Pine Street Historic District

Montclair Twp, Essex County, NJ

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The Pine Street Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The Pine Street Historic District, located in the Township of Montclair and the Borough of Glen Ridge, Essex County, New Jersey, is significant architecturally as an intact working class neighborhood of single-family dwellings, multi-unit commercial and residential structures and small scale neighborhood-oriented commercial properties. Buildings within the Pine Street Historic District range from vernacular style frame residences built in the 1880s to multi-story masonry buildings constructed during the first decade of the twentieth century to the late 1930s with Renaissance Revival, Italianate, Classical Revival and Bungalow-Craftsman style influences. The Pine Street Historic District is also significant architecturally as a distinctive collection of small-scale masonry dwellings that comprise an extraordinary display of masonry products and finishes that were popular from the 1890s until after World War I; the district displays the Italian immigrant's preference for masonry construction and exhibits many fine examples of masonry craftsmanship.

The Pine Street Historic District is also significant historically as a cohesive and insular late nineteenth-early twentieth century Italian-American immigrant community whose social, cultural and religious life was entwined and dominated by the key buildings in the district — Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church, the Baldwin Street School and the Minnie A. Lucey House.

The Pine Street Historic District is also significant for its associations with Ms. Minnie A. Lucey, a pioneer social worker who, through her efforts as Director of the Home Department in the Baldwin Street School, and later the Baldwin Street Community House (renamed the Minnie A. Lucey House) dedicated her life to the education and acclimation of the Italian immigrants in the Pine Street Historic District.

Historical Background and Significance

The establishment of this area of Montclair as a working class neighborhood was largely precipitated by the proximity of Toneys Brook, a small tributary of the Passaic River. The Toneys Brook area was the site of an early industrial community in Montclair; the first mill on the waterway was a sawmill built soon after 1695. Other mills soon located along the brook and by the eighteenth century, the mills supported a small settlement which became known as Cranetown. The settlement was bisected by the "Old Road" (now Glenridge Avenue and the southern boundary of the district). By 1780, the "Old Road" was extended to the iron furnaces at Pompton Lakes and to Newark and served as an important route for the shipping of iron to both Pompton Lakes and Greenwood Lake Furnaces.

By the nineteenth century, the Toneys Brook area supported several other mills and a succession of manufacturing ventures that produced woolen and flannel goods and printed textiles. In 1856 the Newark and Bloomfield Railroad (now the NJ Transit Montclair Branch) was completed to it's Montclair terminus, southeast of the Pine Street Historic District and west of the present Grove Street. The railroad right-of-way passed immediately south of Toneys Brook and it's mills, reinforcing the industrial character of the area and giving rise to coal yards, lumber yards and other businesses which profited from the proximity of the railroad.

Modest worker's housing and small commercial structures that served the community of mill workers developed primarily south of Toneys Brook but also extended north of the mills to Glenridge Avenue in the vicinity in what is now the southern part of the district. However, most of the area that now comprises the Pine Street Historic District remained as farmland.

With the completion of the Montclair Railway in the 1870's (later the New York and Greenwood Lake Railway Company and now the NJ Transit Boonton Line — the northern boundary of the district), it became feasible for businessmen and professionals to work in New York City and live in Montclair. During the late 1880s, Montclair entered a period of rapid growth which continued well into the first few decades of the early twentieth century, with substantial and fashionable new homes rising at a pace that attracted media attention. With two railroad lines providing access to New York City via ferries across the Hudson River, Montclair rapidly became one of the largest commuter suburbs in northern New Jersey.

The industrial activity in the Toneys Brook area came to an end towards the close of the nineteenth century. The decline of industry was caused largely by the development of dependable steam powered engines which began to supersede water as a source of power. The already declining manufacturing activity in Montclair effectively ended by the 1890s.

The rapid growth of Montclair spurred by the railroads provided opportunities for entrepreneurs, tradesmen and laborers. By the late-nineteenth century, the modest housing stock formerly associated with the mills, once employing as many as one hundred workers, was being occupied by the increasing population of Italian, Irish and other immigrant groups attracted by job opportunities. The increasing demand for affordable housing, goods and services for Montclair's growing working class led to the expansion of commercial and residential development northward along Bay Street to Glenridge Avenue and beyond, within the neighborhood that now comprises the Pine Street Historic District.

The degree to which Montclair had become more than a white collar commuter suburb was stated in 1909 by landscape architect and planner John Nolen: "Montclair is not homogeneous. While it's population consists mainly of New York business and professional men, seventy-five per cent, of the four thousand families going regularly to New York, there is also a considerable population of Italians and Negroes, attracted by the opportunities that are offered for work."

Many Italian immigrants came to this country to escape the economic depression gripping Italy following the Italian unification of the 1870s. Often arriving without their families, the newcomers hoped either to return to Italy with their earnings or to bring their families to the United States after they became established. Those who had arrived in the 1880s and 1890s later brought friends and relatives with the promise of work constructing new suburban homes, grading streets and sites, and laying lines for the Montclair Gas and Water Company. Laying track for the two nearby railroads, the Erie and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western and for Montclair's Public Service Street Railway Company provided additional employment for new arrivals who had little work experience and a minimal knowledge of the English language.

Housing was initially primitive for the new arrivals, consisting of tents and barracks erected on an open lot on Midland Avenue. Conditions improved slightly as the Italian workers and their families occupied the existing housing formerly associated with the mills. To accommodate the expanding population, new single family and multiple occupancy housing was developed north of Glenridge Avenue within the boundaries of the current historic district. The three-story masonry building at 39 Glenridge Avenue (c.1906) was among the first large structures in the district and provided rooms and services for a number of Italian laborers.

Development of the sparsely settled and largely agricultural lands north of Glenridge Avenue in the vicinity of Pine Street and Bay Street began in the 1880s with the platting of Sherman and Grant Streets from Bay Street westward. The 1881 Atlas of Essex County, New Jersey, indicated that only the eastern end of Sherman Street from "Bay Lane" had been subdivided into lots. By 1890, Sherman Street had been extended to Pine Street, and the present Grant Street (then John Street) had been extended westward beyond Pine Street to a dead-end.

Residential development of Grant and Sherman Streets in the 1880s and 1890s was limited to modest, wood-frame single-family residences west of Bay Street, between the railroad right-of-way to the north and Glenridge Avenue. This area was known as the "Smith Plat," owned and partially developed by Roswell Smith, a successful New York City publisher of textbooks and Century Magazine, successor to Scribner's Magazine. Landscape artist and Montclair resident George Inness Jr. and his wife Julia Smith Inness, daughter of Roswell Smith, continued to hold large, undeveloped parcels within the historic district until the first decade of the twentieth century.

As evidenced by early city directories, the change in the character of the population in Montclair between 1890 and 1910 was significant. In 1890, few Italian family names appeared in the Montclair directory. By the 1898 Madison Directory of Montclair and Glen Ridge, nearly two dozen Italian surnames were listed, including that of the Fusco family, one of the first Italian families to settle in the Glenridge Avenue and Bay Street vicinity. Donato Fusco was identified in the 1898 directory as a contractor located at 49 Pine Street, south of Glenridge Avenue. In a 1983 cultural resources survey by Wapora, Inc., author Elizabeth Righter reported: "About 1890, the Fusco family settled in the project area near the intersection of Bay Street and Glenridge Avenue. Their primary business was construction and land development. The subsequent development of the ethnic "Little Italy," ca.1910, was related not to the mills, but to land speculation and development promoted by the Fusco and Picola families in the area. Today, a number of small construction companies still operate in the neighborhood [reference to figure omitted]."

Early maps of the area confirm that the Fusco family and the Picola family were among the pioneers of this developing Italian neighborhood. The 1906 Atlas of Essex County shows, in addition to the Fusco contracting business at 49 Bay Street, a large residence on a deep lot at 18 Glenridge Avenue attributed to "D. Fusco;" both properties were cleared during urban renewal efforts in the 1960s and 1970s. An undeveloped lot, now 35 Glenridge Avenue, is labeled "D. Tusco," a misspelling of Fusco; in 1906-1907 Donato Fusco erected the present three-story brick residential building on the adjoining 29-31 Glenridge Avenue, a contributing component of the Pine Street Historic District. The 1906 map also identifies a large lot and structure of "J. Picola" at 78 Pine Street, opposite Grant Street and adjacent to large undeveloped tracts extending north on both sides of Pine Street. These parcels were rapidly developed in the decade prior to World War I.

The 1906 Atlas of Essex County also shows J. D. Slayback as the property owner of the then undeveloped site of the future Baldwin Street School. According to Madison's 1898 Directory of Montclair and Glen Ridge, Slayback had a business known as Slayback Bros., which supplied coal, wood and ice to local businesses and residences. In the directory, he is noted as residing in Verona. By 1906, maps indicate that J.D. Slayback had constructed a substantial single family home on Baldwin Street; the house location is still distinguished by it's deep setback as compared to the rest of the neighborhood.

Montclair directories at the turn of the century listed several dozen Italian residents, primarily as professionals or in such trades as shoemaker, grocer, tailor, and barber. By 1910 many Italian surnames were listed, often with multiple entries under one family name and commonly being shown in a construction-related trade. In particular, the 1910 Directory of Montclair, Bloomfield, Caldwell, Essex Fells, Glen Ridge and Verona listed seven males in Montclair under the surname "Caggiano," six of whom were "laborers." The Directory also lists six members of the Cestone family, two of whom are identified as laborers, three as foremen and one, Pasquale Cestone, as a contractor with offices and residence at 75 Glenridge Avenue.

During the pre-World War I period, the Italian population in Montclair expanded dramatically. By the census of 1910, Italians far outnumbered other foreign born groups in Montclair with 1,625 residents, followed by 876 residents identified as born in Ireland. The need to house these new arrivals was met by a boom in construction. The existing multi-unit buildings at the corner of Bay Street and Glenridge Avenue which served as rooming houses were no longer sufficient and entrepreneurs within the Italian community added several duplex residences and small, mixed-use buildings. This limited development quickly expanded to include the construction of the multi-story, masonry residential buildings that give the Pine Street Historic District it's distinct architectural character.

Contractor Pasquale Cestone transformed the undeveloped land on the north side of Glenridge Avenue, west of Pine Street, by constructing two large, stuccoed residences at 75 and 73 Glenridge Avenue in 1906-07. These two buildings reflect Craftsman stylistic influences at a scale comparable to the upper-middle class residences being constructed elsewhere in Montclair. After completion of these residences, Pasquale Cestone developed the lots to the east, constructing additional residential and mixed-use buildings at 71, 67 and 65 Glenridge Avenue in 1908 and 1909. In 1907, Cestone had also received a permit to construct a small, wood-frame structure at 68 Pine Street, just north of Glenridge Avenue. Identified at the time as an "assembly room," this modest structure remains intact, albeit with alterations, including the addition of a second story in 1908.

Subdivision of the Inness holdings on the east and west sides of Pine Street precipitated further development of the neighborhood. Entrepreneurs in the Italian community soon began erecting multi-story masonry buildings in a wave of development that lasted from 1906 to the mid-1930s, interrupted only by World War I and the post-war economic depression. The new masonry buildings were seldom fully developed examples of an architectural style. Rather, stylistic elements were applied to the street facades of the otherwise spare multi-storied, flat-roofed masonry blocks. Within the range of applied detail, two distinct stylistic trends are evident: (1) buildings constructed from c.1906 to World War I show a free, often exuberant, adaptation of elements of the Classical Revival or Renaissance Revival styles; and (2) buildings constructed in the post-World War I period reflect a spare design that relied heavily on patterned brickwork rather than sculpted detail to articulate and enliven the primary facade.

Although typical of multi-story residential and mixed-use masonry buildings in other urbanized areas of northern New Jersey, this new building type had a dramatic impact on the neighborhood by changing the streetscape and building scale from low density to high density use. It is the "street wall" presented by these free-standing masonry buildings that characterizes the Pine Street Historic District today and gives evidence of the former commercial and social vitality of the community.

A three-story, six-family "tenement" at 88 Pine Street, built by Donato Fusco in 1906, was joined by comparable structures at 84, 86 and 92 Pine Street. Of these buildings, only 84 Pine Street remains. In rapid succession, properties on the east side of Pine Street were also developed, including the three-story brick apartments at 91 and 95 Pine Street and the three-story Renaissance Revival influenced building at 97 Pine Street, the largest of the pre-World War I buildings. The Pine Street and Sherman Street facades of this building are of red brick, boldly framed by quoins of cream-colored brick and a deep entablature with a projecting cornice. The rusticated, flat-arch window heads of limestone and the semi-circular entry surround with flanking pilasters typify the classical design references of the pre-war period.

Building permits in the Montclair Building Department records indicate the degree to which this development was undertaken by and for the Italian community. Actively engaged in building construction or alteration within the neighborhood in the first decades of the twentieth century, in addition to the previously mentioned Fusco, Picola and Cestone family names, are Nicastro, Mauro, Pollaro, Cardellecchio, DeStefano, Leonardo, Ruggiere, Caruso, Carbone, Bruno, Rizzolo and others. Permits are also recorded in the name J. Pignatello; in 1999, the Pignatello Construction Company remained active in the area. During this period, the building expansion in the district was also reflected in the whole of Montclair and was accompanied by a major population increase. By 1910, the 3,812 students in Montclair were using every square inch of available school space. The Board of Education purchased land and had several schools built and expanded including the Baldwin Street School which was constructed at the northeast corner of Baldwin Street and Glenridge Avenue in the east end of the district from 1912-1913. The Baldwin Street School, which had four classrooms and a gymnasium, was erected to serve as an elementary school for the neighborhood. The two-story school was designed in the Classical Revival style and was constructed of red brick with limestone trim. The school reflected the masonry tradition of the neighborhood as well as other stylistic features such as the contrasting limestone trim and the pronounced cornice.

By the outbreak of World War I, the building boom in the district had slowed dramatically; 52 Sherman Street (c.1914) was the last of the large pre-war masonry buildings to be built. Stylistically, 52 Sherman Street previews the designs of the post World War I period in the district with it's planar facade of buff brick and a reliance on patterned brickwork to articulate the facade. The designs of 52 Sherman Street and the nearly identical 54 Sherman Street, spanning the World War I period, demonstrate the shift from robust classicism toward the economical use of decorative brick patterning that would characterize the post-war development of the district.

Beginning in the early 1920s, the construction of multi-family brick residential and commercial blocks resumed at a pace rivaling that of the pre-war period. Development during this period was heavily focused on the east side of Pine Street, extending from Pine Street eastward along Grant Street and Sherman Street. 75 and 79 Pine Street and 54 Sherman Street, constructed in 1922, were quickly followed by the mixed commercial and residential block at 99-101 Pine Street, 70 and 87 Pine Street and 67 Bay Street. By 1930, almost all available lots within the district had been developed. Post 1930 construction was limited, and occurred largely at the expense of existing structures.

By the late 1930s, the area bounded by Bay Street, Pine Street, Glenridge Avenue and the right-of-way of the present NJ Transit Boonton Line on the north was the most densely settled section of Montclair. In addition, although the area was largely residential, the entire neighborhood was zoned commercial, an uncommon mix of usage in Montclair indicative of the degree to which family life and commerce were interwoven in this self-contained Italian-American neighborhood.

Role of the Catholic Church in the Neighborhood

The growing Italian community was anchored by the Catholic Church. With increasing numbers of Italians joining it's predominantly Irish congregation, the Immaculate Conception Parish in Montclair responded in 1903 by providing an Italian speaking assistant to the Reverend Joseph Mendl. In 1905, Reverend Mendl enlisted the services of Reverend Giovanni DeRosa and Reverend N. D'Annibale to make services and the confessional available to the Italian population in their native language.

Attempts to accommodate the Italian community within the Immaculate Conception Parish could not keep pace with the swelling Italian population. In 1907, a petition made to the Diocese of Newark was granted and a new parish to serve the Italian populace was established under the Reverend Paul Lisa, a native of Turin, Italy. Soon after, funds were raised for construction of the first Our Lady of Mount Carmel church and parish house, named for the society of Madonna del Carmine whose members were instrumental in establishing the new parish. The first mass was held on September 8, 1907 in the unfinished wooden church, located just south of the present church on Pine Street. The church immediately became the focus of the Italian community and within one week after the first mass was conducted, the new church celebrated two baptisms and a wedding.

With the growth of the community during the 1920s, the wooden church constructed in 1907 was increasingly unable to meet the needs of the parish. Father Francesco Castellano, who came to the parish in 1925, hoped to raise funds for a new church and hall, but this goal was not realized due to the general economic depression. Father Castellano died late in 1931, but his efforts to secure a larger church were continued by his successor, Reverend Salvatore Midaglia. Father Midaglia, pleading the case of the parish in a 1933 letter to the Catholic Diocese of Newark, stated that four out of five parishioners were unemployed; in 1937, the Diocese of Newark recognized the need of the parish and granted permission for the construction of a new church, hall and rectory. In support of this project, the Diocese also loaned the parish $168,000 for construction.

The new Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church was designed by Anthony DePace in the Italian Romanesque and Gothic architectural traditions and was constructed in 1937 by the firm of Leopold Bellofatto. Located just north of the original wooden church, the new brick and limestone church was prominently sited on the west side of Pine Street, opposite Sherman Street. The east facade of the church formed an impressive terminus for the view along Sherman Street and provided a monumental backdrop for processions down the broad church steps. Construction of the church and it's attached rectory was the last major building project within the district and marked the high point of architectural development within the close knit Italian neighborhood.

The Minnie A. Lucey House

Miss Minnie A. Lucey was a dedicated social worker who played a critical role in this close-knit Italian American community. In 1915 Miss Lucey was assigned to the faculty of the Baldwin Street School as Director of the Home Department. Her main concern was to aid the mothers in the care and hygiene of their children. Miss Lucey required each woman attending her classes to bring a baby to prove the need of her lessons. The classes were so popular, several girls were known to borrow babies to attend. Ms. Lucey improvised a nursery in the library of the school to prevent any other children from being left alone at home.

Miss Lucey also sought to help the Italian women become acclimated to life in America. Most immigrants could neither read nor write. Five nights a week, Miss Lucey held classes to teach elementary English, reading and writing. Miss Lucey also held monthly social gatherings where the women were encouraged to speak English and learn American customs. She was considered a pioneer in the field of social work and her success was largely due to her sincerity, kindness and concern for the Italian people.

Miss Lucey's association with the Baldwin Street School began in 1914 when Mr. Jackson, the principal, appealed for aid in the work of Americanizing the many foreign born pupils who entered his school where no English was spoken and where old world customs clashed with the new world. After 14 years of successful programs in the Baldwin Street School, the Township of Montclair built the Baldwin Street Community House to house Miss Lucey's activities.

The Baldwin Street Community House was constructed in 1929 at a cost of $85,383.58. It was designed by the architectural firm of Holmes and Von Schmid of Montclair in the style of an Italian villa to reflect the Italian heritage of the residents of the surrounding neighborhood. The Baldwin Street Community House had a large, attractive kindergarten with a beamed ceiling, a neighborhood branch of the public library, the offices of Miss Minnie A. Lucey, a sewing room, a social or community room, a domestic science room (cooking room) and a teacher's lunchroom.

Unfortunately, Minnie A. Lucey took ill soon after the Baldwin Street Community House was completed; she died in 1930 at the age of 45. Following her death, the Montclair Board of Education passed a resolution to re-name the Baldwin Street Community House the Minnie A. Lucey House. The building was officially renamed on June 2, 1932 with a formal dedication. The Minnie A. Lucey House served the Italian American neighborhood in Montclair until the 1960s after which the Board of Education used the building for special education classes. In 1971, Head Start, a social service agency, set up offices in the Minnie A. Lucey House; they purchased the building about ten years later. Head Start, which continues to use the building today, sponsors programs such as literacy training and computer classes for area adults (many of which are welfare recipients) and child care classes; services that parallel the original function of the building.


The Pine Street Historic District is significant as a intact working class neighborhood with vernacular style frame residences built in the 1880s to multi-story masonry buildings constructed during the first decade of the twentieth century to the late 1930s. Structures in the district comprise an extraordinary display of masonry products and finishes that were popular from the 1890s until after World War I. Built primarily by and for Italian Americans, the district displays the Italian immigrant's preference for masonry construction and exhibits many fine examples of masonry craftsmanship.

The Pine Street Historic District remains relatively intact and is an excellent example of a cohesive and insular late nineteenth-early twentieth century Italian-American immigrant community whose social, cultural and religious life was entwined and dominated by the key buildings in the district — Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church, the Baldwin Street School and the Minnie A. Lucey House. The Pine Street Historic District is also significant for it's associations with Ms. Minnie A. Lucey, a pioneer social worker who dedicated her life to the education and acclimation of the Italian immigrants in the Pine Street Historic District.

‡ Lynn Drobbin, Principal Architectural Historian and Wesley Moroz, Research Assistant, Lynn Drobbin & Associates, Pine Street Historic District, Essex County, NJ, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Baldwin Street • Bay Street • Glenridge Avenue • Grant Street • Pine Street • Sherman Street

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