The Newark Memorial Building
One hundred years ago, as the City of Newark concluded its 250th anniversary, it held an architectural contest for a “Newark Memorial Building” to house a public auditorium; meeting rooms for civic organizations; gallery space for its museum of art, science and industry; an art school; and a public university. The director of the museum at the time, John Cotton Dana, even called for “a roof garden” with “a restaurant with modest prices” as well as “public baths” in the basement. The Newark Evening News proposal a grand Italianate palace akin to the Free Public Library to which it would be joined by a bridge; it was to be built on the site at the corner of Washington Street, Broad Street and Orange Avenue (where the Rutgers Business School is currently located).
The City Planning Commission had different ideas. It purchased land on Broad Street between Camp Street and Pennington Street near Lincoln Park, and it invited well-known architects, like McKim, Mead & White; Cass Gilbert; John Russell Pope; and others to submit drawings and plans. McKim, Mead & White won the competition.
Soon thereafter, though, controversy erupted over the means by which the city acquired the site. It was suspected that some of the commissioners profited by the sale of the land. More importantly, however, Dana did not like the location, the size, the style or the purposes of the proposed building; it did not meet his definition of a “new museum.” Finally, the First World War intervened, and the project died quietly.
A new museum building had to wait until 1923 when Louis Bamberger, the department store magnate, agreed to construct a building on the former estate of Governor Marcus L. Ward. It was Bamberger who hired the architect, Jarvis Hunt from Chicago; appointed his facilities manager, Abraham Schindel, to oversee the project; paid the bills; and presented the building to the City for the use of the Newark Museum Association. The doors opened in March 1926.
Through the generosity of the Estate of Ellen Keely Hunniken – a fund established for the purchase of materials relating to Essex County – the Newark Museum’s Library and Archives acquired this year the 16 plates and the 3 pages of text descripting the competition for “the Newark Memorial Building” that were published in The American Architect in October 1916. This is a fitting acquisition for the celebration of Newark’s 350th anniversary.
— William A. Peniston, Ph.D., Librarian/Archivist