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Fleming Avenue


 

Parallel to Ferrry Street, Newark's Fleming Avenue is in the heart of the Ironbound. Fleming Street is short, but as the former home of the Ballantine Brewery, it is one of the most significant in Newark's industrial history.

The Ironbound is, and has been, a tight-knit community. The thread that keeps Ironbounders together are the places to gather on every street. Fleming Avenue has any kind of gathering place you can imagine. From family diners, to churches, to men's clubs, to bars, Fleming Avenue is a place for socializing.

 

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Fleming Avenue used to be a street of apartments and wood frame houses, but Fleming Avenue is changing along with the rest of the Ironbound. The Ironbound still has more industry than any other part of Newark, but the Ironbound's workshops are slowly but surely being cramped out by rising real estate prices. The City of Newark has taken advantage of the retreat of the industrial glacier to build soccer fields and schools in other parts of the Ironbound, but here attractive new houses have been built.

The Ironbound is almost entirely Latino, Peninsular Spanish, and Portuguese, but the religious lives of these groups are changing. Formerly, nearly the entire neighborhood went St. Aloyius', but every year there are more Protestant denominations. This Pentecostal Church on the corner of Ferry and Fleming is joined by nearby Nazarene and Jehovah's Witnesses places of worship.

The Euro BBQ restaurant recently opened in a building formerly occupied by the Down Neck Diner.
Not all Fleming Avenue establishments are as wholesome as middle class rowhouses, Pentecostal churches, and classic American diners. This men's club is one of two on just a three block stretch of Fleming Avenue.
Some clubs, like this one, harken back to the ethnic homeland, but all cater to everyone. Galicia is a province of northern Spain.
The great residential structure on Fleming Avenue is the Prudential Apartments. The Chellis-Austen Apartments, now called the Aspen Riverbank apartments, were built by the Prudential Insurance Company from 1928 to 1932.

The Prudential Apartments were built to be a low-income alternative to the shabby tenements and tiny woodframe houses of the Ironbound. Private sector public housing might seem like a strange idea to someone who grew up with the Newark Housing Authority's projects, but in the late 1920s and 1930s there was actually a wave of privately built housing for the less-well off. In Chicago, Sears, Roebuck CEO Julius Rosenwald built the "Rosenwald Gardens" apartments in Bronzeville, Chicago's black neighborhood. In New York City, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. built the Paul Laurance Dunbar Apartments in Harlem.

In 1928, Newark mayor Jerome T. Congleton called on the Prudential to contribute to the comforts of Newark's large laboring population. After a law was passed in the state legislature enabling Prudential to invest in real estate, Prudential responded by building four "model tenements" in Newark. There were the Harrison and Douglas Apartments (reserved for blacks) in the Third Ward; another complex in Weequahic on Frelinghuysen Avenue; and last but not least there were these apartments here in the Ironbound.
The inner courtyard of the Prudential Apartments
The architect for the Prudential Apartments was Edmund C. Stout. In their pattern of slum clearance and general plainness, the Prudential Apartments foreshadowed the benighted urban renewal policies of the 1950s, but the Prudential Apartments at least did not segregate retail and residential, nor did they demand LeCorbusierian superblocks.
Fleming Avenue's parish church is St. Aloysius', seen here. This 1880 church building was designed by Charles Edwards.

If you need a measure of how important St. Al's was to Fleming Avenue, consider that Fleming Avenue was named after Walter M. Fleming, St. Al's founding priest. Before it was Fleming Avenue, Fleming Avenue was Bowery Street. The name "bowery" comes from a Germanic word meaning "field," presumably the street was named after the cattails of the Passaic River wetlands. The actual renaming took place in the early 1900s, and was partly due to the bad reputation of New York City's Bowery section.

Like many other parishes, St. Al's had its own school system, now sadly closed. The St. Aloyius School was paid for by the Ballantine Brewery, (which we are about to discover).
Beautiful tile paintings of the appearance of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal in 1917 are everywhere in the Ironbound, Fleming Avenue being no exception. Not only a religious symbol, but these Fatimas are a reflection of Portuguese pride. In street off of Fleming I did find this Ironbound-wise unique scene of the Holy Family.
The great Ballantine Brewery was once Newark's largest industrial establishment, employing over 4,500 workers at its peak in the 1940s. The forty acre site was almost a city within a city and brewed 4,000,000 barrels of beer a year.

Peter Ballantine came to Newark in 1840 from Albany, New York. Ballantine set up his own brewery on Front Street, in a building now occupied by Science High School. Ballantine, a Scot, originally only brewed heavy English ale, but as the demograhics of Newark changed, Ballantine moved into light beer.

Beer making in Newark goes back to the 1600s, and brewing in the Ironbound dates back to the early 19th century. The site that eventually became the Ballantine brewery was originally the Schalk Brothers brewery. Ballantine and Company bought the Schalk brewery in the 1870s.

The Ballantine family sold their brewery to the Badenhausen brothers of Germany shortly after the repeal of Prohibition. This might seem like a strange time to sell a beer company, but the Ballantine corporation believed that it lost many vital skills during the dry 1920s.
The three Ballantine rings stood for "Purity, Body, and Flavor." According to legend, Peter Ballantine got the idea for the three ring logo by seeing the water marks of his beer bottle on a table. This seal was first used in 1879.
The old brewmaster's home is now the renting office for industrial space in the old breweries.
The Ballantine Brewery was sold to the Investors' Funding Corporation in 1969, but the brewery's profits began to slip under the new ownership. In 1972 the Investors' Funding Corporation sold the Ballantine label (but not the buildings) to Falstaff in 1972. Over 2,000 workers were let go.

The buildings were vacant for several years but in the late 1970s the buildings were turned into a home for light industry called the Newark Industrial Plaza. The Ironbound had a large reservoir of semi-skilled workers, so the light industry here has been very successful, employing thousands.

After Ballantine's, Fleming Avenue starts to alternate between run-down and prosperous, even gentrified. At right we have Golda's Bar, which is said to be temporarily closed for two years.
Immediately across the street from Golda's is one of most Hobokenized apartment blocks I have ever seen in Newark. The building on the left has been recently sandblasted and tuck-pointed, the building at the right goes out of its ways to stand out. I asked a old-time resident what he thought of his yellow home, he said "it stops the airplanes from hitting it" and "it makes it easy to call a cab, just say 'the yellow one.'"
Farther east, closer to Ferry Street, we have a few buildings whose facades seem to have been borrowed from Mediterranean climes. This ex-bank is now Fernandes' Steak House.
Fleming Avenue ends at an industrial intersection at Ferry Street. Before I officially end this narration, I leave with the accompanying photograph. I feel that this photo neatly represents the palimsest that is the Ironbound. A Nineteenth century home, a Twentieth century advertisement (for Hassan Cigarettes, the Oriental Smoke), a Twenty-First century Portuguese style garden.

 

 

 

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J. Bennett
December 2005, updated December 2006.
Permanent URL: www.newarkhistory.com/flemingave.html
Special Thanks to D. Druce for lending me his camera.
Special Thanks to Gary Quien for advice, encouragement, and information.