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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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