NJIT’s Plans to Modernize Its Campus Could Cost Newark Some History

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As the third oldest city in the nation, Newark has a rich architectural history, notably in its public buildings, churches, and schools. A great many historic buildings, however, were lost over the years during devastating public-works projects, such as the construction of I-280 and high-rise public housing, and the general indifference of past eras to older architectural forms. In this series, we’re highlighting five Newark buildings that are at risk of being lost forever. Read more of the series here.

Warren Street School 110 Warren Street Historic Newark
Without a historic designation, the fate of The Warren Street School in Newark is uncertain. Photo by Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

One of Newark’s oldest institutions — New Jersey Institute of Technology — has plans to remake its campus that could endanger as many as four buildings in a historic district and a beloved century-old school.


“The university has a tremendous history, but the leadership has done a scandalous job to preserve history,” said Zemin Zhang, executive director of Newark Landmarks. “Their plan is to create a sort of campus square, and these buildings are in the way.”

The four imperiled residences — 321, 317, 257, and 249 MLK Boulevard — are part of the James Street Historic District. They are located on what was once known as Millionaire’s Row for its lavish homes. Over the years, however, a great many have been lost to eras that had different attitudes toward older architecture. So the ones that have survived remain under the watchful eye of preservationists.


“As to the townhouses on MLK Boulevard, the committee has not received any plans for that site,” said Liz Del Tufo, the president of Newark Landmarks. “Suffice to say, the committee is against any demolition in a historic district unless it can be proved otherwise.”

321 Mlk Boulevard (sigma Pi) Historic Newark
321 MLK Boulevard, Newark. Photo by Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

The university has denied having any concrete plans. In fact, only one of its proposals — the NJIT Campus Gateway Redevelopment Plan — has been publicly revealed. But the true extent of the university’s vision for the neighborhood is an “open secret,” Zhang said, which includes leveling the entire block where the old Mueller Bros. factory stands as well as the land where Warren Street School is located.

Together, with combined enrollments of 15,000 students across 83 acres of tax-exempt land, Newark’s two largest universities — Rutgers-Newark and NJIT have long anchored the city, creating thousands of jobs and providing an intangible stimulus during the years after the Newark Riots in 1967. Although these institutions have been notably loyal to the city, they haven’t been the greatest stewards of historic preservation.

In the 1960s, when Louis Danzig — the Robert Moses of Newark — gave Rutgers University several acres to build a traditional campus with a quad and a clock tower, thousands of Victorian-era townhouses like the ones on James Street were demolished. And while NJIT, founded in 1881 by the great American inventor Edward Westin, has restored several historic buildings in University Heights at considerable cost — notably, the Central King Building and Eberhardt Hall — it, too, had a similar practice of clearcutting blocks on Summit and Colden streets.

However, there has been a changing of the guard of late. “After so many decades, Rutgers is now trying to fit into the historical district and encourage people to live there,” said Zhang, pointing out several properties Rutgers has restored in the James Street Historical District. “That’s the right direction.”

257 Mlk Boulevard Historic Newark
257 MLK Boulevard, Newark. Photo by Darren Tobia/Jersey Digs.

Preservationists can sleep well knowing that Del Tufo’s committee must be consulted about these residences. But they are a bit more nervous about the university’s designs for the century-old school on Warren Street. Without an official historic designation, the fortress-like school, where Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Charles Hughes briefly attended, has far less protection.

Andrew Christ, senior vice president of real estate development at the university, mentioned that the fire that broke out at the school last summer could affect its decision. “The fire did extensive damage to the interior and structure of the building and this will be accessed [sic] as we move forward with planning.”

Newark is one of the nation’s oldest school districts, and its greatest architecture is often found at its schools. The Warren Street School, built in 1892, might be the magnum opus of Henry King, an alumnus of the prestigious firm Architect O’Rourke. Famous for its Gothic Churches, the firm clearly inspired elements of the school’s revival-style seen in the turrets and crenelated parapets.

“When you look at the history of Newark, if you don’t begin to regard your schools and your churches, there will be no history – because so many other significant buildings have been leveled,” said Dr. Marion Bolden, the founder of the Newark Public School Historic Preservation Committee, which used to store its collection of artifacts at the school. “I wish I could hit the lottery and save all these old buildings.”

9 COMMENTS

  1. Here we go again with the “fire” excuse.
    I live in university heights. I saw or heard of no fire. Any major fire would’ve made news!
    The same was done to Elliott street. Lightning hit the outside cornice of the school corner of Grafton & Summer Ave.
    Yet NFD flooded all three wings of the school with water. This was deliberate bc floors were wooden & would warp, justifying demo & rebuild vs repair. part of old corrupt SCC (State-run School construction Company) of NJ!

  2. There was a fire in the empty old Warren St school building; I observed it myself. Sad to hear about all those Victorian homes demolished in what have been an attractive area, only to be replaced by brutalist garbage. That said, the school on Warren Street is nice but not all that terribly interesting. I would be happy to see it shortly replaced with a decent building actually *occupied* rather than sit vacant for a decade. I hope that these groups don’t make redevelopment more difficult. The area badly needs it.

  3. Sorry, but universities are more important than abandoned buildings. I support university expansion over retaining empty structures.

  4. Granted JC isn’t exactly a preservation haven but WAY more preserved than ravaged Newark and while Newark is know as the biggest city in N.J…it’s a good example of why Jersey City is the GREATEST city in N.J.

  5. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s negative comments about Newark, just stating facts. Newark is one of the worst cases of historical preservation I’ve come across.

    I’ve heard some people trying to compare JC and Newark and it’s just a bad comparison. That’s like comparing NYC to JC…everything is valued based on proximity to NYC. So just stating the fact that even though Newark may be the largest but JC is the greatest

    • @DazedandConfused: If you have to make your case by disparaging others, you’ve already lost…

      Newark is unmatched in NJ, in its architecture, history, cultural institutions, plethora of dining options, diversity, educational institutions, highway infrastructure, public transportation, rail networks, park systems, entertainment options, and more.

  6. @DazedandConfused: While JC may have preserved its architecture better than Newark did, using that to say that’s why it’s the greatest city in the state is beyond absurd.

    JC did better than Newark in that regard, but there are quite a few other cities in NJ that have preserved their historic fabric far better than JC did. JC’s own neighbor Hoboken is a good example.

    With all that said, Newark’s assets much outweigh what it lost to history. It’s industrial capacity, collegiate presence (which hasn’t even reached full potential yet), and entertainment presence effectively annihilates anything JC has in that regard. Historic preservation is a good, but narrow metric. JC has a strong financial sector, but Newark is still NJ’s job center.

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