This 19th-Century Building in Downtown Newark has a Secret Staircase

770 Broad Street Newark History
The Howard Savings Institution as it stands today. Photo by Darren Tobia.

The Howard Savings Institution, at one time the oldest bank in Newark, was housed in a neoclassical building at 770 Broad Street that has a secret staircase.

“I went down into the bowels of that building,” Robert Bernstein, founding principal at Bild Architecture, told Jersey Digs.

Bernstein, whose firm is helping to renovate the 19th-century building, found the staircase and believes the purpose of it was to allow the teller to accept deposits and transport them to the basement vault securely without having to leave a caged-in station.

Howard Savings Institution Newark
A historical photo of the Howard Savings Institution.

Bernstein came before the Landmark and Historic Preservation Commission in 2021 to present plans to convert the former bank into an Urgent Care facility. The original design had two exposed ionic columns that, decades ago, were covered over by a false wall. “The existing building is still there, it’s just in a little bit of disrepair,” Bernstein said. “Everything is still located behind a false wall.”

The superficial stucco material will be replaced with glass so that the columns — with the help of dramatic backlighting —  are visible again from the street. The existing roll-down security door will also be removed. A decorative bronze awning will be installed above the entrance.

The commission, which voted unanimously in favor of the proposal, expressed a wish that, in time, the owner would restore the other historic details on the facade.

“That stucco surface was always meant to be taken off at some point in the future — I’m assuming when development in downtown Newark was more friendly,” said Commissioner Susan Holguin-Veras, who has since been named as co-chair of the LHPC. “I like this concept for now, but I like it thinking about the future, and thinking about how we can continue revealing the rest of the building for future use.”

Howard Savings Institution Newark Ad
This ad appeared in the Newark Evening Star on Nov. 12, 1910.

The bank was originally named after John Howard, an 18th-century English philanthropist, who was an advocate for prison reform. The naming of the bank is unusual because Gilded Age banks were typically named after a prominent local person. Howard never lived in the United States, let alone Newark. “Possibly the name Howard was chosen for a name was due to the fact that at the time of its organization every man connected with it was equally prominent in Newark’s social, financial, and business life,” the Newark Evening News conjectured. “As the institution was to be philanthropic in nature that name was at once accepted.”

Richard Partyka, co-chair of the LHPC, said he used to have a bank account at the Howards Savings Institution when he was a student at Essex Catholic High School. “I had a Howard Savings bank account that I used to put 50 cents in every week,” Partyka said. “Made me the man I am today.”

Exposing the limestone columns behind glass would be “setting an example that could be touted in the city for the architects who come later,” Partyka added. “Because we have a problem with them not wanting to try and rehabilitate and retrofit the classical historical buildings we have.”


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