Vailsburg, Newark



Former Sacred Heart Church (not to be confused with Newark’s Sacred Heart Cathedral)

Vailsburg is in the West Ward, on a hill. It began life as an independent municipality, and was incorporated as a borough on 28 March 1894. Vailsburg was annexed by Newark on 1 January 1905, based on the results of a special election on 12 April 1904.

It’s named for Dr. Merit H. Cash Vail, a politician, very important landowner, and strong advocate for an independent municipality.

Vailsburg was the final independent suburb annexed to the ever-expanding Newark. To try to avoid this fate, residents had suggested it as one of the municipalities to form a Greater Orange in the mid-1890s. Vailsburg ultimately lost its independence, but Newark’s mayor did fail to annex Kearny, East Orange, Belleville, and Harrison. Vailsburg is physically separated from the rest of the city by the Garden State Parkway’s trench.


Newark Gospel Tabernacle, originally Stanley Theater

Though contemporary Vailsburg is mostly home to immigrants from Nigeria and other parts of Africa, Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana, and the West Indies, it had a very large community of Ukrainians, Italians, Irish, and Germans before the disastrous Newark Riots of July 1967. It’s overly simplistic to blame the riots for chasing out almost all of Newark’s old guard demographics, but those riots were the death knell for communities already dispersed by white flight and suburban migration.

Some parts of Vailsburg still have a bit of a suburban feel, though there are also abandoned buildings and other signs of urban decay. South Orange Avenue, the main drag, got a much-needed makeover at the dawn of the new millennium, and now a lot of small, independent businesses are there.

Many Vailsburg houses were built from 1945–47, in Dutch Colonial and Victorian style.


St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church; Source; used to illustrate subject under Fair Use doctrine

The first documented Ukrainians arrived in Newark in 1899, and by 1905, there were enough to merit Ukrainian-language advertising from the Newark Public Library. In March 1907, the Church of St. John the Baptist was founded on Court Street, as a storefront church. Besides the Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish, there were also Ukrainian Orthodox and Protestant parishes.

In 1925, they moved to Morton Street, where they stayed till the cramped church was demolished in 1960. From 1963–65, a new church was built on 719 Sanford Avenue.

In 1910, parishioners created an evening school for their children, and in 1939, Basilican nuns created a K–8 dayschool. In 1953, the school moved from Morton Street to Sanford Avenue, ahead of the church relocation.

Vailsburg Park


Vailsburg Park began construction in 1917, and was completed in the late 1920s. Like Ivy Hill Park, it was also designed by the Olmsted Brothers. The park was originally an Electric Park, an amusement park found in dozens of cities starting in the late 1890s. Most closed by 1917, though a few remained in existence much longer.

Vailsburg residents thought it disturbed the peace, and waged a campaign to convert it into a park. There was also a velodrome across from the park, built in the early 20th century but taken down in the late 1920s.

During WWI and WWII, the Army used the park for recruiting, training, and embarking. Then, in 1952, they took away two softball diamonds for an anti-aircraft gun site in a portion of the park they leased. They left the park in 1960.

stanley theater inside

Inside the former Stanley Theater; Source; Use consistent with Fair Use doctrine

The Stanley-Fabian theatre chain built a second Newark theatre in 1927. The flagship was on Branford Place (since razed), and the second one was on South Orange Avenue. It was a grand movie palace, with a Spanish-themed auditorium. Patrons went through three chambers, each more impressive than the next, on their way to the actual theatre. There were 1,200 seats, and ushers wore red velvet uniforms.

In the 1950s, it was bought by an Italian–American group and became Casa Italiana. Then, in 1989–90, it was sold for a million dollars. Now it’s home to the Newark Gospel Tabernacle, and is Newark’s best-preserved movie palace.

Vailsburg bank

My characters initially live in Vailsburg upon their November 1948 immigration, though later move to other parts of the West Ward. Serena Fine (née Szerén Halpert), Eszter and Mirjam’s first-cousin twice-removed, and her family are settled in Vailsburg. This distant cousin they never met made all of their immigration possible.

Sources consulted:

Stanley Theater/Newark Gospel Tabernacle (Newark History)
South Orange Avenue: Part I (Newark History)
Vailsburg Park (Essex County Parks)
“Urban Mythology; The Newark Dream,” Terry Golway, The New York Times, 14 November 2004
St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church (Newark History)

6 thoughts on “Vailsburg, Newark

  1. I’ve never been very fond of Newark, but your post has made me think I should give it a second look. Not a place that I’d want to live, however I guess a visit wouldn’t be bad. In recent years the most contact I’ve had with that city is passing by or going to the airport to pick people up or drop them off. It’s the most convenient airport to where my daughters live. Last year I picked up and dropped off a family member at La Guardia–what a nightmare that was! I told them to fly in and out of Newark if they were going to go to that area.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out


  2. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2017 « Welcome to My Magick Theatre

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