Newark wears its history in plain sight. An astoundingly diverse collection of buildings, evocative street names and a rich narrative dating back over 300 years lay the city bare to those who even casually glance. James Betelle spent his 20 most productive years there, so it naturally comprises a good chunk of my research.
I’ve spent more time in Newark than any other town or city connected with Betelle, and I look for any opportunity to see it anew. So when I recently had the chance to attend not one, but two Newark architectural tours, I made all sorts of arrangements and deals with my wife to make it happen.
On Friday I would be visiting Weequahic High School, a late design by Guilbert & Betelle, and Sunday taking a tour of High Street and lower Broad Street. On both days I would be meeting in person some of the “Newarkologists”—historians, residents, aficionados—with whom I’ve had spirited email exchanges with over the last few years.
Guilbert & Betelle designed the 1927 Essex County Hall of Records, in Newark, as a complement to the existing 1902 Court House by Cass Gilbert (to which they did the massive remodeling described in this article). Interestingly, James Betelle worked for Gilbert about that time; it’s possible he was involved in its construction as well. Looking at the Hall today, it is remarkably untouched (both inside and out). Even the windows, often the first thing to go on older buildings, seem intact.
The following article is from Architecture and Building, April, 1929. The photographs and plan are from The Architectural Forum, February, 1929. Continue reading
I found this wonderful photograph of the Chamber of Commerce Building in the Newark Library’s photo archive. It works on a both large and small scale, from the full breadth of the building down to fine details at street level.
After visiting the building recently I was hoping to find a good period photo, and this one is better than I had hoped for; I’ve become accustomed to very sparse photos of Betelle’s schools, which were generally shot lacking any signs of life. This one, however, captures a vibrant and familiar urban landscape (the stores have since gained a certain tackiness, but it’s still as bustling).
I would like to have imagined that James Betelle is up in one of those windows, looking over the plans for some school or conducting any number of his civic-related duties. There was just one problem; I didn’t know when the picture was taken, it’s not dated. How would I figure this out? For this, we get into the tangential minutia of detective work that has been more and more the bane of my research (commonly known as yak shaving).
I ventured back into Newark last week, confident I wouldn’t encounter the shape-shifting roads of my first trip. My goal this trip was to research a number of Betelle-related items at the Essex County Hall of Records. Going there served a dual purpose; not only does the Hall house the deeds and mortgages to all properties in the state (going back to 1637), but Guilbert & Betelle actually designed the building. So I was going into a Betelle building to research Betelle himself; you have to love the meta-ness of it. Continue reading