Brick Church Plaza Construction


After years of planning and delays, work finally begins on the long anticipated Brick Church Mall adjacent to Brick Church Station on Main Street in East Orange. Only it is no longer called Main Street. Now it is Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. But first, some history.

About 1890, the corner of Main Street and Prospect Street looked like this. Edison had recently invented the electric light bulb and the city was wired for electricity, although it would be many years before the old gas street lights would be replaced, and a few years before all those overhead wires would be put underground and out of sight. The automobile (or horseless carriage) was still in the future for all but the very rich, but the trolley that ran on the tracks down the center of Main Street was electrified and the latest thing in low cost public transportation. The horse carriages are parked in front of Muirs Department Store (notice that some face east and some face west). Street cleaners had to contend with mounds of horse droppings, collected and transformed into fertilizer for the surrounding farms.

Opposite Brick Church was a large field with a race track, stables where residents could keep their horses, and the Riding and Driving Club House. Driving refers to horse drawn buggies, not cars. You can just see the top of Brick Church Station in the background. The railroad tracks have not yet been elevated. More information and photos can be seen HERE.

This is the "new" Brick Church Station, constructed in 1880 to replace the original. The tracks would not be elevated until 1922 and in this 1890's view, the horse is still the main mode of transportation within the city. The view looks west across the tracks towards Main Street. The Spire in the distance at the left (CC) is from the Trinity Congregational Church which was on South Harrison Street where today we find an entrance to Shop Rite. My father used to play the organ there and I was a professional soloist and tenor for the choir... but that was much later... I'm just wallowing in my memories. Continuing the tour, we can see a bit of the Riding and Driving Club House (RC) though the pillars of the station, and at the far right, a sliver of the Essex Hotel (EH)which can also be spotted in other photographs of this time.

A few years later, Main Street was sharing space with the few remaining horse drawn carriages with the new horseless carriages or automobiles. This view looks east on Main Street, towards the spire of Brick Church on the left and in the distance, Muirs where all the awnings are open. The tall building in the distance is the Lennox Building, formerly a Masonic Temple and later the Ormont Movie Theatre..

A closer view taken in 1907, during the transition from horses to cars.

Brick Church Station in the early 1900's. This view looks east and the Essex Hotel is in the background.

Brick Church Station again looking west, with the Essex Hotel (EH) at the far right. Now automobiles are parked at the station instead of horse buggies. Although the electric wires in the city of East Orange have all been buried, the wires along the Delaware, Lackawana & Western Railroad tracks have not. Although the trains are pulled by steam locomotives at this time, by 1930, they will be electrified and Thomas Edison himself will be one of the first passengers to ride the "new" electric trains.

The view in 1950 was somewhat different. Muirs was still a thriving department store. The street lights have been electrified. There are traffic lights now, and allm the wires are underground in East Orange. By this time, the electric trolley has been discontinued and replaced by gasoline powered buses, and most people drive their own cars, or aspire to.

The same scene some years later. Notice that the street lamps are now high powered mercury lights on aluminum poles, and many office windows above Woolworth and Singer's have air conditioners poking out.

Photo by Frederick Goode November 2005

This shows ShopRite and in the background the elevated Brick Church train station as it was after the Brick Church Plaza was completed in 1987. The developer of the Brick Church Plaza, at that time, was Harold Wachtel, but Kevin Taylor, owner of KETCO, had his company of minority workers building ShopRite, which is shown in the final stages of completion in a photograph in The East Orange Record of October 23rd, 1986. Also on the job was today's Mayor Robert Bowser, at that time head of the East Orange Public Works Department. Just to orient you with the past, the tree in the foreground shows approximately where the Trinity Congregational Church stood from the 1890s until this entire area was demolished to make way for the Brick Church Plaza in the 1960s. All through the 60's until work actually began on Brick Church Plaza in 1985, ShopRite's East Orange store was at the corner of Dodd Street and Thomas Boulevard, on the north-west side of the city.

Photo by Frederick Goode, November 2005

This shows the elevated Lackawana railroad tracks crossing over South Harrison street looking towards the south. Beyond the tracks is the overpass for the East-West highway, US 280.

We are missing a great many years in our story. I am hoping that photos of this area in the transition phase between the 1960s and the time the above color photo was taken, 2008, will be supplied by some local photographer/historian. In the meantime, we can see that we have gone both forward and backward in our idea of street lighting. The short elegant antique style lights are for show, while the powerful halogen street lamps light up the street. All of the stores of the past have been replaced by other businesses. The one common element that hasn't changed much in all those years is the Brick Church itself, although it has gone through different owners and different religious congregations during that time.

Back to the Timeline in 1985

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