Home built circa 1842 added to Nutley’s historical register

The home at 401 Passaic Ave. as seen in the 1950s.

An international monument set in a township park and a house dating from the mid 19th century have been added to the list of municipal historic landmarks in Nutley.

The Nutley Planning Board voted July 6 to confer landmark status on the 1961-1962 Venetian-glass mosaic United Nations monument in Memorial Park I (the northern section of Kingsland Park) and a one-family dwelling at 401 Passaic Ave., built in 1842.

These designations bring the total number of landmark properties in Nutley to nine.

Previously accorded such status since the township enacted a legal mechanism for historic preservation in 2012 were: 3 Kingsland St. (Kingsland Manor), 492 River Road (Van Riper House), 226 Chestnut St. (Vreeland House), 65 Church St. (Nutley Historical Society and Museum), 232 Highland Lane (Ruth Bedford House), 263 Harrison St. (Essex Film Club) and 111 Vreeland St. (a barn turned artist studio turned artist home).

Background on the township’s newest entries was contained in landmark applications filed by members of the Nutley Historic Preservation Committee (NHPC), on behalf of the property owners.

The UN Memorial in Memorial Park I.

John Simko, who also serves as the Nutley Museum director, nominated the UN monument, built in 1961-1962, by the House of Rambusch, of Jersey City, based on plans by architect and children’s books author Rolf Myller, of New York.

As described by Nutley author Anthony Buccino, the creation of the 6-foot mosaic replica of the UN logo – together with surrounding gardens – was inspired by the Nutley chapter of the American Association as “a symbol of the UN itself – people working together in achieving world order.”

Actually, the gardens came first, with their dedication in October 1959, followed by the centerpiece installation two years later, notes author Dave Wilson, a retired Nutley firefighter, in a history of the park and gardens. The finishing touch, he writes, came with the installation of a stone monument and flags, donated by Edgar Sergeant, in 1962.

The Nutley Home Garden Club, the Nutley AAUW Chorus and Boy and Girl Scouts joined forces to plant 60 trees, along with shrubs and flowers, representing more than 100 specimens, in the park peninsula, representing the many nation members of the UN, all anchored by the monument, Buccino related.

Over the years, storms, neglect and vandalism have taken their toll on the landscaping and in summer 2009, local Boy Scout Tyler Huey enlisted his mates from St. Vincent Methodist Church to join his Eagle project to clean and restore the aging mosaic tiles and restore order to the gardens.

Maintaining the gardens has continued to be a struggle and the landmark application acknowledges that “landscaping is an important related, but complicated, issue, since the selection and installation of the trees and shrubbery that accompanied the monument was a deliberate, meaningful and integral component of the original overall design (and) a significant number of original plantings still stand.”

Nonetheless, the application says, “we are not seeking landmark status for the landscaping; relevant landscaping exists, and there is a need for separate discussion to be had going forward about caring for the remaining portion of this important and meaningful part of the original United Nations Garden design.”

And, the application adds, “While that discussion is ongoing, we felt it prudent to move forward to protect this beautiful, relevant, publicly funded, and lovingly restored United Nations mosaic, which is the anchor of the larger installation.”

NHPC member Dante Intindola recommended landmark designation for 411 Passaic Ave., a “one-and-one-half story clapboard house” acquired by Jeanne and Fred Van Steen in the mid-1950.  But there is plenty of evidence to show that the building has been in use for at least the past century for a variety of uses, including commercial and educational.

“The home represents a simple vernacular style common in the area between circa 1825 and 1850, a simple rectangular flood plan with a peaked roof,” the landmark application notes. “Very few homes of this age are extant in Nutley today (and) the inclusion of this home within the existing federally-designated district merits its inclusion as a local historic landmark in and of itself.”

The property was once part of a large complex containing a cotton mill run by Henry Duncan, credited for the major late 19th-century industrialization of Nutley (then known as Franklin) coinciding with the arrival of the railroad. It’s a block from the former Nutley rail station at Highfield Lane and Whitford Avenue where it faced Connolly’s Meat Market and Guthrie’s Confectionary and Stationery store on the opposite corner.

The home today.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the building housed the Nutley Water Co. and PSE&G. In 1915, it was occupied by a cleaning and dyeing business. Its most recent use, however, has been as a private residence. It was last altered in 1969 when Jeanne and her late husband Fred added an extra dormers’ length of the house at the western end.

Jeanne Van Steen said among the building’s occupants after PSE&G was “a women’s work exchange consignment shop for hand-made items and two women who wove hand-loomed rugs with the loom visible through the large shop window.”  Later, she said, “Bernard McGinnity, the fight promoter and resident of the Kingsland Manor, rented the store, set up a boxing ring in what is now my living room, visible through the plate-glass window, so training bouts could be watched from outside.”

“I have always been proud to live in an area of such rich local and architectural history and hope to see more of these buildings join the list of historical landmarks in Nutley,” she said.

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Ron Leir | For The Observer

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.

He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.

He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York