Marlboro Park Historic District
The Marlboro Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the Montclair Multiple Resources Area nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
Marlboro Park Historic District is a well-preserved example of suburban residential planning that developed between 1898-1925 because of its proximity to the commuter railroad line. The Park provided affordable, well-planned housing for the burgeoning middle class who were flocking to the suburbs. This area was larger and less exclusive than Erwin Park, another residential railroad development built at almost the same time west of the railroad station.
The growth and development of Montclair, an early commuter suburb, is closely connected with the railroad. City people came to live in the area with the first train connection of 1856. When the second railroad came to Montclair in 1873, stations were built throughout the community and residential growth in the immediate vicinity followed. Marlboro Park is a unique development in Montclair, and a prime example of similar residential development taking place in other railroad suburbs at the turn of the century.
Prior to the coming of the railroad in 1873 the land between Grove and Park streets was undeveloped. In 1867 "Deacon" Samuel Holmes, a New York businessman, purchased several tracts of land from Watchung Avenue to the mountain slope. His residence, "Holmswood," an Italianate structure, c.1870, at 334 Grove Street, encompassed 17 acres. The 1878 map of Montclair shows Holmes as the most important land owner in the area. Montclair Avenue was already cut through to Watchung Avenue and a large pond is shown to the west of the present Christopher Street.
After the death of Samuel Holmes in 1897, his heirs, in particular Samuel J. Holmes, organized the Montclair Realty Company in 1898 to develop the family holdings in the area. Operations began immediately to improve their property, which included Fairfield Street and parts of Watchung and Montclair Avenues. Fairfield Street was newly graded and macadamized. Stone sidewalks and curbs were laid on both sides of Fairfield Street and Montclair Avenue. A sewer was built and water, gas and electricity were introduced. The newly formed company opened an office at 153 Watchung Avenue. Their elaborate brochure published in 1900 describes the amenities of the new development:
"In its fullest sense the homes were equipped with every modern improvement. All were heated by steam and lighted both by gas and electricity. The plumbing is of the latest design with nickel plated fixtures. Some of the homes have 2 complete bathrooms; all have 2 toilets, one for the use of the servants.
The finest materials and finishes were used throughout; with hard wood floors and oak trim in the main rooms. All the open fireplaces have oak mantles with tile facings and hearths."
The convenience to the station was stressed, with a choice of 20 or more trains daily to New York, for a monthly rate of $5.60. It was also indicated that a new public school was within 5 minutes' walk and that churches of various denominations were in close proximity to the Park. The rustic charm of the area was given special attention with emphasis on the tall trees and pleasant landscape.
Marlboro Park was the epitome of a "nice community, safe from the hurly-burly and dangers of the city. There is not a nuisance of any kind, not a saloon or factory anywhere in the vicinity." The Montclair Realty offered the first houses at moderate prices from $6,000-$7,000. While the company's desire and policy was to build for sale, it would consider renting to approved parties.
In recognition of the rapid growth of this part of Montclair, the Erie Railroad built a handsome new station on the west side of the tracks in 1902. First known as the Park Street Station, the structure was later renamed and became the Watchung Avenue Station. The original Watchung Station built c.1873 stood east of the tracks, on that triangle of land north of the underpass between Park Street and Watchung Avenue.
Realizing the importance of providing accommodation for "transients," and for those who were attracted by the healthfulness and beauty of this part of Montclair, the Montclair Realty Company remodeled the old homestead of Samuel Holmes in 1903. Opened as the Marlboro Inn (334 Grove Street), it soon earned the reputation as a first-class hostelry.
Significance of the Architecture
The buildings in Marlboro Park Historic District present an eclectic mixture of domestic architecture built between the turn of the century and 1925. The first houses advertised by the Montclair Realty Company were designed by architect Leonard Bishop. These homes of frame construction were Vernacular versions of the Shingle style with high gambrel or steep gable roofs and often given identity by Classical motifs, decorative plaques, and understated elements of the Queen Anne style. An example of this treatment is seen at 36 Fairfield Street, where decorative plaster swags provide interest above the upper floor windows. Another feature of this house is the number of paired columns on the front porch. The smallest of the original houses, 187 Montclair Avenue, is distinguished by its corner turret. Modified Palladian windows define the high gable dormers of 18 and 30 Fairfield Street, the only similar houses in the Park.
The designs presented in the Marlboro Park Brochure were based on a square or rectangular plan, which allowed for a variety of lay-outs. Bay windows and dormers provided interesting interior spaces. The entrances were frequently placed off-center, and the porches wrapped around one side of the house creating an exterior sense of asymmetrical massing.
In 1902 the imaginative designs of local architect Dudley Van Antwerp added variety and richness to the Park streets. His own residence, a Moorish cottage influenced by the Prairie style, built at 31 Fairfield Street, is the most individual of these designs. A gambrel-roofed bungalow at 6 Fairfield Street is another unusual example of his work. In complete contrast, Van Antwerp designed a Colonial Revival house at 4 Waterbury Road in 1902. (A front porch which originally tied into the south wing was removed 20 years ago, giving a distorted appearance to the graceful two-story portico.) The Shingle style was not neglected by Van Antwerp. A large residence at 337 Grove Street with heavy stone foundation and gambrel above the entrance indicate his ability to design in a wide variety of styles.
A Tudor/Craftsman influence is seen in the neighborhood with the high half-timbered gables and bracketed porches at 8 Fairfield Street, 164 Watchung Avenue, and 18 Waterbury Road. The gambrel roof of the earlier buildings often becomes part of the later Dutch Colonial homes built between 1910-12, such as 33 Fairfield Street and 159 Watchung Avenue. A spacious center-hall Georgian Colonial, 192 Montclair Avenue, is a unique example of this mode in the Marlboro Park Historic District.
On the southwest corner of Grove Street the half-timbered Tudor facade of the Marlboro Inn harmonizes with the exterior treatment of another individual period residence nearby, 179 Watchung Avenue, built in 1910. In the twenties a group of small homes — 331 and 339 Grove Street, 157 Watchung Avenue, and 20 Fairfield Street — were built in the remaining empty lots. Though modest in size, these Dutch and Colonial Revival residences reflect the tradition and character of the earlier structures in the neighborhood.
There are no intrusions in the Marlboro Park Historic District. Of the original Park houses, only one, 199 Montclair Avenue, has been radically altered. Stuccoed over in the '30s, the house presents a later Craftsman exterior.
All that remains of the original Montclair Realty Company office on Watchung Avenue is the garage at the rear of 153 Watchung Avenue.
† Eleanor McArevey Price, Planning Coordinator, Preservation Montclair, Historic Resources of Montclair Multiple Resource Area, Essex County, NJ, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.