By Anne Schaper Englot
In Newark we’re getting tired of hearing hyped-up comparisons to Brooklyn, but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone. In 2015 Politico ran a story headlined “Is Newark the next Brooklyn?” The piece was rebutted by Dr. Roland Anglin, a Brooklyn native with 20+ years of work in Newark who formerly helmed Rutgers University – Newark’s Joseph Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies. Anglin published his response—spoiler alert: Newark is not the next Brooklyn, nor do we aspire to be—in The Conversation. That should have put the issue to rest.
But speculation continued, with the question next being picked up by the New York Times in 2016. That time, it was refuted by Newark’s Deputy Mayor Baye Adofo-Wilson: “Newark’s not trying to be the next Brooklyn, or the next Jersey City… We have our own richness and our own culture here that isn’t just an expansion of Wall Street, but really an expansion of Newark and an expansion of New Jersey.”
Things were quiet for a while, but then the New York Post added to fuel to the fire when it quoted New Jersey Performing Arts Center CEO John Schreiber. Schreiber compared the transformation of Fort Greene around the Brooklyn Academy of Music with downtown Newark’s “culturally conscious” development. Yet he also emphatically countered the article’s premise: “Newark is not Brooklyn…Newark is Newark.”
He echoed the refrain we’ve heard again and again from Newark native, Mayor Ras Baraka. “Newark is the next Newark,” Baraka stated and restated to an appreciative audience gathered to hear the Mayor’s State of the City address in May 2017. And yet, on the cover of Radius, a local glossy published by Newark area developer and booster, Paul Profeta, a headline shouts, “Newark Is the New Brooklyn.”
The Hahne’s Building
Cited in almost all these articles as evidence of Newark’s “Brooklynness” is the renovation of the Hahne & Company Department store. Everyone in Newark has a story about the Hahne’s building if they were here prior to the store’s closing in 1987. Whether they shopped there, worked there, or just passed through to stare at luxury goods beyond their reach, the Hahne’s played a central role in the life of the city. If you were walking down the street with a Hahne’s shopping bag, you were stylin’.
When my family was first contemplating a move to Newark late in 2013, I drove down Broad Street, Newark’s main thoroughfare. Plywood and chain link surrounded the central park downtown. There was a two-block construction site across the street and the Hahne’s building was all boarded up—a white elephant—at the center of town. Nevertheless, we were assured that Newark was undergoing a renaissance. The first piece of evidence was the opening of Military Park—an expert $3 million reimagining by Dan Biederman Associates, the firm responsible for renovation and programing in Bryant Park.
The Prudential Tower was next. Its sleek glass-clad façades and green design brought thousands of employees downtown in one fell swoop. Its beautiful new office building was designed by Kohn Pederson Fox and a LEED Gold-accredited, state-of-the-art facility complete with a green wall and green roof. Prudential transferred over 3,000 employees from the suburbs to the building, which looks down on Military Park and mirrors its triumph.
The final piece in the set is the Hahne’s building. L+M Development Partners undertook a $174 million redevelopment to transform it into a mixed-use building with retail, commercial, educational, and residential spaces. At its grand opening in January 2017, a record crowd assembled to celebrate the rebirth of a civic treasure. All doubts about Newark’s renaissance—which I learned had been touted in the local and national media periodically since 1987—were put to rest.
Founded in 1901 and designed by Goldwin Starrett (who was soon to be a premiere department store architect), the Hahne & Company store was the gold standard. It had four floors plus a basement of retail around the Grand Court, which was topped by a skylight that sent sun to every level. The store was at the heart of the city.
Everyone in the city has a story about Hahne’s. Some stories reflect the institutionalized racial inequality that divided the city in the 1960s. One man told of being an elevator operator who took ladies’ furs to the fur vault after the winter months—yet he was not allowed to set foot on the all-white retail floor. Other memories were more hopeful, such as a professor’s story about winning a drawing contest as a young girl for her drawing of her mom, which was displayed in the store window on Mother’s Day.
When the store was closed in the late 1980s, it was a hole in the heart of Newark. When it became clear that the Hahne’s building would reopen, the city shed a 30-year chip from its shoulder.
Hahne’s Building: A Case Study in Partnerships
L+M are continuing to work to fill all the commercial spaces, but it is only a matter of time. PetCo, CityMD, a Marcus Samuelson restaurant, and a shared-work-hub are all committed future tenants. L+M started the project under former mayor (now U.S. Senator) Cory Booker, who is still a frequent visitor to the building. Booker helped secure the first anchor tenant, Whole Foods, by contacting the company constantly until it finally agreed Newark was “ready” for a store.
Rutgers University – Newark was the second anchor tenant to sign on. An amazing synchronicity occurred with the arrival of new RU-N chancellor Nancy Cantor. Cantor is a national expert in creating anchor partnerships between universities and cities, and she saw an opportunity to invest in a linchpin project with other Newark anchors such as Prudential and Goldman Sachs. A RU-N faculty proposal to relocate their engaged scholarship and social art practice to a space in the downtown was quickly approved.
I became involved in the development of this space in the roughly 500,000 square foot Hahne’s building because of my background in architecture, initially serving as a liaison between KSS architects and the faculty, and now serving as the co-director with Newark artist and long-time gallerist, Victor Davson. It is a 50,000 square foot, $25 million project we call Express Newark, as in “Express your amazing soul, Newark.” Express Newark is a university-community collaboratory where printmakers, video artists, a sculptor who has mastered 3-D imaging and printing, graphic designers, painters, photographers, and writers—many of them multimedia artists—work together on myriad projects.
All told, there are 28 local artists who are recognized community partners, 18 faculty members, and over 1,000 Rutgers students actively engaged in Express Newark. Roughly 150 Newark High School students take college prep and art workshops several Saturdays a month as part of a Kresge-funded program. At first, we worried about not marketing enough to the public, but now we’re trying to stem the tide of organizations and individuals who want to hold conferences, lectures, events, and more in the Express Newark space.
Renaissance? Sure, but it’s Newark’s
L+M made so many decisions about the Hahne’s project that were about maintaining the integrity of the architecture and not about the bottom line. The best example is the Grand Court skylight, which had been painted and tarred over during WWII to prevent it from becoming a target for enemy planes. L+M painstakingly disassembled the skylight, sent it to Pennsylvania for sandblasting and restoration, and lovingly reinstalled it over the second story to recreate a modern version of the original Grand Court. The third and fourth floors of the court became a residential court with apartment windows and patios overlooking the skylight. I am such a believer that my husband and I were the first residential tenants: on February 1, we moved into an apartment that overlooks Military Park.
Recently, we sat outside with some neighbors at Burg, a burger joint and beer garden in Military Park. The outdoor bar was packed with millennials, there were people jogging and walking dogs, a group was waiting to go on a tour of the city, and others had gathered to paint watercolors and play ping pong. It was a vibrant Newark scene—our own kind of renaissance.
Anne Schaper Englot is a Professor of Practice in Architecture & Humanities in Rutgers University-Newark’s Arts, Culture & Media Department and is the Co-Director of Express Newark: a University – Community Arts Collaboratory.
About this series
This is the first post in a series that will dig into preservation and the arts in legacy cities. The arts have the potential to underpin many of the strategies in the Action Agenda, especially thoughtful, creative community engagement.
Action item 2: Engage and listen to local communities
Preservationists must listen to local needs and priorities and develop new forms of community engagement informed by diverse communities and youth. Creative visualization of preservation’s potential—pop-up shops in vacant storefronts, art installations in empty houses, and collective daydreaming like artist Candy Chang’s “I wish this were” walls—can share important community stories, underscore the importance of place and community, and spur real action to revitalize both vernacular and high-style neighborhoods.
Legacy city preservation practice must hold local heritage and quality of life as significant as architecture. Intangible heritage and culture—the stories that make a community what it is—should be recognized and preserved through oral histories, community storytelling events, and in other ways. is is especially important when demolition is necessary and in neighborhoods that have been shaped by long-term disinvestment and systemic racism.