This Sunday’s New York Times real estate section profiles South Orange, N.J. in the Living In column. The joint school district of South Orange and Maplewood feature some of James Betelle’s finest school designs and continue draw young families today.
In the article, Dave Caldwell, a Maplewood resident, correctly notes Columbia High School as “…an 80-year-old Collegiate Gothic building that sits a block from the South Orange border.” A brief description, to be sure, but one that is often wrong (it was completed in 1927, not earlier, and is in Maplewood, not SO).
Kudos to Caldwell and the Times from this stickler of a Betelle historian.
It was inevitable I would begin writing externally about this web site’s titular subject. To that end, I’ve had a small article published in Matters, a community magazine based in Maplewood, New Jersey. Titled New Jersey Gothic: James Betelle and the Schools of South Orange and Maplewood, it appears, appropriately enough, in the August “Back to School” edition.
The article is a brief overview of Betelle’s career and the schools he designed for the towns. There’s no information that isn’t already at this website, but I think it’s a good introduction to the subject.
I was zipping through Saturday Night Live the other day on my DVR (it’s the only sane way to watch the show), when a sketch involving a classroom made me jam on the pause button. The establishing shot was a video still of the entrance of a school building. It was a traditional Collegiate Gothic structure, very much a typical design one would see in the Northeast, but I couldn’t place it. Needless to say, I wanted to find out what this school was.
Luckily, a friend of mine knows the production staff at SNL, and found out what school they used. I was surprised to learn it’s not on the East Coast at all, but rather California; it’s John Marshall High School in Los Angeles.
A bigger surprise came when I saw pictures of the whole school. The entrance tower is incredibly similar to that of my alma mater, Columbia High School.
I’m used to seeing old photographs of schools when they were new and pristine, set against the barren terrain that is indicative of fresh construction. And as my recent tour of Newark showed, it makes for an interesting contrast with contemporary images, where the landscape is overgrown and the school itself may be in various stages of decay. But what about the first stages of life?
A great find I made was a series of construction photographs taken of Columbia High School over a roughly three-year period, from 1925 until 1927 when it was completed. Except for the vintage cars, machinery and external scaffolding, it looks like any typical construction site; mud, wood, concrete and workers standing around. The photos were probably intended for utilitarian insurance record-keeping purposes, but today offer a rare look at the creation of a school building.
This article is from the 1928-1929 Yearbook of The American School and University. Much of the text is similar to the CHS article from American School Board Journal, which came out about the same time. It’s interesting to note that Betelle refers to “Messrs. Guilbert & Betelle, the architects for all these new buildings”, as if his partner, Ernest F. Guilbert, were still alive (he died in 1916). Also note that a number of the equipment suppliers at the end of the article may be seen in the advertisements I posted a while ago.
The Unusual School System of a Suburban Community
by James O. Betelle
of the firm of Guilbert & Betelle, Architects, Newark, N.J.
The village of South Orange and the township of Maplewood, N.J. are two separate municipalities, which are entirely independent of each other, but the direction of whose educational affairs is vested in a single Board of Education.
These towns are fast-growing communities, within commuting distance of metropolitan New York. Their school population has doubled within the last eight years and will probably double again in another eight years. These communities are typical American suburban villages, with a very high type of citizenship. Most of the heads of the households are business men who commute daily to their office in New York or Newark. A large percentage of the citizens of South Orange and Maplewood have sufficient means to send their children to private schools if they desire, but they have felt it better and more democratic to build good free public schools, and the illustrations accompanying this article show the type of buildings erected and the facilities provided.