• Dante Mazza

South Orange Village Hall

Updated: Oct 20, 2021


South Orange Village Hall

The South Orange Village Hall

The South Orange Village Hall is the former center of government for the village of South Orange, New Jersey, a suburb of Newark in Essex County.

Significant for its medieval-style German half-timber architecture and role as the political center of the village, South Orange Village Hall has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.

 

South Orange, New Jersey

South Orange, New Jersey is a township just west of Newark that is today best known as the home of Seton Hall University. Much of the residential portion of the township is included in the Montrose Park Historic District, which is also listed on the National Register.

South Orange is one of "The Oranges" (The City of Orange Township, the City of East Orange, the Township of West Orange, and the Township of South Orange).

After the Civil War, demand for suburban living, especially among the affluent, exploded. The Morris and Essex Railroad, constructed in 1839, allowed residents of New York and Newark to visit the lush and mountainous area around South Orange during the summer months. When industrialization brought new factories and the immigrant laborers to fill them to the heart of those cities, the same wealthy visitors decided to make permanent homes in the Oranges.

So many people had moved into the area by 1869 that South Orange needed to become its own municipality. Local residents appealed to the State Legislature in Trenton, and on March 25, 1869, an "Act to Incorporate the Village of South Orange in the County Of Essex" was made law.

 

A Government Center

The Village Hall sits on the corner of Scotland Road and South Orange Avenue, the main street in South Orange.

 

It was not until the 1890s that the residents of South Orange set about building a place for the village government to gather. Plans for the construction of the village hall were announced in the New York Times on October 14, 1894.

From the time the building was completed, it housed all the offices of the village government. Space was also provided for the local fire department. The second floor acted as a community center, with a large meeting room for social and political gatherings.

For over 100 years, Village Hall was home to a unique form of local government. While South Orange is legally a township, it still operates under a village-style government.

South Orange is governed by a Village Board of Trustees, consisting of six members and a Village President, all elected by residents to single four-year terms. The Board legislates by passing ordinances, while the President is in charge of day-to-day administration and village employees.

Village-style governments were essentially outlawed by New Jersey's 1989 Village Act, but because South Orange was specifically chartered by the State Legislature over a hundred years earlier, it is still able to operate as a village.

 

The Architecture

The half-timber style is exhibited on each facade of the Village Hall. A green copper dome tops the clocktower, as recounted in an 1894 issue of

the New York Times

 

The October 14, 1894 issue of the New York Times announced the planned construction of Village Hall. An article described a building with a dome "of natural copper, surmounted by a belfry roof" and an "arched main entrance...trimmed with terra cotta." The present building perfectly fits that description.

Village Hall was designed by the firm of Rossiter and Wright, a firm that completed a number of public buildings in the Northeastern United States around the same time. The firm's partners were Erick K. Rossiter and Frank Ayres Wright, who had joined forces in 1881.

Rossiter was a native of Paris who came to the United States and did his architectural training at the Cornell University School of Architecture. He started his career as a draftsman in New York and later became an architect for some firms before striking it out on his own, and then joining forces with Wright.

Not much is known about Wright, other than the fact he was partners with Rossiter, though he is known to be the author of a few architectural books from the period, some of which featured the firm's drawings.

Village Hall features half-timber styling, a hallmark of the Tudor Revival style of architecture. Half Timbering, as it is called, consists of exposed wood beam framing with a nonstructural substance as infill between the beams. In the case of Village Hall, the infill material is stucco.

The exposed timber frames and stucco infill of the building's North side

The choice of Tudor style is notable because several homes in the nearby Montrose Park Historic District are built in the same style.

A Tudor Revival-style home in the Montrose Park Historic District features the same half-timber work as Village Hall

Nothing about the design of Village Hall is uniform. Each elevation of the building sports its own collection of shapes and dimensions. Materials vary as well. While the upper portion of the building is made from wood and stucco, the first floor is largely made of brick.

The western elevation of Village Hall features gabled roofs, triangular dormers, and rounded arches of brick over the front entrances. The eclectic mix of styling makes Village Hall a unique architectural landmark

The National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Village Hall says the variety of styling and intricate details "gives the building a human scale."

 

Village Hall Today

The words "South Orange Village Hall" still appear on the building

The village government has moved out of the building and is renting space elsewhere in town. Meetings of the Village Board are now held in the local performing arts center.

Village Hall sat vacant for many years. In 2010, the United States Congress included $150,000 for its restoration in the annual appropriation bill for the Department of the Interior. Even with the upgrade, the building still remained empty.

Then in late 2015, Landmark Hospitality Group announced plans to purchase Village Hall and convert it into a restaurant and beer garden. The Village Board of Trustees approved the sale, but another local filed a lawsuit, halting progress on the conversion.

The suit was finally settled in the Spring of 2018. The new restaurant will be named the Rossiter and Wright Tavern as a homage to the building's designers. The building will also include a beer garden and space for weddings and other events. Landmark Group has pledged to maintain the historic integrity of the building and has a history of respectful adaptive reuse of historic properties.

Despite the change in usage, Village Hall will remain listed on the National Register, and this symbol of South Orange will be open for the community to enjoy once again.

 

For Further Information:

South Orange Village Hall NRHP Nomination


South Orange Village Hall NRHP Photos

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