Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company

I had no idea this factory even existed until the day I was going. Sitting just off Rt. 21 in  Newark, thousands of people pass by this building every day. But very few of them have any idea what it was.

As the name may suggest, the company is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.The history of the company dates all the way back to 1883, when it was strictly manufacturing glass and glass products.

The company soared, becoming the first successful American company to manufacture high quality plate glass.

15 years after the company was founded, they had already become the largest manufacturer of plate glass. The boom in the manufacturing of cars called for an increased need for plate glass, and company was expanding at an impressive rate.

At the beginning of the 1900's, the company expanded overseas. They acquired a glass manufacturing plant in Belgium.

The company continued to create new advancements in the production and properties of plate glass. They had just started working on a new laminated aircraft glass when the Pearl Harbor attack happened.

During the war, the company changed their focus on products with military applications like so many other companies were.

Even after the war, the company continued to see prosperity. The end of the war brought on a new wave of wealth across America and Europe. Soon cars were becoming much more mainstream, and with them came a need for plate glass.

The company continued to diversify its interests, and changed its name to PPG Industries in 1968.

By the 1970's, the company become the first major corporation to develop a flat plate solar collector.

The company continued to prosper, and in the 1990's they developed the technology that brought us Transitions Lenses.

The company is still around, has is a multi-billion dollar a year gross revenue. The company has operations in over 70 countries, so unfortunately the companies formal written history doesn't include anything about its Newark operations. I searched around the internet trying to find  some information about when the plant closed, or what specialty product was made there. Unfortunately there wasn't a whole lot to be found. There were a few old advertisements being sold over eBay, and a news article about the complex being the subject of a brownfield grant for the cleanup of the complex. Apparently they left 6 large underground tanks filled with hazardous substances underground next to the buildings. I assume they were gone when we visited, but I don't really remember any clear signs of a large scale dig in the area. The complex itself is still partially active, and only the two buildings in the photos above are still left abandoned. I'm sure the buildings will be taken down at some point, but for now they really just stand to accommodate taggers, homeless, and the occasional photographer like myself. Just another reminder of a once great industrial past that has left the city that once thrived on it.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Essex County Jail Annex

The original building of the Essex County Jail Annex was a huge brownstone designed by local architect Paul Botticer, who also designed the Newark Boys Home which stood on the land that is now Verona High School.

It was built in 1873, to deal with the overcrowding at the county jail in Newark. The brownstone underwent a number of additions over the years, including an auditorium/cafeteria in 1882 and a hospital section in the 1890's.

Since then, many more buildings were built on the property. During the time the hospital section was added to the brownstone, a powerhouse was built with a connecting tunnel. A groundskeepers house was also built around this time. 

All of the additions were built with a mixture of trap rock and brownstone, as opposed to the large brownstone blocks used to build the original building.

Not even two decades had passed before the prison was overcrowded. Around 1918 construction started on a new women's building, complete with its own medical facility. 

The county was quite pleased with their complex now, but the crime spike of the 1920's was met with a need for a higher capacity prison. In the 1930's the county built at the time was the largest building on campus.

The "new cell block" as they called it was a towering concrete edifice added to the auditorium of the brownstone. It was around this time that the old brownstone underwent extensive renovations, which essentially stripped the brownstone to its bones and started anew.

A number of other structures appeared on the property, mostly garages and a wardens house built in a Spanish style with a beautiful clay tile roof.

Despite the new building, overcrowding was a constant issue. At some point the county put trailers behind the brownstone for overflow inmates. 

However, it wasn't long before the county decided the buildings were too outdated, and needed to be replaced rather than added too.

All inmates were transferred out of the old 1873 cell block sometime in the 1970's, and the building was used just for reception and administrative purposes. Over the years, prisoners were moved into newer buildings on campus. 

The cell blocks didn't see use again until rapper Nas used the older cells in the brownstone to film a music video for his song "One Love".

Even though they had built entirely new buildings only a few decades earlier, Essex county decided to build a brand new jail building down in Newark. The inmates were transferred to the new facility on Doremus Ave. in Newark, and the large complex was now just left to rust. 

Over the years it became a place for local teens to trash, and there was even a fire there on 5/22/11.

That pretty was pretty much the last straw and the property owners decided to finalize their plans to turn the property into condo's. One by one the huge, historic buildings were demolished, starting with the small garages, the warden's house, and the power plant.

They didn't touch the larger buildings for a while but on December 30th, 2011, the building that held the female prisoners was demolished. It happened to be my birthday, and I had just gotten my drivers license. I had also just gotten a new camera, and I was eager to test it out. 

After that was gone, they started to demolish the 1930's cell block...

...and then it was just the original Brownstone. 

I was lucky enough to get permission to visit the structure before it, too, was razed. It was odd, looking at the building the way it was way back in the late 1800's, before even the powerhouse was built. 

I worked with a local historian to document the building as they demolished it, checking every nook and cranny of the building for items that may have slipped through the cracks. Unfortunately, the salvage company did a pretty good job of scrapping the place.

They took a lot of the building materials to be sold and re-used in future projects, mostly the wood from the roof.

We did uncover a few interesting features though. There were a number of beams and other pieces of wood with graffiti on them from when the prisoners were working on various things. These beams were tagged to be cut out and donated to the town of North Caldwell.

That wasn't the most interesting discovery we made though. When the county remodeled the brownstone in the 1930's, they pretty much completely rebuilt it, saving only two structural beams. Or so we assumed...

We uncovered this old stencil, which was unique to the town of North Caldwell. It had been painted over in the 1930's, and this was the first time since then it was seen. It didn't last long however, as the demolition crews began to take down the rest of the brownstone.

We made a number of trips up to the old brownstone during different stages of demolition. The nearly 150 year old hand- chiseled brownstone was ground up and trucked to a landfill. There were negotiations to save the administration section of the brownstone, to make into offices for the condo's. Unfortunately the plans weren't feasible and were scratched. This amazing landmark of Essex County now only lives on through photographs, and the stories told about it by those lucky enough to grace its halls. I'm grateful to have enjoyed the place for the time it was around, and it will always have a special place in my heart as one of my favorite places that is no more.

South Middle School

This large school was constructed in 1939, just outside of the city of Newark. Originally known as Bloomfield Junior High School, it served the children of Bloomfield by offering 6th through 8th grade classes.

The building was designed in a classic Art Deco fashion. It had a large cafeteria on the top floor, a cavernous auditorium and a sprawling gymnasium. It operated for nearly 50 years until 1987 when Bloomfield Middle School was built.

The 145,000 square foot school school sat boarded up on Franklin Avenue for nearly three decades. Several proposals to redevelop the building came forward, but none of them worked out. Then, in 2013, an article was published about plans to renovate the building into condominiums.

This school was one of the first places I ever went to as a curious teenager. I remember thinking how awesome it was, despite being almost entirely devoid of relics from its past. There were no lockers in the hallways, no desks in the classrooms, and no tables in the lunchroom. The halls were empty, the chalkboards stripped.

The auditorium of the school was largely intact, and very photogenic. It was a nice break from the monotony of stripped hallways.

The building became a hangout for taggers, vandals, and local kids, who used the building as everything from a place to smoke weed and hang out to skate and BMX.

The school quickly became one of the most well known abandoned buildings in the area, drawing tons of of photographers from New Jersey and the surrounding states. 

The future of the building is uncertain, as it sits abandoned behind a fence line currently being used to house construction vehicles. The new  owners have sealed up the building, and do not take kindly to trespassers. 

I sincerely hope the building can see use as a school once again. It is an amazing structure, and to tear it down would certainly be a loss to the town of Bloomfield . All we can do is hope the company who owns it now doesn't continue to neglect it.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Maas and Waldstein Company Factory

This complex of factory buildings in the North Broadway section of Newark Dates back to 1876, when Martin E. Waldstein & Adolphus H. Maas established a chemical plant along the banks of the Passaic River. 

They manufactured a large range of products, including lacquers, explosives, and specialized coatings. The factory seemed to be cursed, as it suffered numerous fires and explosions throughout its 114 year history. 

One severe explosion in 1915, in the "acid unit" caused 5 workers to be burned, one of which was 16 year old Louis Gizzone. Residents of the neighborhood reported their houses shaking after the explosion, its amazing nobody died. 

Improper lubrication of some of the machines on the eastern side of the property caused another large fire in 1919, a short 4 years after the explosion in the acid unit. This fire spread throughout 3 buildings, and caused a number of barrels of alcohol and benzene in the yard to explode. 

The facility recovered from the second fire, but it was only 9 years later in 1928 when another fire broke out. 5 boats and 25 firetrucks responded to the 3 alarm fire, which was in the area of 500 barrels of lacquer. 125 workers risked their lives in order to move the barrels away from the blaze, exponentially reducing the total damage to the complex. 

In 1944, the company added another 3 acres to the plant, in which they were developing a new lacquer for the military to use.

 Over the next couple decades, the company would shift its focus to mainly composing finishes for woods and metals, as well as synthetic resins and other such products. 

Despite the reduction of explosive materials manufactured at the plant, another fire broke out in 1975, which caused another explosion. By this time the company was on the decline,and it finally closed sometime around 1990. 

When the company left, they left behind over 300 barrels or corrosive, hazardous materials, as well as a large number of 50 gallon containers also containing hazardous substances. 

The containers were not immediately removed, but they were apparently stored inside one of the buildings. They were no longer there when I visited.