Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Essex County Isolation Hospital

I remember passing by the Essex County Isolation Hospital as a child. By then the campus only had a few buildings left, but the one that caught my eye was the 8 story children's building which stood proudly across the large lawn at the corner of Franklin and Belleville. The structure was quite imposing , made of yellow brick and limestone. The building was still in use, or at least half of it was, by the Garden State Cancer Research Center. As soon as I got home, I researched everything I could about the hospital.

Buildings started to show up on this campus as early as 1905. The county needed a hospital to take care of numerous infectious diseases that were infecting residents of Essex. They already had a psychiatric hospital as well as a tuberculosis sanatorium in what was then the countryside, but the isolation hospital had to be built near the city of Newark.

Before long, the campus was becoming more and more crowded. In addition, the children's ward was insufficient for the demand. In 1929, the crown jewel of the campus was built. The towering edifice was occupied before long, and functioned for decades before the dwindling population of the campus forced the buildings to close.

After the demolition of the Essex Mountain Sanatorium, the county set their eyes on the vacant complex of buildings in Belleville for condominiums. After 3 years of remediation and securing the proper credentials, the county demolished most of the brick buildings in the back of the campus. Two structures in the back of the campus were spared, and renovated into office buildings, and the children's building was occupied by the Garden State Cancer Research Center. Well, half of it was.

The group occupied the administration area and the right wing, leaving the left wing to rot. After a friend of mine posted some photos of the interior, I had to go see the place for myself. After finding a way inside, I was taken aback by the peeling paint and rusting hospital equipment. This was one of the first buildings I ever wandered into, so my friend and I spent almost an hour cautiously walking around. As I mentioned before, the building was still partially active. There were disused floors on the active sides, but they were all totally stripped.

It didn't take very long to finish seeing the wing, so we headed out. We were determined to come back to the hospital at some point, but I didn't get my chance for a while. The cancer center declared bankruptcy in 2011, and was forced to vacate the building. So now, once again, the entire building was empty. Plans were made to visit the building soon after it's closure. Unfortunately we got busy, and a number of break ins and fires kept the building sealed for the longest time. The building eventually sold for 3.7 million dollars. I knew it was time to go back, before I lost my chance forever.

It took a visit from a friend from Idaho to get me back to the hospital. The new owners went around and sealed up the building, but a door they missed swung open we tried it. It was bittersweet walking through the building, seeing all the vandalism that wasn't there during our last visit. After spending some time on the roof, watching the police pull somebody over below, we decided to head out.

After posting some of my shots on an online urban exploration forum, a former patient (who had found the site through photos somebody else took) began to tell the stories of terror and abuse he was subjected to at the hospital. He even tried to escape the hospital at one point, to no avail. Hearing him tell his stories sent a chill down my spine; I had walked the same hallways he is talking about, but without the fear he experienced.

A few weeks after my second visit inside, I decided to drive by the hospital to see what had come of the new ownership. I was surprised and a little saddened to see the entire hospital sealed up, with full dumpsters sitting in the driveway. As I watched the owner toss items out of the building and into the dumpsters below, I felt a calm come over me, knowing that the building was going to be seeing new life, as opposed to all of the other county owned properties which ended up in a landfill. The hospital is being transformed, like everything else around here, into condos. Only time will tell what happens to the building now, I can only hope it is kind.

The two pumping stations of South Orange

South Orange is a wealthy suburban town just outside of Newark. High property taxes don't allow for many properties to remain vacant, however there were two shuttered pumping stations in different parts of the village. The first one that I stumbled across was the Campbell's Pond Pumping Station.

Situated alongside Campells Pond in the South Mountain Reservation, this old pumping station has sat empty for years. Built around 1900,  it's main function was to supply drinking water to the city of Orange. It had a capacity of 2.5 million gallons per day. It ran for a number of decades before a fire put it out of operation.

When the county acquired the property and made it a reservation, they dammed up the pond. But they left the pumping station sitting just over the old train bridge that used to carry the trains bringing coal to the building.

Numerous vandals have broken into the building over the years, and there is very little left of its past. Pieces of the old chimney are breaking off and falling down to the ground below, which prompted the county to put up a fence around the structure. They are currently working on the riverfront trail, which runs right past the building. I would be shocked if they don't tear down the building as part of the project.

The Campbell's Pond pumping station is quite well known, and has been visited numerous times by photographers and hikers who just happen to be walking by. Little do most people know, there is actually another pumping station inside the village. However, it also won't be around for very long.

Built in 1912, this building was the pump house for the village water works. It is roughly the same size as the Campbell's Pond pump house, but all of the machinery is still inside this one.

There is not a ton of history online about the building, but from what I can gather it's been closed for over a decade. It's supposed to be demolished soon, in order to restore the flood plane of the area. The only people who will notice the building is gone of from the numerous kennel workers who walk the resident dogs around the building. And of course, myself.

Genesis Towers/ Roseville Imperial Towers

Construction was competed on this ten story residential fortress in 1938. Standing high over this notoriously violent section of Newark, the Genesis towers boasted a classy renaissance revival exterior. The massive building held 273 units, making it one of the largest "project" buildings in the city at just under 230,000 square feet.

Just yards from the train and major interstates, the neighborhood is the only thing holding back the development of this property. The building has been shuttered for decades, causing a number of structural issues. One such issue is the heavy iron fencing along the roof line, which has been falling down over the years and has since been mostly removed.

 When we entered the building, our footsteps echoed down the hallways, across the courtyard where trees continue to grow. It became quickly apparent that nobody had been inside this building in years. There was no graffiti, no signs of squatting, and no garbage.

 As we made our way to the roof, we developed a sense of fear; what could be the reason that nobody has visited this massive structure, which is clearly visible from Rt. 280? As we were wondering this, we decided it may be time to head out, before we run into a pissed off caretaker or owner.

However, it is very hard to find your way around buildings like this. It all looks the same. After finding a window to exit through, my girlfriend discovered the reason the building was never entered; a lone Rottweiler was sitting by the front entrance to the building. We had failed to notice all of the "ATTACK DOG ON PREMISES" signs outside of the building. 

 As she sat there, half of her body hanging out the window, a neighbor spotted us through his window. Clearly he wasn't happy with the two people who were hanging out inside this ruin. We quickly backtracked to our entrance and hastily walked back to our vehicle. We had enough of the towers.

After seeing somebody post on Reddit that they were working on the building, I decided to take a trip back down to Roseville. I discovered that the metal along the roofline had been mostly scrapped, the building was re secured, and a pit bull was inside with the Rottweiler.

We got lucky when we ran into the rotty, but this pit bull was mean. Really mean. He had a killer look in his eye as I looked in from the sidewalk. I decided to move on and check out some other things in the area,

The towers are supposed to be renovated to once again be put to residential use. While that would be better than demolition, I cant help but feel like I will one day find myself stepping quietly through this building again.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The RKO Proctor's Theater

Standing tall over Newark's central building district is a tall, narrow building with a dirty white fa├žade. Though thousands pass by the building every day, few know that it is the former RKO Proctor's Theater.

The strange looking building was constructed in 1915, at a time when attending Vaudeville shows was one of the most common nighttime activities for residents of the city. It was originally referred to as the Proctor's Palace Theater. The outside wasn't the only unusual thing about the theater. The building actually had two separate auditoriums; one on the bottom floor and another "penthouse" auditorium built on top of the lower auditorium. The Newark Proctors building is one of the only existing "double decker" theaters in existence. 

The building itself was designed by Proctor's nephew, John M. Merrow. The lower auditorium had 2,300 seats. This alone made it one of the largest theaters in the city. The auditorium had a main level, mezzanine, and three balconies flanking both sides of the stage. The lower auditorium began screening movies before long, as Vaudeville shows were losing their appeal.

The upper auditorium held 900 seats, but was rarely ever used. No information can be found online about what the upper theater used to screen. After Proctors death in 1929 the theater was sold to Radio-Kieth Orpheum, which is when it was renamed. However, Proctors name was left in the name of the theater. A few decades later the upper auditorium was completely remodeled, but the new "Penthouse Cinema" would be short lived.

After the famous rebellion that transformed the city in 1967, the theater was finding it harder and harder to survive financially. The building was perched amongst a half dozen other theaters in the vicinity, including the Branford, The Adams, and the Paramount a few blocks away. The building closed its doors for good in 1968, and that was the last time the auditoriums would ever be used. The lobby was partially renovated into a shoe store, with much of the original ornamentation remaining above a drop ceiling.

The building slowly rotted away for decades, as the city of Newark tried to recover. In 2016, it was announced that a buyer had been found for the building. The new owner plans to level the building, and construct a new structure on the lot. Its always a shame when a unique, historic treasure is lost. Hopefully whatever eventually fills the space of the former theater will be useful. Its a pretty safe bet, however, that it won't be as amazing a structure as the old Proctor's theater.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Hello, and welcome to the Forgotten Past of Essex County...

I started this blog in the interest of bringing the history of Essex County out, because it is constantly being wiped out by new condo complex's and other nonsense in the name of "progress". I have been a lifelong resident of Essex, and in the time I have been here I have watched a number of beautiful, historic buildings crumble and be demolished at the hands of both careless private owners, as well as the people in charge of running the county. Things as simple as an old house, to massive sprawling complexes of ornate, century old abandoned buildings. 

 Those who pay taxes to live here should be appalled by what our county has left to ruin. In addition to letting these amazing buildings rot and be wiped out, they continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build new, less aesthetically appealing structures. It is for this reason that I feel a need to document these decaying structures before they are gone forever. 

However, this is not an urban exploration blog, and I will not under any circumstances reveal how to get into these buildings. In many instances, I won't even be posting the real names of these structures. This is purely out of the interest of shielding the locations from vandals and scrappers. 

Also, not everything on this blog is going to be abandoned, so I would not recommend using this to serve as a map of places to visit.

That being said, I hope everybody enjoys seeing history brought back to life, through the photographs and stories I present, as we take a look at the forgotten past of this once great county....