From church to train station and factory, Essex County has several buildings that look like they should be one thing, but no longer are. The facades might look the same, but the building itself is used for a new purpose. One can now dine in a former train station, get their hair cut in an old church, or live in one of Thomas Edison’s factories. Read on to learn about these old places in Essex County, their new identities, and how history is being preserved.
Audible’s Innovation Cathedral | 23 Washington Street, Newark
Presbyterianism grew in Essex County after the American Revolution. The First Presbyterian Church on-the-Green in Bloomfield, then located in what was then the northern portion of Newark, opened in 1797. Within a decade and a half another church was needed in the north of Newark and the cornerstone for the Second Presbyterian Church was laid in 1810. A second edifice was erected in 1886 and a third in 1932 due to a fire. After almost two centuries, the congregation dissolved in 1995. From 2004 to 2008 the Women In Support of The Million Man March (WISOMMM) owned the property, using it for graduations, funerals, concerts, protests, and as a preschool. Around 2012, digital media company Audible, who moved to Newark in 2007, purchased the property, restoring the church’s stained-glass windows, and organ pipes, and refurbishing the bowling alley. Today, the space is used by Audible and over 400 employees.
Annin Lofts + Luxury Apartments | 151 Bloomfield Avenue, Verona
Now serving as an apartment complex, the Annin Lofts manufactured American flags for almost a century as the Annin + Co., the world’s oldest and largest flag company. Annin Flag opened its Verona location in 1918 and created flags for numerous notable events, presidential inaugurations, and retail sales. Annin + Co. claims that its flags were draped over Abraham Lincoln’s coffin in 1865, was raised by the U.S. Marines atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in 1945, and were used in the 1969 Moon Landing. Today, this notable structure features apartment rentals ranging from studios to three bedrooms. The complex includes a rooftop lounge and billiards room, a dog run, and complimentary resident membership to a nearby fitness center.
Read More: The History Behind Essex County Town Names
BangZ Salon + Wellness Spa | 23 South Fullerton Avenue, Montclair
23 South Fullerton Avenue in Montclair might look like a church, but it’s actually a hair salon. Since 2006, BangZ Salon + Wellness Spa has been cutting, trimming, dying, and curling hair. In 1889, a man named Joseph Ireland began designing the First Baptist Church which opened for service two years later. By at least 1970, the structure was used as a Masonic Temple until it was sold in 2005. Today, BangZ is an oasis for the mind, body, and soul providing both spa and hair services. BangZ offers haircuts for men, women, and children; bonding, fusion, and tape extensions; blowouts, hair treatments, and more. Spa services include bridal services as well as massages, facials, and waxing.
Benson Street Station | 77 Benson Street, Glen Ridge
Driving down Benson Street in Glen Ridge, one might notice the rattle of their automobile as they cross over the train tracks but never have to stop for a train. In 1873, the Benson Street Station (first called Chestnut Hill) opened serving the Erie Railroad and later NJ Transit. Service was discontinued in 2002 and the building sold to private owners in 2009. Over the next few years, the structure was rehabilitated and restored. It is currently a private residence.
Bloomfield Steak + Seafood House | 409 Franklin Street, Bloomfield
The Bloomfield Steak + Seafood House is the oldest surviving house in all of Essex County. It was built by Thomas Davis in 1676 and remained in the family until 1903. The main walls of the building are two feet thick at the base and eight to ten feet thick in the old cellar. These thick walls and small windows were intended to give maximum protection from enemies. Since 1676, the home has been used as a farmhouse, hospital, church, and as a restaurant. During the American Revolution, General George Washington, General John Knox, and General Joseph Bloomfield visited and ate at this very home. Today, diners can visit the Bloomfield Steak + Seafood House expecting to sample a multitude of dishes including shaved prime rib, filet mignon, crab cakes, lobster ravioli, fettuccine Alfredo, and meatloaf.
Crane House + Historic YWCA | 110 Orange Road, Montclair
The Crane House and Historic YWCA at 110 Orange Road in Montclair was built in 1796 but did not sit on Orange Road until a century and a half later. The home, built by Israel Crane, was first located on Glen Ridge Avenue (then called Old Road). It stayed in the Crane family until 1920 when it was purchased by the YWCA which used the home for offices, lodgings, and as a social center for Black women and girls. In 1965, the house faced the prospect of demolition and local residents fought to save it from the bulldozer. The residents of Montclair were victorious and the home was moved from Glen Ridge Avenue to its current location on Orange Road. Since then the home has been used by the Montclair History Center, a history nonprofit dedicated to educating, preserving, and appreciating local history.
DeNovo European Pub | 275 Bellevue Avenue, Montclair
DeNovo is a European-style pub in the heart of Upper Montclair. Before becoming a fine dining establishment the site was used as the Upper Montclair Train Station. The Upper Montclair stop opened in 1873 and has been in operation for 150 years. In 1892, the depot where DeNovo is located was built. In 2006, a devastating fire destroyed a significant portion of the building. Much of what remained was the porte-cochere and terra cotta tile lining on the roof. Eventually, the structure was partially rebuilt using typical Erie Railroad architectural character to ensure that the traditional train station facade remained. Today, diners can visit the site of this former train station and sample the flavors of Europe. From salad to flatbreads and sandwiches, this spot features a variety of vibrant flavors. We suggest one of the flatbreads, especially the option made with creamy burrata, arugula, prosciutto di parma, and a touch of tomato. When it comes to dessert, mint gelato is the way to go at DeNovo.
Edison Lofts | 33 Ashland Avenue, West Orange
Residents can now live in one of Thomas Edison’s old factories. In 2016, redevelopment began on the Edison Storage Battery Company Building in West Orange. Production of alkaline storage batteries stopped here in 1965 and numerous other businesses used the property until the late 2000s. Prism Capital Partners purchased the property for a redevelopment project. Today, the Edison Lofts are a modern-day adaptable reuse of a century-old battery factory. The complex includes an original 6-story 430,000-square-foot industrial building that now contains 300 luxury apartment units. Residents enjoy an indoor heated pool, fitness center, a rooftop lounge with a view of Manhattan, bike storage, and more.
Hillside Square | 8 Hillside Avenue, Montclair
Built in 1926, this structure served as the edifice for the First Church of Christ Scientist until about 2010. The Bravitas Group eventually purchased it, converting it into office space. While this former church has been fully renovated, it still maintains the original architectural details and facade. Hillside Square offers professional spaces ranging from 700 to 10,000 square feet.
The Wilson | 307 Bloomfield Avenue, Caldwell
The latest chapter of the building located at 307 Bloomfield Street began in 2020, but the building itself was built in 1924. The bank had been vacant for nearly a decade when in 2018, The Bravitas Group purchased the property for $700,000 (roughly $879,000 today), restoring, redeveloping it, and making it fully ADA accessible. The structure was originally built in 1924 for the Caldwell National Bank and housed several other banks such as NorCrown Bank and the National Newark and Essex Bank. The Wilson includes insurance companies, realtors, and more. Here visitors can find DeStefano Insurance, Be You Counseling, Wander Atelier, Tsugi Behavioral Health, Coldwell Banker Realty, Danbro Properties, and Threefold Clinical Care.
Unitarian Universalist Church | 73 Church Street, Montclair
Since 1984 the Unitarian Universalist Church has been operating out of a former library along Church Street in Montclair, using it as an annex for the congregation. In 1904 a Carnegie library, designed by John G. Howard, opened on the corner of Church Street and Valley Road. Andrew Carnegie, the American industrialist and philanthropist, donated $40,500 for the construction of Montclair’s first purpose-built free public library. In 1897, the Unity Church formed as a congregation out of 69 Church Street. In 1957, the church took over 73 Church Street, for $37,025 (roughly $406,000 today). This allowed the congregation to build classrooms and better serve its Sunday School students.
See More: The Stories Behind Old Hoboken Signage
Vault491 | 491 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair
Built in the 1920s, this property has housed numerous banks such as The Bank of Montclair, the National Newark and Essex Bank, and PNC. In the last decade, the property was purchased by the Bravitas Group which restored the spaces’ neoclassical architecture and redeveloped it for retail and office use. Today, visitors can enjoy massages, counseling, financial services, and more at this location. East Side Mags, Hair 491, NextGen Massage + Wellness, RHG Architecture + Design, Essex Counseling Associates, Ameriprise Financial Services, and Intimatology work out of this old bank, and yes, there is still a vault.
Vesta Chocolate | 598 Valley Road, Montclair
At Vesta Chocolate, one can find an entire bank vault filled with delicious homemade chocolate. In 2020, this local chocolate business opened in a former bank, possibly the Montclair National Bank and Trust Company, on Valley Road in Upper Montclair. Vesta offers bonbons, baked goods, bars, barks, hot chocolate, gift bundles, and vegan options. Bark options include almond + sea salt, cherry + pecan, fig + hazelnut, and the ultimate holiday favorite — peppermint bark. The baked goods here include chocolate chip cookies, brownies, financiers, and Basque cheesecake.