Lincoln Park Historic District
Newark has a proud history, much of which is reflected in the history of one small area of the city –Lincoln Park. Standing amid the park’s ancient trees, it’s still possible to envision Lincoln Park at the turn of the century. The story of this area is a chronicle of Newark’s past, from colonial village, to thriving industrial center juxtaposed with an old Barbary Coast (a Black entertainment and red light district), to decline and now to renewal.
When Newark was founded in 1666, the southern end of what is now Broad Street was marked by a triangular plot of ground called the South Common. The first settlers were eager to recreate the look of a New England town and so, to assure that the greens or “commons” would be preserved, the Town Meeting passed a rule in 1669 that the commons were “not to be disposed of to any man’s property without the consent of every freeholder or received inhabitant of the town…”
In spite of the covenant, some ignored the rule and built on the land. By the early 1800’s all that remained of the South Common was a small strip of land on Broad Street. The city purchased additional property in 1850 for $30,000, giving the park its present 4-acre triangular shape, incorporating it into what was then called South Park. It wasn’t until 1869 that the name was officially changed to Lincoln Park in honor of the martyred President Lincoln, who had a memorable visit here in 1861.
From then until after World War I, the park became a fashionable residential area favored by many of the most prominent families of the day. In the mid 1800’s Newark emerged from its village status and became an important industrial center. Foremost among these new industries were the manufacture of leather goods, jewelry manufacturing and breweries. For many years, Newark was well known for its production of boots and shoes, and the firm of Bannister and Tichenor was one of the most renowned. German brewers had been drawn here too by the purity of Newark’s water. Among the most famous were the Kruegers and the Feigenspans. It was Christian Feigenspan, son of the founder of Feigenspan Brewing Company who donated the Colleoni statue in Lincoln Park to the city on its 250th anniversary in 1916. The original statue, in Venice, has been called the finest equestrian statue in the world.
Around the turn of the century Lincoln Park gained prominence as the home for some of these leading business and social leaders of the time. Homeowners in Lincoln Park included John F. Dryden, founder of the Prudential Insurance Company, Richard Hahne, a member of the department store family, Franklin Murphy, former Mayor of Newark and Governor of New Jersey, and the McCarter family, a family of influential bankers, lawyers and utility industry professionals.
During the 1920s and 30s, it attracted fashionable hotels and shops and the wealthy who resided here would later have city streets and institutions named after them throughout the city. Between 1925 and 1950, the “Coast” was a Black business district and thriving mecca known for its jazz clubs and nightlife. Hundreds of performers and musicians made their livelihoods performing in nightclubs in Newark. The biggest and most important star from Newark during those days was Ms. Sarah Vaughn. A rich crop of hometown entertainers performed in nearly a thousand saloons, downtown theaters and nightclubs throughout Newark.
“When people think of the hottest cities of the Jazz Age and Swing Era, New York, Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis, Kansas City, and Chicago immediately spring to mind. But Newark, New Jersey was just as happening as each of these towns. On any given evening, you could listen to a legendary singer like Sarah Vaughn or laugh at the celebrated comedy of Red Foxx. Newark was a veritable maze of theaters, clubs, and after-hours joints where people like to have a good time. Many entertainment careers were launched in the City of Newark.” (from the book “Swing City: Newark Nightlife 1925-1950” by Barbara Kukla)
In the late 1930’s Newark had joints jumping on every corner of the Barbary Coast. Homegrown talents like Viola “Miss Rhapsody” Wells, Willie “The Lion” Smith or Babs Gonzalez, and well known greats like Billie Holiday performed all around the City. The heart of Newark’s Barbary Coast including hot spots like The Kinney Club, The Nest Club similar in style to the famous Cotton Club in Harlem.
In the 1960s and 70s, some of these splendid structures and mansions in Lincoln Park were deteriorated and abandoned, before a number of social and educational agencies began buying properties to help maintain the historic properties. As the wealthy moved away during and after the Depression and World War II, many of the buildings were converted into rooming houses or lesser commercial uses. Many of the building stood firm through the difficult years that followed. The neighborhood was later designated for official landmark status by the Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee and placed on the National Historic Register.
The South Park Presbyterian Church has been on the National Register since 1972. Today only the façade remains of the 1855 building designed by John Welch and long considered one of the finest Greek revival churches in New Jersey. Lincoln spoke from its steps on February 21, 1861, on the way to his inauguration in Washington. The two parks and their statuary, as well as 40 buildings on eight surrounding blocks, were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in January 1984.
In the late 1980’s, a group of artists and residents came together to revitalize Lincoln Park. Those meetings served as the foundation for the creation of “Renaissance Newark, Inc.” Renaissance Newark was developed the “Lincoln Park Cultural and Historic District” (LPCHD) plan, which was included in Newark’s 1990 Master Plan update.
The objectives of that plan included: short-term neighborhood clean-up and stabilization; preservation and restoration of the character and integrity of the neighborhood which is on the National and State Registers of Historic Places; and focusing future development around the cultural and historic amenities and the District’s growing cultural community. The group eventually ran out of steam due to lack of funding.
In 1987, Amiri Baraka led the Newark Music Project, and proposed a plan to develop Newark’s historic Coast district. The Barbary Coast Plan (BCP) was submitted in 1997, built on the LPCHD Plan. BCP components included a) renovating Symphony Hall; b) connecting southern and northern Broad Street through a medium; c) renovating existing buildings and building new ones to accommodate mixed-incomes; d) adopting zoning allowing for artist/live work spaces; and e) adopting zoning that allows for restaurants, art galleries, night entertainment venues, craft stores and street vendors.
The work of Renaissance Newark and the Newark Music Project were the building blocks for the Regional Plan Association’s (RPA) involvement. In 1999, RPA hosted a three-day charette examining the redevelopment potential. The charette came up with several suggestions: Artist Housing around Newark Symphony hall and behind Lincoln Park, a renovated Symphony Hall, more funding and cultural programs and activities in Lincoln Park, an arts and cultural corridor along Broad Street connecting northern and southern Broad Street and the re-greening of the Lincoln Park community. For three years, RPA provided conferences, a walking house tour, the development of a neighborhood plan, hosting meetings, partnerships with developers to build artist and market-rate housing and formation of the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District Inc. (LPCCD), to carry on the mission and goals of the community.
The LPCCD is the realization of 20 years of dreams, ideas and hard work that has resulted in new housing and continued growth important to improving the quality of life with respect to the environment.
Information compiled from:
Amiri Baraka, author, poet, activist-
“Urban Culture and the New Politics of Cooperative Development”
Doug Eldrigde, President Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee –
“A Newark Preservation and Landmarks Committee Guide”
Barbara Kukla, author-
“Swing City: Newark Nightlife 1925-1950”