Preservationists Win Grant to Nominate Newark’s Weequahic High For National Register

Weequahic High School 279 Chancellor Ave Newark
Weequahic High School at 279 Chancellor Avenue. Courtesy of National Historic Trust.

The demolition last year of Newark’s Warren Street School was a blow to the preservation world. Now, a local nonprofit is working to ensure at least one of Newark’s historic schoolhouses is protected with national landmark status.

Newark Landmarks’ mission to list Weequahic High School on the National Register of Historic Places goes back to 2006, when the organization wrote a nomination for six historic schools — the others were Boylan Street, Branch Brook, Cleveland Elementary, Fifteenth Avenue, and Warren Street schools.

But the historic preservation office noted deficiencies in the application, and the process stalled because of a lack of funding. With a $13,580 grant from the National Historic Trust, the work can resume.

Mark Gordon, board member at Newark Landmarks, said that Weequahic High was chosen as the first of the five remaining schools because their alumni association had made a donation and they wanted to “honor that commitment.”

“Also, Weequahic High School featured architectural excellence in the Art Deco style along with its special role as a center of community and educator of future leaders,” Gordon said.

The limestone building at 279 Chancellor Avenue has already proven eligible for the National Register because of the integrity of its architecture designed by Manhattan-based firm Guilbert & Betelle, which included Newarker James Betelle. A number of the firm’s masterworks are already listed on the National Register, including the Essex Club near Military Park.

The neighborhood is in the heart of Newark’s former Jewish community and produced a number of notable alumni including Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Philip Roth. The school’s lobby is home to a famous series of murals by Michael Lenson, who later worked for the WPA.

The demolition of Warren Street School certainly has made the mission of historic preservation more urgent. It shocked Newarkers that the school’s history — Dr. Clementine Price established a school there — was not enough to save it. The school’s lack of a landmark nomination, which was never completed due to a lack of funds,  highlighted for many the overbearing cost of historic preservation and the need for reforms. Until then, Newark Landmarks believes that securing a landmark designation for Weequahic High School be a harbinger for the remaining schools on their priority list, Phil Yourish, Newark Landmarks board member, said.

“Once our Weequahic application is confirmed for landmark status, it will serve as a template that can be used for getting other Newark school buildings approved in the near future,” said Yourish, the former director of the Weequahic High School Alumni Association. 


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