Praying for a Newark treasure | Di Ionno

Douglas Freeman has a vision of terraced gardens and a waterfall leading up to the Divident Hill stone gazebo, one of the historic and architectural gems of Newark’s Weequahic Park.

"We’ve already had volunteers cut back the trees," said Freeman, head of the Weequahic Park Sports Authority, a non-profit conservancy group.

He was part of a group of community and spiritual leaders who held a prayer session in the decaying gazebo on what is known as Divident Hill two Sundays ago to mark the 350th Anniversary of a border settlement between Newark and Elizabeth.

"We want to bring back the natural beauty and ambiance of the park and put it (the gazebo) back to its natural state," he said. "But this looks like it’s ready to go down, and once it goes, it’s gone."

And it is almost gone. Cracks run through the stone arches and supports. The building blocks and masonry look as if they can be pulled apart by hand. The floor is battered.

It is marred by graffiti and litter. Because of its isolated location and the privacy the porticos allow, condom wrappers and heroin bags are scattered among little plastic liquor bottles and crushed soda cans.

Clearly this is no way to treat a piece of decorative architecture made by the firm of Carrere & Hastings, the premier designers of Beaux Arts structures at the turn of the 20th century. Their work includes the New York Public Library, the Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine, Fla., New York’s Standard Oil Building, Paterson City Hall and the Blairsden mansion in Peapack-Gladstone.

"We at least got the trees out that were growing on the roof," Freeman said.

Carrere & Hastings aren’t the only historic masters of the building arts associated with the park.

The entire park was designed by the Olmsted firm, founded by Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect of New York’s Central Park, the grounds of the United States Capitol and Newark’s own Branch Brook Park.

And the golf course was designed by Baltusrol pro George Low in 1913 and is recognized has the oldest public course in the county.

Like many sculptures and buildings in Newark, the gazebo recalls a day when the city could attract and afford world-renowned architects and artists to enhance the public landscape. Cass Gilbert, who designed New York’s Woolworth Building and U.S. Supreme Court, was the architect of the historic Essex County Courthouse.

In front of the building is the Seated Lincoln, by Gutzon Borglum of Mount Rushmore fame. His "Wars of America" is the massive sculpture that anchors Military Park.

The courthouse, a virtual museum of public art, was restored in the late 1990s. Military Park was redone in the past years.

Pride in public space has been the hallmark of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s administration. Branch Brook now has more cherry blossom trees than Washington, D.C., there are new athletic fields and facilities throughout the system, and Turtle Back Zoo went from being criticized as one of the country’s worst zoos to topping lists as one of the state’s must-see attractions.

In Weequahic, alone, there are signs of improvement in the 311-acre park on the Newark-Elizabeth border surrounding the gazebo.

The tennis courts, playground, paddle ball courts and Little League field were redone in recent years. The golf course is undergoing maintenance after the brutal winter and soggy spring.

"We are talking to the county to see what can be done (about the gazebo)," said Wynnie-Fred Victor Hinds of the Newark Environmental Commission. "We need to educate people about what this is."

Calls to the county for comment were not returned.

The gazebo sits upon a hill where 350 years ago, the leaders of Newark and Elizabeth settled on a border between the two cities. In those days, Newark included most of Essex County and parts of Union and Passaic.
The border the two cities’ leaders hashed out went from the Weequahic Hill all the way to the Hobart Gap in the Watchung Mountains between what is today Summit and Short Hills.

The gazebo on the hill resembles a miniature Roman temple, including an oculus — which is the round opening at the top that exposes the sky.

Speakers who stand directly under the oculus benefit from an acoustic phenomenon that amplifies their voices.

This is where a dozen concerned citizens and spiritual leaders met to commemorate the agreement and pray for the county to restore the monument.

"This place is significant on three fronts," said Lloyd Turner, whose book, "Newark – City of Destiny," was published for the city’s 350th anniversary two years ago.

"It has the historic significance because (Newark founder) Robert Treat and John Ogden (his Elizabethtown counterpart) were both there," Turner said.

The architectural significance speaks for itself, and it was built in 1916, as a monument to Newark’s 250th anniversary, Turner said.

Finally, on the day of the border settlement, a religious covenant was put in place by the founders to protect their generation and "1,000 generations to come," Turner said.

The most recent generations, it seems, failed to protect the place where the covenant was put in place, noted by Yvonne Garrett-Moore of the First Presbyterian Church, as she led prayers for restoration.

"Forgive us, Lord, for our lack of stewardship," she said. "We cry out to see these walls restored, to be the repairers of the breach … and give us the hope that comes with this place."

Mark Di Ionno may be reached at mdiionno@starledger.com. Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook.

A pickup truck on Kennedy Boulevard in Bayonne in which a body was found on Thursday morning, May 31, 2018. (Tony Campano photo)
A pickup truck on Kennedy Boulevard in Bayonne in which a body was found on Thursday morning, May 31, 2018. (Tony Campano photo)

Source Article