Lyons Avenue


Lyons Avenue is another one of Weequahic's charmed east-west streets. Starting at Weequahic Park, Lyons Avenue climbs uphill to the Irvington border. Along the way Lyons Avenue goes through leafy, quasi-suburban blocks to urban sidewalk-oriented retail to finally, suburban style strip malls.

Lyons Avenue was named for the prolific Lyons family. The Lyonses settled in this humble farming area of unincorporated Essex County in the 1600s. The first Lyon to come here was Henry Lyon, a witness to the execution of Charles I who also served as Newark's first treasurer. There were fourteen Lyons families here in the early 1800s that the area was named for the clan - Lyons Farms.

Contrary to what I had read in a 2004 Star-Ledger article ("Rock 'n' roll never forgets; After nearly 40 years, a legendary N.J. garage band stages an unlikely comeback" Star Ledger, Aug 8, 2004) Richard and the Young Lions was NOT named after Lyons Avenue. Richie and the Young Lions got their name from the haircut of their lead singer. Richard and the Young Lions were discovered at the Indian Pizzaria on Chancellor Ave, not Lyons.

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Anyway, Lyons Avenue wasn't always Rock 'n' Roll, Lyons Avenue has its share of churches.

The congregation that built this church was founded as the Lyons Farms Baptist Church in 1769. It was a breakaway from a baptist church in Scotch Plains. This present church structure dates from 1907/1908. There used to be a little cemetery next to the church.

This attractive Art Deco apartment building, at 19 Lyons Avenue, was constructed in 1938. Weequahic is architecturally unique in Newark for its Art Deco architecture. I am not aware of similar Art Deco apartments anywhere else in urban Essex. 19 Lyons Avenue, and the other tasteful Art Deco apartments on Elizabeth Avenue, were built by Isadore Portnoff.

When 19 Lyons Avenue was built the 67 apartments had sunken living rooms, 10 foot ceilings, and wood-panelled walls. It was "the epitome of upper middle class living."

Weequahic stood out from the rest of Newark, and most of the country for that matter, in that it had a considerable amount of development during the 1930s. I am not sure why this occurred. Possibly, Weequahic grew in the 1930s because of the exodus of Jews from the old Third Ward. Possibly the new development was also fueled by the newly-opened Beth Israel Hospital and Newark Airport.

19 Lyons Avenue was a home of Meyer Ellenstein, Newark's only Jewish mayor. He and his wife lived in a top floor two room apartment here. Ellenstein was extremely annoyed by the noise of aircraft from Newark airport and in the 1950s led a campaign against the Port Authority's expansion plans for the airport. According to Ellenstein, planes would fly as little as 200' above his apartment's rooftop.

Ironically, as mayor of Newark during the 1930s, Ellenstein himself favored the airport and worked to enlarge it.

Like much else in Newark, 19 Lyons Avenue was abandoned in the 1980s. Once home to a mayor and members of the city council, 19 Lyons Avenue was home to drug dealers and squatters. In 1988 Cali Associates of Cranford saw promise in the building and spent $5 million renovating it to something as close to its original appearance as possible. Financing came from a mixture of non-profits and government sources.

Photo courtesy of the Jewish Historical Society of Metrowest

Apartment houses like 19 Lyons Avenue replaced some fine free-standing houses like this one. Notice the porte-cochere at the right. In general, wealthier residents wanted to live closer to Weequahic Park.
Now the First Faithful Christian Missionaries, this building was once a home of Goldsticker's funeral parlor. Goldsticker's first location was on Chancellor Avenue.
This small structure was the last Jewish remnant in Weequahic. When the Chancellor Avenue YMHA closed in 1969 there was still a large, elderly Jewish community in Weequahic. The United Jewish Appeal did not want to abandon the Jewish elderly, so the UJA purchased this building and ran it as a senior center. In the early 1970s there were 600 seniors who participated in events here, but by the early 1980s there were fewer than 150 elderly Jews who were members, the last Jews of Weequahic. Operation of the senior center was very costly, due to the need for an armed guard at the door. In 1982 this building was sold.
Young Israel was one of more prominent Orthodox congregations in Newark. The face of the building shown here is actually on Weequahic Avenue, the Lyons Avenue rear is shown below.

Note: Young Israel was technically not an orthodox synagogue, as Young Israel is officially an independent denomination.

This synagogue was opened in 1942. The synagogue's founder and leader was Zev Segel. For several years there was a religious school - a yeshiva - here. Sadly, Young Israel moved out of Newark in 1968.

This is Young Israel seen from Lyons Avenue. Just like the Board of Ed purchased the YMHA on Chancellor Avenue for additional classroom space, they purchased Young Israel. Young Israel's building now serves as an annex for the Maple Avenue School, an elementary school.
The largest monument of Lyons Avenue is Beth Israel Hospital. Beth Israel was incorporated on October 24th, 1901 in central Newark and opened, with 21 beds, on August 31st in 1902. Its first home was a former house on West Kinney and High Street.

Beth Israel was founded by Sadie Blum and Anna Bernhard. It is ironic that the people who founded and led the Beth in those early years were women. A woman in 1901 could not even vote, let alone aspire to political office, yet women consistently demonstrated themselves capable in charitable endeavours such as this.

Nearly two-thirds of Beth Israel's patients in its first ten years were charity cases. This is a simultaneous testament to the poverty of the majority of Newark's Jewish community and the affluence and beneficence of its leaders.

The Beth moved to Weequahic in 1931. Louis Bamberger and Felix Fuld, as usual, had kicked off the fundraising with large donations.

Beth Israel Hospital was designed by Frank Grad. Grad's original design had an uncluttered U-driveway in the front of the building and a spacious lawn.

Beth Israel Hospital used to have a large and respected nursing school. Paula Ben Gurion, the wife of Israel's founding father David Ben Gurion, was a graduate.

Beth Israel had a number of accomplishments in cardiology. Pacemaker surgery was pioneered here and until very recently, Beth Israel was the only hospital in New Jersey that could perform heart and lung transplants.

Beth Israel is no longer affiliated with the Jewish community. It was sold in 1996/1997 to the St. Barnabas system. The Beth Israel board of trustees attached the conditions that the name of the hospital never be changed and the Jewish star never removed.

Lyons Avenue becomes more commercial the farther one gets from Weequahic Park. This row of stores is immediately west of Beth Israel Hospital.
This fanciful building is the home of the Lyons Calvary Bible Church.
St. Peter's Park was built on the site of St. Peter's Orphanage. St. Peter's orphanage was founded in 1863, to care for children whose fathers died in the Civil War and whose mothers could not care for them alone. Over the years, St. Peter's ceased caring for orphans as much as for troubled youth whose parents were alive. St. Peter's was the orphanage where Philip Roth got kicked by a horse in "The Plot Against America."

St. Peter's moved to Denville in 1974. It is now known as St. Peter's Village.

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