I was recently going through Dr. Samuel Berg’s collection of Newark photos from the early 1960s (and there are a lot to go through–all 2,788 of them!) It reminded me that these amateur black & white shots really capture a lost world. As it has been mentioned before on CC, most people did not take pictures of ordinary places and things, especially those that were not considered scenic or attractive. Stores and factories don’t look like this anymore, and were it not for Dr. Berg’s project of capturing streetscapes he knew were doomed, no record of these businesses would survive.
So I selected a few of the more interesting shots showing storefronts, factories, and industrial buildings with their unique signage–always beckoning customers to come in with such earnestness! If you go to the website, you can really “zoom in” and see all these little fine details! Plus we get to see quite a few classic cars (not gleaming, restored examples, but real “working” cars and trucks in their natural environment).
There are so many more–this is just a small sample. You really get a “time machine” effect when you look at all of these.
Photographer Myles Zhang upped the interest level even more by pairing historical photographs with modern views of the same locations in his 2016 “Then and Now” series (viewable [and zoomable] here.) True, Newark was a gritty industrial city, but there was a lot of beauty mixed in with the grittiness. And sadly so much of it has been lost:
But if you want the full color, live experience of what the city was really like in the old days, check out this YouTube video. It was filmed in the late 1940s from a train traveling southward on the Penn Central tracks along McCarter Highway from Lafayette Avenue to the foot of Broad Street by Newark Airport:
To me, the city looks like an HO scale model railroad layout par excellence! It’s all here: the billboards, the cars, the factories, stores, gas stations–the entire unfolding scene as it would be viewed from a moving train. Some people may call it ugly, but I think it has a charm all its own; an impression that is enhanced by the fact that things can never be this way again. A trip along the same route today is not nearly as satisfying–a scant few of these buildings remain, abandoned or badly altered. The robust economic vitality just isn’t there anymore.
As you can probably tell, I miss the Old Newark. In the late ’70s/early ’80s when I was much younger, it was a fascinating (if dangerous) place to explore–old, decrepit, quaint, but with its architectural wonders, so unlike my familiar suburban environment; with its brick and cobblestone streets, faded Victorian charm, well-kept beauty on one block, total disaster on the next, faded “ghost signs” over bombed-out storefronts and factories. All its layers of history.
A lot of “progress” has occurred since then, and many parts of Newark have been rebuilt in the modern way–cleaner, greener, largely government subsidized, and not very interesting. Except for the Forest Hill section with its lawns and old mansions, the rest of the city is a mixture of urban renewal, blight, vacant lots, surface parking, a few surviving landmarks, and building facades badly defaced by vinyl siding and other eyesores. Ah, well–we don’t have the glories of Atlantis, Greece, Rome, or pre-war Dresden anymore either. On Earth, everything but nature herself is temporary.
(My very first Curbside Classic post)