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South Orange Avenue: Part 1


 

Street View
Link to Location

South Orange Avenue is the main street of Newark's Vailsburg neighborhood. A street of many names, South Orange Ave is known as the Columbia Turnpike and Rt. 510 as well. Beginning in the heart of Newark, South Orange Ave. runs all the way to Morristown.

 

Vailsburg was originally part of the greater Newark grant, but was then split off in colonial times into the town of Clinton, and then the consolidated Orange township, and then South Orange. Finally, Vailsburg existed as an independent town from 1894 to 1904 when it became the last independent suburb to be annexed to Newark.

 

The breakdown of municipal annexation marked a turning point in the history of Newark, as when annexation ceased Newark stopped being coterminus with its metropolitan area. In the 19th century, Newark's expansion had been so regular that Newark's mayor could think out loud, "East Orange, Vailsburg, Harrison, Kearny, and Belleville would be desirable acquisitions. By an exercise of discretion we can enlarge the city from decade to decade without unnecessarily taxing the property within our limits, which has already paid the cost of public improvements," yet Vailsburg was the only one of those towns ever to be annexed. Eventually, Newark's middle class began to reside outside of the city limits, whereas in the Nineteenth century Newark's middle class lived on the edge of Newark, yet within the City itself.

Facade restoration

 

At mid-century, Vailsburg was to Newark's Catholics what Weequahic was it its Jews. The middle-class neighborhood that strivers in the police department, construction trades, and brewery business put down roots. No single ethnic group dominated, but Welsh, Italians, and Ukrainians were all prominent. The Irish were not the largest group in Newark, but they remain numerous enough to have a St. Patrick's Day Parade here.

Vailsburg was home to Newark's political elite - in a way, Newark's capital. It was in this middle-class district that Mayors Hugh Addonizio, Vince Murphy, and Leo Carlin called home. Vailsburg also produced two chairs of the state Democratic committee and numerous high-ranking Assembly leaders. Vailsburg's most prominent lawyer was William Brennan, this Irish-American son of a Newark police commissioner served on the United States Supreme Court from 1956 to 1990.

Still a middle class area
Sacred Heart Church

At the intersection with Sanford Avenue is the most prominent structure on the south side of the street, Sacred Heart Church, the largest parish church in Newark. The parish itself was founded in the 1890s, prior to Newark annexation and the construction of Sacred Heart Basilica, hence the use of the same name as the great North Ward Cathedral. The present church was built in the 1920s and was designed by Neil J. Convery, who also designed St. Lucy's Church in the North Ward.

In Sacred Heart's heyday 1500 worshippers would come for mass, but by the 2010s that number had dwindled to 150 and the congregation could not afford things like a $1,000,000 expense to water-proof the facade. In July 2010 Sacred Heart dissolved and the building was leased to a Baptist congregation called the "Positive Proof Deliverance Church," headed by Bishop Frank Garris

Haitian restaurant

Across the street from Sacred Heart is the 1957 Art Deco Gibralter Bank. how many animals can you count?

 

The landmark on South Orange Avenue is the Newark Gospel Tabernacle, the best preserved 1920s era movie palace in Newark. The facade you see from South Orange Avenue is misleading, the structure is much larger on the inside. A side view shows how far back the theater really goes.

Front of Newark Gospel Tabernacle.  This view does nothing to indicate how large the church really is

 

Haitian Church

 

The Newark Gospel Tabernacle was built as the Stanley Theater from 1926-1927. Its architect was Frank Grad, the principal of one of Newark's two most prominent architectural firms (the other being Ely & Ely). Entering the church/theater, one comes to an Mediterrannean-style courtyard, and then the main auditorian, designed to look like the square of a Spanish village. The auditorium is very large, seating 1,200 when first built. .

 

Vailsburg today is majority black, yet still diverse. Many of Vailsburg's blacks are actually immigrants from Africa and the West Indies. Haitian establishments particularly have a high profile. Haitian pride is on display in many a Haitian-owned store and eatery.

 

Haitian restaurant
African store

 

Blacks from Africa are also a growing Vailsburg constituency.

 

 

Moving east, one comes to the heart of Vailsburg's business district. Facades have been restored in the past few years a uniform colorful theme. Here is shown Weisbrod's Pharmacy, which has been owned by the same family for seventy years.

 

Weisbrod's Pharmacy

For years this location was a bombed out office building and vacant lot, but finally this is a school. The new construction is a symbol of the State of New Jersey's generous funding of Newark's education system. Click on the photograph too see the office building that used to exist here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Coming Eventually! South Orange Ave. Part II: Garden State Parkway to Springfield Ave.

Pictures and text by J. Bennett, November 2005. Updated December 2006, May 2010, June 2011.