Brick Church Plaza Construction
After years of planning and
delays, work finally begins on the long anticipated Brick Church
Mall adjacent to Brick Church Station on Main Street in East
Orange. Only it is no longer called Main Street. Now it is Martin
Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. But first, some history.
About 1890, the corner of Main Street and Prospect Street
looked like this. Edison had recently invented the electric light
bulb and the city was wired for electricity, although it would be
many years before the old gas street lights would be replaced,
and a few years before all those overhead wires would be put
underground and out of sight. The automobile (or horseless
carriage) was still in the future for all but the very rich, but
the trolley that ran on the tracks down the center of Main Street
was electrified and the latest thing in low cost public
transportation. The horse carriages are parked in front of Muirs
Department Store (notice that some face east and some face west).
Street cleaners had to contend with mounds of horse droppings,
collected and transformed into fertilizer for the surrounding
Opposite Brick Church was a large field with a
race track, stables where residents could keep their horses, and
the Riding and Driving Club House. Driving refers to horse drawn
buggies, not cars. You can just see the top of Brick Church
Station in the background. The railroad tracks have not yet been
elevated. More information and photos can be seen HERE.
This is the "new" Brick Church
Station, constructed in 1880 to replace the original. The tracks
would not be elevated until 1922 and in this 1890's view, the
horse is still the main mode of transportation within the city.
The view looks west across the tracks towards Main Street. The
Spire in the distance at the left (CC)
is from the Trinity Congregational
Church which was on South Harrison Street where today we find
an entrance to Shop Rite. My father
used to play the organ there and I was a professional soloist and
tenor for the choir... but that was much later... I'm just
wallowing in my memories. Continuing the tour, we can see a bit
of the Riding and Driving Club House (RC)
though the pillars of the station, and at the far right, a sliver
of the Essex Hotel (EH)which can
also be spotted in other photographs of this time.
A few years later, Main Street was sharing space
with the few remaining horse drawn carriages with the new
horseless carriages or automobiles. This view looks east on Main
Street, towards the spire of Brick Church on the left and in the
distance, Muirs where all the awnings are open. The tall building
in the distance is the Lennox Building, formerly a Masonic Temple
and later the Ormont Movie Theatre..
A closer view taken in 1907, during the transition from horses to
Brick Church Station in the early 1900's. This
view looks east and the Essex Hotel is in the background.
Brick Church Station again looking west, with
the Essex Hotel (EH) at the far right. Now automobiles are parked
at the station instead of horse buggies. Although the electric
wires in the city of East Orange have all been buried, the wires
along the Delaware, Lackawana & Western Railroad tracks have
not. Although the trains are pulled by steam locomotives at this
time, by 1930, they will be electrified and Thomas Edison himself
will be one of the first passengers to ride the "new"
The view in 1950 was somewhat different. Muirs was still a
thriving department store. The street lights have been
electrified. There are traffic lights now, and allm the wires are
underground in East Orange. By this time, the electric trolley
has been discontinued and replaced by gasoline powered buses, and
most people drive their own cars, or aspire to.
The same scene some years later. Notice that the street lamps
are now high powered mercury lights on aluminum poles, and many
office windows above Woolworth and Singer's have air conditioners
Photo by Frederick Goode November 2005
This shows ShopRite and
in the background the elevated Brick Church train station as it
was after the Brick Church Plaza was completed in 1987. The
developer of the Brick Church Plaza, at that time, was Harold
Wachtel, but Kevin Taylor, owner of KETCO, had his company of
minority workers building ShopRite, which is shown in the final
stages of completion in a photograph in The East Orange
Record of October 23rd, 1986. Also on the job was today's
Mayor Robert Bowser, at that time head of the East Orange Public
Works Department. Just to orient you with the past, the tree in
the foreground shows approximately where the Trinity Congregational Church stood
from the 1890s until this entire area was demolished to make way
for the Brick Church Plaza in the 1960s. All through the 60's
until work actually began on Brick Church Plaza in 1985,
ShopRite's East Orange store was at the corner of Dodd Street and
Thomas Boulevard, on the north-west side of the city.
Photo by Frederick Goode, November 2005
This shows the elevated Lackawana railroad tracks crossing
over South Harrison street looking towards the south. Beyond the
tracks is the overpass for the East-West highway, US 280.
We are missing a great many years in our story.
I am hoping that photos of this area in the transition phase
between the 1960s and the time the above color photo was taken,
2008, will be supplied by some local photographer/historian. In
the meantime, we can see that we have gone both forward and
backward in our idea of street lighting. The short elegant
antique style lights are for show, while the powerful halogen
street lamps light up the street. All of the stores of the past
have been replaced by other businesses. The one common element
that hasn't changed much in all those years is the Brick Church
itself, although it has gone through different owners and
different religious congregations during that time.