County: Essex County
The James Street Commons Historic District today contains one of the last and largest remaining concentrations of red-brick masonry townhouses which still exists in the City of Newark. This twenty-four block area, containing some sixty-four acres of land possesses the finest examples of brownstone and brick structures clustered together anywhere in the city. James, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bleeker Streets are exceptionally fine residential concentrations and the old, but exceptionally fine townhouses dot the entire James Street area with their distinctive late nineteenth century-early 20th century flavor.
Unfortunately, about 190 buildings out of 425 total in the district have been demolished since 1975, that is about 45% of all buildings included in the original National Register nomination. With so many structures lost, the original brownstones that remain become particularly valuable because of how they contribute to and commemorate the visually rich streetscapes of nineteenth century America. Neighboring institutions have also eroded the architectural fabric of this neighborhood, which was once several times larger than it is now and included hundreds more buildings spread over dozens more blocks. As the 1977 National Register nomination expands: “More recently, the fifty-five acre area which was cleared in the early sixties to make room for Rutgers University and New Jersey Institute of Technology, also infringed upon the district. Before these two educational institutions were built, the area which they occupy was a very contiguous part of the James Street Commons Historic District. Today, they form the majority of the district’s southern boundary.”
In 2020, more than ten buildings were slated for demolition, or at risk of demolition. As Newark institutions expand, this trend continues and the walkable and historic urban streetscapes created by the sum effect of these buildings is under constant threat.
Numerous residents of the historic district have spoken in opposition to demolition of sites at several community meetings and recently at two meetings before the Historic Sites Council. Demolition of these and other sites is likely to appear at future meetings. Most demolition applications in the James Street Commons have been put before the Historic Sites Council individually. This piecemeal approach minimizes the larger picture and historical trend. Just outside the district for instance, the Warren Street School has recently been demolished.
Preservation New Jersey charges institutions and developers to think more deeply about ways their new projects can respect and respond to the Newark history embedded in the James Street Commons Historic District and respect the boundaries and corresponding scale and stylistic guidelines of the James Street Commons Historic District to prevent further out-of-context development and demolition.