One of the most important contracts for Guilbert & Betelle were the schools of the South Orange and Maplewood School District in New Jersey, where they would eventually design all of the new school buildings up through 1930. The creation of the first school they built, The Marshall School, (named for retiring Board president James Marshall), was significant for both Betelle and the District.
In 1920 the District, under the direction of George E. Low, Chairman of the Building Committee, began an aggressive building program to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding student population. The existing buildings were cramped, hazardous (there were numerous fires over the years) and ill-equipped.
This was not a new realization, and indeed a number of strategically located parcels of land had already been tentatively selected for schools a number of years before. One of these, on Grove Road in South Orange, was determined to be the best location for the first school.
Guilbert and Betelle are represented in the 14th Edition of The Encyclopædia Britannica (1929, vol. 20; SARS to SORC), under the heading School Architecture. It’s a one-paragraph blurb describing Columbia High School, accompanied by the first floor plan (which incorrectly places CHS in South Orange; the building is in Maplewood):
“The Columbia high school, South Orange and Maplewood N.J., designed by Guilbert and Betelle, is a building with a capacity of 1,600 pupils. There are standard class-rooms supplemented by rooms for special subjects. The auditorium seats 1,300 persons and on the large stage is a pipe organ. Full size gymnasiums are provided for both boys and girls, and between the gymnasiums is a swimming pool with spectator’s gallery.”
This entry is among a number of other ones describing progressive American school architecture. While certainly an honorable mention for CHS, the editorially neutral wording belies how some histories have exaggerated this item.
The following article by JOB appeared in The American School Board Journal, January, 1926. In it, he outlines the unique structure of the SO/M school system, accompanied by photographs and floorplans of the four initial grade schools. His description is rather understated, considering how huge the project was; the district had essentially planned to build, over a 10 year period, roughly eleven school buildings. JOB designed them all.
New Grade School Buildings of South Orange and Maplewood, NJ
James O. Betelle of the Firm Guilbert and Betelle, Architects.
The Village of South Orange and the Township of Maplewood New Jersey are two separate municipalities. They are entirely independent of each other, but the direction of their educational affairs is vested in a single board of education. In this respect the situation is rather unique, but it has worked out to the advantage of all parties concerned.
South Mountain School in South Orange, New Jersey, was the last of the original slate of grade schools to be built for the South Orange-Maplewood School District by Guilbert & Betelle. Originally called The Wyoming Avenue School, it was completed in February, 1930. There is frustratingly little historical information about it, relative to the other schools that were constructed at the time.
These images are from the May, 1932 issue of Architecture magazine, from The Trend in School Building Design, an article by Betelle profiling many of Guilbert & Betelle recent work. It features a period photograph of the school and plans of the first and second floor (the basement is not shown).
James Betelle wrote many articles for educational journals of the day, most notably The American School Board Journal. This one is a brief look at the major features of Columbia High School, which opened its doors in 1927. The article was published in the January, 1928 issue of ASBJ.
COLUMBIA HIGH SCHOOL, SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD, N.J.
Designed by Messrs. Guilbert & Betelle, Architects, Newark, N.J.
It may be recalled that in the special Building Number of the Journal for January, 1926, several of the new grade schools in South Orange and Maplewood were illustrated in connection with an article describing the community and the local point-of-view and objectives in the school-building program. With the grade school situation taken care of temporarily, attention has been given to a senior-high school building, which is located in the geographical and population center of the two communities. This school, known as the Columbia high school, is now completed and occupied, and is illustrated in this issue.