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.
In my entry regarding the Franklin Murphy house, I ruminated that it was the only known residential structure designed by Guilbert & Betelle. As it turns out, I was wrong.
I’ve recently had the privilege of corresponding with members of the Guilbert family, who have shown a keen interest in my research. Given the circumstances of Ernest’s early death, they didn’t really know much about him, so I was happy to share what little I had discovered.
Fortunately, discovery is a two-way street: the Guilberts had a number of items dating back to Ernest’s day, and were gracious enough to send them to me for study.
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).
Newark in the 1910s was a city one would hardly recognize today. Driven by an influx of money and opportunity, it was a thriving commercial and industrial port.
A city on the rise needs grand structures, and certainly nothing makes a statement that a city has arrived than having a stately, luxurious hotel. Newark decided to build such a hotel, and in their local school designers, Guilbert & Betelle, they found the perfect architects. Continue reading
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