and faces the path where it’s clearly visible. A few feet from the monument are two headstones bearing Ernest and Anna’s names (hers with Bunn, as she had remarried.) The inscription reads:

And is he dead,
whose glorious mind
Lifts ours on high?
To live in hearts
we leave behind
Is not to die.

The stanza is from the poem Hallowed Ground by Thomas Campbell, written sometime in the early 1800s. According to the AIA Biography, James Betelle selected the passage. Given the size of the monument and his large, front-page obituary, it’s clear Guilbert was very well regarded–and missed–when he died.

The Ghost of New Rochelle High School

New Rochelle High School

Referencing New Rochelle’s French heritage, New Rochelle High School was rendered in a French Gothic style infused with provincial chateau elements.

My first exposure to New Rochelle High School was a series of photographs in a 1932 article on school architecture written by James Betelle. While I had been pretty familiar with the traditional English Gothic and Neo-Classical designs of his schools, this one stood out as unique; it had a style unlike any other. Towers, dormers, finials and ornate sculptural details combined to create an edifice almost implausibly grand for a public high school. I had to see it.

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More Newark, More Schools

Last week I headed down to Newark to learn more about James Betelle’s tragically short-lived partner, Ernest F. Guilbert. I scored quickly by finding Guilbert’s obituary at the library, which painted a pretty good portrait of his life and career. With that done, I was off to chase down a number of schools I hadn’t had a chance to visit before. Most of them would be primarily Guilbert’s work, from around the time he first joined up with Betelle.

My first stop was Weequahic High School, built in 1932. It’s a monolithic Art Deco design very much along the lines of the School of Fine and Industrial Arts and the Girls Vocational School, also built about the same time. It also has the dubious distinction of being the last complete school the firm built (as far as I know).
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