Marcia Worth of Patch, a local community portal, has written a nice piece on Montrose School in South Orange, New Jersey.
“The Montrose school yard boasts what I consider to be the most beautiful birch tree in town. It’s also a fine tree for climbing, according to my neighbor, who indicated a branch far from the ground. There, she recalled, pointing at a scratch I could barely see, were her sons’ initials, carved into the tree one day at recess.”
Montrose is a rather unique design for the town and a sentimental favorite of mine.
“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.
Today is Thanksgiving, and as I sit here reflecting on my good fortune (and not that of the turkey cooking a few feet away), I thought I would pay tribute to another, less celebrated bird: the Owl.
Owls have long stood for intelligence, scholasticism and wisdom, so it’s no surprise they were often used as a visual element in school architecture. James Betelle may have had a particular yen for the bird, as they pop-up more than a few times on his own buildings.
So if you’re killing time before diving into the gastronomic orgy that marks this day, take a look at this collection of Guilbert & Betelle schools where these noble birds quietly gaze over the students below.
Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!
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.
Poor New Rochelle High school. As if a devastating fire in 1968 wasn’t bad enough, the old girl suffered another indignity as lightning struck one of its towers about 6pm on Friday. The strike arrupted a blaze that basically destroyed the conical roof, but luckily it was a localized event, and should be fully repairable.
A few more photos of this and the 1968 fire can be found on flickr.
Thanks to our man in the field, John Elwood, for calling this in.