Dr. Samuel Berg (1898-1990) of Newark, N.J. was a true visionary. In the early 1960s, somehow sensing that everything in his beloved city was about to disappear or change forever, he began a monumental quest. His self-appointed mission: to photograph every street and block in the city of Newark. The scale of this project would not be matched until the recent advent of Google street views.
After his death, Dr. Berg’s collection of 2,787 photographs made its way to the archives of the Newark Public Library. It is now available for browsing online. This is a goldmine for people who love Victorian and vernacular architecture and cars from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s–shown in actual use! I have gone through the collection, and have selected photos of some of the more interesting cars and backgrounds.
Newark at this time was a quaint but worn out city of rich architectural detail, brick and cobblestone streets, and widespread poverty. Most (but not all) of its residents were black and poor. However, in the early ’60s (when these photos were taken) the urban fabric was frayed but not torn. But then the July 1967 riots changed everything, and large areas of the city were destroyed. By the time I first saw Newark (c. 1978), some of what is seen in these pictures was still intact. As the 1980s and ’90s wore on, large sections of the Central Ward were cleared to make way for new development (mostly government subsidized, on expansive acreages of cheap land, with big tax abatements). Anyone who tries to go back and find what is shown in these pictures won’t see much.
Dr. Berg’s photographs preserved not only architectural history, but automotive history as well. Many of the cars shown here were back row, bottom of the used car market “transportation specials”, probably sold with low down payments and high monthly interest. This is not Concours d’Elegance type stuff–which makes it all the more interesting. So these photos are really “The last of”–The last years of the city as it had existed, and the last of the ’50s cars in daily use, before being towed to the junkyards of the Jersey swamplands to be crushed and melted down–never seen again.