Independence Park


 

What makes an urban park special? Is it size? Is it monuments? Is it water? Is it sweeping vistas?

An urban park can be special for any of the above reasons, but, in my opinion, what makes an urban park special is the use it receives and how it functions to bring a neighborhood together. The Ironbound, the mostly densely populated neighborhood in a densely populated city, has almost no park space. The Ironbound's housing stock consists of multi-story tenements and rowhouses, not detached single-family homes with backyards. For Ironbounders wanting a place to enjoy green, the only place to go is Independence Park.

Independence Park is located in the heart of the Ironbound, between Walnut, Adams, Oliver, and Van Buren Streets. Click here for location.

Independence Park was begun as East Side Park in 1895. At the time of its creation, Riverbank Park did not exist, so the opening of this 12.69 acre green space was a major event for the industrial Ironbound. The park was designed by the Olmsted Brothers firm. The name of the park was changed from East Side Park to Independence Park in 1922/1923.
The center of Independence Park there is a bandstand and gazebo called "the circle," but the real center of activity is the athletic fields, especially the soccer pitches.
Here is the "field house," aka restrooms.

 

A pleasant scene from Independence Park.
Soccer is the official sport of the Ironbound. On the day I visited Independence Park, people were playing soccer on the soccer fields, the baseball fields, the basketball court, and the hockey rink!

There are three official soccer leagues in the Ironbound, representing over 42 teams and 750 players. Every year, the heads of the leagues spend hours penciling in schedules. Sometimes it is necessary to split a field into three or four for all the practices.

A vibrant playground for kids a little bit younger than the soccer players. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is in the background of this photo.
This is one wing of East Side High School, Newark's most diverse high school. The Newark Board of Education is considering a new location for East Side High School, possibily at the old Tidewater Bailing site or the old Ballantine's Brewery. St. Casimir's Church is down the street from East Side.
The life of a park comes from the neighborhood around it. Independence Park is not so heavily used because of its design, which is rather plain, but because of the safety of the neighborhood, plus its density.

There are two notable churches on Oliver Street on the south side of Independence Park, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church.

This Italian Renaissance structure is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the Ironbound's first Italian parish. Once located on McWhorter Street, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel was organized in the 1890s

This structure was finished in 1955. Parishioners affectionately call it "The Little Cathedral of Down Neck."

Mt. Carmel is still a vibrant church. Every year it has a pageant where a statue of the Virgin Mary is paraded through the streets and dressed in robes of bills. The Festival of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel takes place every July.

This is St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church, located at 277 Oliver Street. Today the Ironbound is a Portuguese and Latin American neighborhood, St. Michael's is a reminder of the Ironbound's ethnic past, and that immigrants congregate and then disperse. The Ironbound once had a very large Eastern European community, of which St. Michael's was one of several churches. In addition to St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church, there is also St. Casimir's Catholic Church (located around the corner on Pulaski St and associated with the Polish community) and St. George's Byzantine Catholic Church.

St. Michael's was founded in 1906 by the Brotherhood of St. Michael, Russian immigrant factory workers had to save their pennies and give generously to construct this pleasing 1910 edifice. Notice the angled crosses, a sign of Eastern rite Christianity.

The best years for St. Michael's parish were the 1930s, when parishioners stood shoulder to shoulder during mass. By the beginning of the 21st century St. Michael's only had 100 members. Sadly St. Michael's held services for the last time on March 24th, 2013.

I had high hopes for this crepes restaurant, but it actually wasn't that good. My request for tomatoes with my crepe was denied!

The actual crepe itself, the wrapping, was very good. The chicken inside, which had been put through a blender or something, was a mass of dry strings of bird muscle.

I have been unable to find out any history behind this mansion on Walnut Street. If anyone has information, please email me.
This is one of the tallest pre-War brick apartment buildings in the Ironbound.
August/September 2006, Jeffrey Bennett
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