Of the upper class districts of Old Newark – High Street, Lincoln Park, Weequahic, and Forest Hill – Forest Hill is the most famous and best preserved. Yet, Forest Hill’s history is not just one of wealth. Forest Hill has an industrial history, a middle class history, and, increasingly now, an immigrant history. This is a tour of one of Forest Hill’s most attractive and interesting streets – one of Newark’s only true boulevards – Mt. Prospect Avenue.
|Mt. Prospect Avenue has a gritty beginning at Bloomfield Avenue. There are check cashing stores to be seen, Ecuadorian restaurants, and this brand new ice cream store. Prior to being the Alpine Creamery, this location was a Dairy Queen. One of the North Ward's most famous sons, Frankie Valli, took his family here for soft serve.
We commence with the Alpine Creamery. There is a great Hispanic bakery on the east side of the Street called Cafe Soleil. Frank’s Pizza is immediately west of the Alpine Creamery on Bloomfield Avenue.
Click on the photo for an image of the old DQ.
Walking north there are a few once-fine houses that have now been converted to apartments. A few had prices on signs outside – rents were on the order of $400 a month for a room.
The buildings themselves are maintained, but not lavishly. Yet there are unmistakable signs of former affluence. Examine the boar head and double dragons.
|Although the houses of Mt. Prospect have seen their function change, there are very few that are abandoned. It may not be apparent from this picture, but these houses have tremendous views of New York City.|
|The southern part of Mt. Prospect Avenue is a study in contrasts. Here is a vacant lot, an occupied house, and an abandoned, but ornate, apartment building.|
|If you are wondering why Mt. Prospect Avenue is called Mt. Prospect Avenue, the answer soon makes itself apparent. Mt. Prospect Avenue is located at the highest point of the ridge between the Passaic River and the Branch Brook.|
Going north, one begins to enter the territory of Steven Adubato's North Ward Center. The North Ward Center is one of the largest charities in the city of Newark. Steven Adubato, Sr. is one of the most significant power brokers in Newark and New Jersey Democratic politics.
As its founder points out, the North Ward Center is not a welfare organization. It offers business, education, and health programs - not AIDs treatment, drug counseling, or housing.
The Casa Israel is so-named because it is affiliated with Beth Israel hospital ("Beth" means "house" in Hebrew). Casa Israel offers services to low-income elderly people who are not eligible for assisted living or nursing homes.
|The grandest building still on Mt. Prospect is the former mansion of thread-maker William Clark, a Scottish immigrant, now the headquarters of the North Ward Center, which I mentioned previously. The mansion is immaculately well cared for. The interior woodwork is as well polished as it was during Clark's lifetime.|
At right:Detail of oriel window.
Though one might expect it, the rise of the Clark family was not simply one of immigrant pluck and determination, as the Clarks had considerable capital and managerial experience. In fact, rather than an up-from-the-bootstraps business, the Newark-based thread company was really just a branch of what would now be called a multinational corporation.
The Clark family had been spooling cotton thread in Paisley, Scotland since 1812. In 1855, with the American market growing, George A. Clark was dispatched to run the family's American operations. During the American Civil War demand soared and the Clark Thread Company was able to leave rented space on Fulton Street for a larger, newer factory by Bridge Street in 1866. By 1870 Clark had 1,000 people working for him spinning thread with the "O.N.T." -"Our New Thread" - label.
George A. Clark died in 1873, but he had a brother, William, to take over operations. William Clark shared his brother's business acumen. With the other three large thread manufacturers, Clark had "an understanding of prices" - that is, collusion to keep prices artificially high.
The Clark company was up front about price fixing, yet denied that there was a trust.
There is no trust. It is simply this: when any changes are requisite in prices those in the spool cotton business meet and decide what they shall fix the prices at [the NYTimes’ emphasis]. Four companies are interested – the principal warehouses in the country. They agree not to undersell each other.”
The Clarks vacillated between paternalism and cruelty towards their workers. In paternalism, the Clark Company chartered a special train every summer to take their workers to the shore. Like a stern father teaching his children a lesson, the Clarks were very particular to remind their workers about the importance of a protective tariff. Perhaps multiple lockouts in the fall of 1888, when Congress was debating the Mills Tariff Bill, was too stern a warning against the Democratic ticket.
The Clark company was uncompromising on issues of wages and control over the factory. At Christmastime of 1890, when 3,000 workers were so furious about the conduct of a factory supervisor that they went out on strike and burned the supervisor in effigy on Crane Street, the Clarks did not compromise one iota. Rather than give in on the small issue of the supervisor, the Clarks imported hundreds of workers from Canada, New England, and Europe. Over five months, the Clarks slowly but surely reestablished their workforce, on their terms. By the turn of the century, the Clarks would employ 8,000.
The Clark factory burned down in 1993, but the Clark mansion still stands. Not long after he assumed control of the company, William Clark hired William Halsey Wood, who was later to design the Peddie Memorial Church, to construct him the fine Jacobean edifice that we know.
From his mansion Clark could see sunrises over Manhattan and sunsets over the Orange Mountains. He also literally overlooked his own factories in downtown Newark and in East Newark.
William Clark retired in 1900 and moved back to Scotland. He died in 1902 and left the mansion to his widow, with the instructions that the mansion should be left to the eldest Clark son upon her death. Clark is buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. William C. Clark, a nephew, took over operations of American operations.
Over the next few decades the Clarks passed out of Newark life. William C. Clark died in Bedminster, and none of his children even lived in Essex County. In 1930 (correct year), the Clark Thread Company announced plans to expand around Atlanta, Georgia. In 1935 the East Newark operations were sold. In 1947 the Newark factory was closed in favor of the Georgia plants. John B. Clark cited high Newark taxes, high Newark labor costs, and a dearth of skilled workers.
Just north of the Clark Mansion is one of New Jersey's most notable apartment buildings, Mt. Prospect Manor.
Opening in 1927 in what was then an exclusive neighborhood, Mt. Prospect Manor was the first co-op building in New Jersey. Mt. Prospect Manor's builders believed that their apartment building could change Newark apartment living as the Dakota had changed New York City apartment living.
The builders of Mt. Prospect Manor constructed an elegant Tudor lobby and individualized elevator landings for each floor. Apartments were spacious and had panoramic views.
Unfortunately, Mt. Prospect Manor's future was not to be as gilded as the Dakota's. Many co-op shareholders had to forfeit their shares during the Depression, leaving the remaining shareholders with greater expenses. In 1935, Mt. Prospect Manor became the first co-op in New Jersey to go rental.
In 1989, Mt. Prospect Manor again made history, when it became one of the first, if not the first, rental apartment in New Jersey to go condo.
|Many post-WWII, but pleasant, high-rises are to be found north of Mt. Prospect Manor. All have amazing views.|
|Sadly, and curiously, there are also abandoned mansions.|
|North of Elwood Avenue, Mt. Prospect begins to be more commercial. Mansions and apartments towers are replaced by pre-WWII row houses and store space. In common with the rest of the North Ward, there is a strong Latino presence. Seen here is a Cuban bakery.|
|A former bank.|
|This abandoned factory at 865 Mt. Prospect, by the railroad tracks, was part of the Heller Brothers file and rasp company. The Hellers played a major role in the development of Forest Hill, a history that will be recounted in a later tour.|
|Finally, on the very edge of Newark, by the Second River, there is a last reminder of the former Italian presence in the neighborhood. Beyond this point is Belleville and the end of our tour. The pointing shadow belongs to this writer.|
Text and HTML by J. Bennett Photographs by J. Bennett and D. Druce November 2005 Permanent URL: www.newarkhistory.com/mtprospectave.htmlBibliography
Cheslow, Jerry. 1990. From Co-op to Rental to Condo; 1927 Structure Is Converted in Newark. The New York Times March 9.
Cummings, Charles. 1998. City's housing problems yield squalid and elegant solutions The Star-Ledger August 27.
Cummings, Charles. 2001. North Ward streets trace a mix of grace and grit KNOWING NEWARK. The Star-Ledger, August 23.
Golway, Terry. (2005) Steve Adubato, Newark's Go-To Guy. New York Times, March 27.
New York Times, 1888, ANOTHER PROTECTED "COMBINE." Oct 28.
New York Times, 1888, TO SUPPRESS COMPETITION: MORE COMBINATIONS TO GO ON THE LIST. Oct 30.
New York Times, 1888, NEW HANDS FOR CLARK'S MILLS.; THEY ARE SMUGGLED INTO THE BUILDING UNKNOWN TO THE STRIKERS. January 11.
New York Times, 1891,THE CLARK MILLS STRIKE.; AN ASSERTION THAT THE MEN SMUGGLED IN ARE DETECTIVES. Jan 12.
New York Times, 1935. INDUSTRIAL PLANT BOUGHT IN JERSEY; Investment Group Takes Over Former Clark Thread Unit in East Newark. 12 BUILDINGS ON 18 ACRES Private Hospital Transferred in Jersey City -- Homes Planned for Teaneck Estate. Sep 14.
New York Times, 1947. OLD NEWARK PLANT MOVING TO SOUTH; Clark Thread Company Cites Costs, Lack of Labor -- CIO Union Denounces Action. New York Times (1857-Current file). May 24.