The Firemen’s Insurance Building on Park Place in Newark is one of the most important historic buildings in the Military Park neighborhood. It is on pace to be converted into a 231-unit apartment building after the plan was unanimously approved by the Landmark and Historic Preservation Commission earlier this month.
The architect charged with restoring the building, Ed Rawlings, has retrofitted a number of historic buildings, including the Umbrella Factory in Williamsburg. “The facade is actually in very good shape,” Rawlings told the commission on July 5.
The only major changes to the building is the creation of a courtyard between the building, and another important landmark next to it at 2 Park Place, called the Symington House. The setbacks on the upper floors will also be converted into terraces. The existing parapets are below the height required for railings, so the firm will install ones made of glass, Rawlings said.
The Fireman’s Insurance Building once stood next to the Military Park Hotel, which was demolished in 1993 to make way for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Wilson Woodridge, local architect and LHPC commissioner, asked Rawlings if the detonation compromised the structural integrity of the building. “This building survived all of the implosion and all the things we were doing when we were trying to knock the buildings down for NJPAC?” Woodridge asked.
“It’s got a very robust frame to it,” said Rawlings, confirming the building is structurally sound.
Newark’s thriving economy was largely founded on the insurance sector, with Prudential, Mutual Benefit Life, the American Insurance Company, and the Firemen’s Insurance Company. These companies all left behind a flagship building that still define Newark’s skyline even today. In the beginning of the 19th century, the city laid claim to the fourth-largest insurance industry.
The building at 8 Park Place, built in the 1920s, was the third headquarters of what was one time the world’s largest fire insurance company. The first office at the Broad and Market intersection was a smaller, but highly ornamented Second Empire-style building that has since been demolished. The second, built in 1916 on the northeast corner of the same intersection, is 16 stories tall and still stands today. It was at one point the tallest building in the state. However, the firm’s rapid growth required it to abandon the building only 12 years later.
The original architects of the 8 Park Place building was father-son firm John and Wilson Ely, who left one of the most impressive imprints of any architect in Newark. In fact their firm designed flagships for two other insurance companies: the American Insurance Building at 15 Washington Street and the Mutual Benefit Life Building at 300 Broadway. Both still stand today. Interestingly, the Firemen’s Insurance Building was built in two stages— the first three floors in 1924, then the remaining eight stories four years later.
The Firemen’s Insurance Building follows the trend of many of Newark’s most iconic commercial buildings being converted into apartment buildings, including the Walker House, the Lefcourt Newark Building, and the National State Bank Building.