Industrial Park-eology: How The 21st Century Is Replacing The 20th

A postcard from 1960?


Recently I had occasion to drive through the town I grew up in, and I was surprised to see just how much things had changed since I left in 2000.  Places that were previously woodland were now developed, new stores had replaced old familiar ones . . . but the most radical change I’ve seen locally is the loss of corporate headquarters which I always assumed would be there forever!

Nope, not a real vintage postcard–I drove my ’58 Ford up there to complete the vintage look!


One place that hasn’t changed is Consolidated Bearings Company, which has been in this same building on Wing Drive in Cedar Knolls, NJ since the early ’60s.  This sign, with the word Consolidated in “Rocket Script”–a similar style to car emblems of the period, is now about 60 years old.  That’s a pretty long run for a sign in continuous commercial use.  Those aluminum letters have held up remarkably well over six decades–the Consolidated people certainly got their money’s worth!

Mom & Dad back when they were working for various corporations.


My father and I were recently discussing the fact that nearly all of the corporations we have worked for in the last 40-50 years are gone now.  Their office “campuses” which seemed so modern and permanent have now been swept away.  These include Bell Labs (where my father worked as a design engineer), Airtron Div. of Litton (Dad got me a summer job there), Varityper in East Hanover (another employer), Warner Lambert and Honeywell (where my mother and I worked office temp jobs) are now all gone.

Bell Labs. (photo from flickr by Rich Johnson)


In the postwar era, many large firms relocated their corporate headquarters and factories out of the old cities (like New York and Newark) to modern, sprawling suburban locations.  There they would find cheap, abundant land to erect clean, modern buildings with plenty of room for parking and even landscaped grounds that made what was usually a gritty industrial area rather “park-like”.  Hence the term “industrial park”–a combination of words not usually put together, especially in a state like New Jersey!

Bell Labs entrance  (Rich Johnson)


So I grew up around (and worked in) some of these industrial parks, and I always assumed that they would always be there.  After all, the companies were so big and had been around for decades, and these places seemed so new–why would anything change?

Dialogic, Parsippany NJ. Built early 1980s, demolished 2022. You know you’re getting old when buildings you remember being built are being torn down!  (photo from Parsippany Focus)


About 10 years ago, a curious thing started to happen.  I started noticing that all these corporate headquarters which seemed so new and permanent, started being torn down.  I kept wondering why–they seemed so well-kept and prosperous, and I’m sure cost millions of dollars to build just a few short years ago.  Well, I still don’t have all the answers as to why this is happening, but I thought I’d present a few glaring examples of these major, once state-of-the-art complexes that are now no more:

Bell Labs demolition (Rich Johnson)


Here are some “before and after” views (mostly from Google) showing what is now gone:


Mennen Headquarters, East Hanover Avenue, Morristown


Warner Lambert


Airtron (across from Mennen). Fuzzy 2008 Street View is all that’s available.


Honeywell Headquarters, Columbia Road, Morris Township



Novartis campus (formerly Sandoz Pharmaceutical) looks so modern and well maintained, but it too is being demolished.

Novartis demolition.


Varityper in East Hanover, abandoned, now demolished.


The Exxon Research Center campus in Florham Park was a huge, sprawling complex which one photo could not possibly take in. However, here is a view from an office window taken in April 1996. All the Exxon buildings are gone now, and the land is now occupied by the NY Jets Training Center and senior citizen housing.


Marcal Paper Mill and its iconic neon sign was plainly visible from Interstate 80 near Paterson. The old factory recently burned to the ground.


Others we have lost (not pictured):  Nabisco (later Mondelez), Rayonier, Whippany Paper Board Co., Silver Burdett, and others.

Local stores and businesses:


The Foodtown supermarket in Cedar Knolls, as I remember it. We did a lot of shopping here. The Michas Bros. were of Greek ancestry, so they had all these imitation ancient Greek architectural elements and statues mounted to the walls.


Since then the building has been attractively remodeled, however it appears the Cedar Knolls Farmers Market is out of business.  Foodtown is long gone.


In neighboring Morris Plains, you could shop for groceries at Acme on Speedwell Avenue.


Nothing remains. A larger Acme store was built behind the original (white building in far distance), but that closed in 2021 and the building remains empty.


I remember when this mall opened in Cedar Knolls.


Mall interior, in all its colorful, festive glory, c. 1990. Farther down the corridor was a unique “Antique Village” of small shops in a “Colonial Williamsburg” type setting. Unfortunately there are no known photos of that.  Nothing shown in this picture still exists–the space was emptied out and covered over years ago.  (Author’s own photograph)


Present view of the mall shows a lot of vacancies. The rosy-colored archways I believe were added in the mid-1990s.


A large strip mall on Route 10 in Whippany (Pine Plaza) was recently demolished.


There are quite a few “blank spaces”, and the supermarket space was empty.  Maybe there weren’t enough tenants to make the shopping center profitable?


According to the website JerseyDigs, the Pine Plaza site will be redeveloped with “60 townhome units, a gas station, a 161,581-square-foot ‘big box discount club’, and 808 parking spaces.”  Presumably, there will be no “little stores”.

While the older shopping centers are declining or being demolished, new ones are being built in the same vicinity, near where Mennen and Airtron were:

New shopping center featuring Shop Rite supermarket, Starbucks, The UPS Store, SportClips, and Spavia, just around the corner from the old Morris County Mall.  New tenants today are more likely to be national retail chains rather than local, small “mom & pop” entrepreneurs.


This is going up on the Mennen site.  The new trend seems to be combining retail space with residential townhouses in one self-contained development.


A similar project is planned for the Dialogic site, which almost seems like a city unto itself!


Emmanuel Orthodox Presbyterian Church is gone, replaced by townhouses. Emmanuel OPC was a very traditional church where people sang hymns and had a very formal service. It had to close because membership declined. However Abundant Life Worship Center, located in a former industrial building on S. Jefferson Road (where they sing loud rock music unto the Lord) seems to be thriving.


There used to be quite a few drive-in theatres in the area, like this one on Route 10.


The old drive-in theatre was replaced by Gatehall Corporate Center. Motorists going by would never know the drive-in ever existed!


This gas station on Route 46 in Parsippany had a 1950s red neon GULF sign still in place. The station was converted to BP several years ago, and the vintage Gulf signage disappeared.


Also on Route 46 was this kiddie attraction “Storybook Farm”. It prospered in the 1950s and ’60s, and was gone by the early ’70s.  Lucky for those ducks that alligator isn’t real!


No trace of Storybook Farm can be found.


Another late survivor from the Neon Age is this motel sign farther east on 46. The motel buildings were recently demolished.


Last surviving 1950s-60s era neon sign in Parsippany on Route 46 is this one, which is still electrically lit at night!


(photo from Flickr by Doug Ensel)


This original Firestone sign has been lighting up the sky on Morris Turnpike in Springfield NJ since 1962.  I remember seeing this sign many times on the way home from Grandma’s house in Millburn.  Think of the all the “Curbside Classics” that have passed through this place for tires and service during the last 61 years!  (photo by Marc A. Krauss)


Dinner at Grandma’s house, 1982. Me in the center, Dad on the right; family friend Emilio, the only man I ever knew who could regularly make money playing at the Atlantic City casinos, at left.


So what can we say about all the changes that have occurred over the last few decades?  If I could go back in time and show the young me how things would change in the next 40 years, some of the changes would be quite surprising, while other things that I thought would change have actually remained the same.

Driving over the Whippany River bridge on Cedar Knolls Road, 1905.


Same bridge crossing today. Interstate 287 now rams through, and the course of the river was altered to accommodate the highway.


As a comparison, someone who lived in 1905 would find the township radically changed by the 1950s, and the person driving that brass era car over that little bridge would never dream of the overpowering changes that man would impose on the landscape.

Nighttime traffic on Route 287 looking down from the Cedar Knolls Road bridge. (Author’s own photograph)


I sometimes wonder what things will be like say, 40-50 years from now.  Of course, it’s impossible to accurately predict, but I suspect the same observations will be true:  Certain changes will be surprising and quite unexpected, while other things we thought would change have actually remained the same!  I’m quite sure that any typical artifact, building, or thing from the 20th century will be considered quaint, outmoded, largely forgotten–and hard for the people living in 2070 to relate to.