In 1931, the second year of the
Great Depression, Newark's homeless were being allowed to sleep in the cells of
Newark's police precincts, ground was broken on Broadway for a new home for the
New Jersey Historical Society, and at 744 Broad Street, an architectural jewel
was opened for business as the "National Newark and Essex Bank Building."
The new skyscraper, started a year earlier, towered 465
feet above Broad Street and contained 35 floors. Its opening made it both
New Jersey's and Newark's tallest commercial tower.
The building exterior was of tan
brick and limestone. The top was modeled after the mausoleum of
Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the world.
Its mezzanine was decorated with
ten murals by J. Monroe Hewlett and Charles Gulbrandsen and depicted the growth
of commerce in Newark.
The architects of the steel-framed
structure were a father and son, Wilson and John Ely, who had earlier designed
Newark's City Hall building and the American Insurance Building.
Almost from its inception, the
building housed New Jersey's most prestigious legal, political and business
firms. Everyone who was anyone had an office at 744 Broad. The
building was also home to the exclusive 744 Broad Street Club, a private dining
club of prominent bankers, attorneys, politicians and businessmen from all over
Mecca for Lawyers
In its heyday, nearly 80 percent
of the tenants in the 744 Building were lawyers and law firms. Many of the
State's present-day law firms had their roots in that building.
In its prime years, rumor had it
that 744 Broad Street housed more lawyers than all the rest of the state
combined, according to one attorney who worked in the building from 1959 to
1985. It was of course a slight exaggeration, but it was the home of many
of New Jersey's largest law firms.
The late and great Supreme Court
Justice, William J. Brennan, Jr., had his law offices in the building in the
late 1930s and early 1940s. He was appointed to the New Jersey Superior
Court by Governor Alfred Driscoll in 1951, and left to join the Supreme Court in
1956 after being appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower.
With 744 Broad Street as the
city's premier legal address, there were so many lawyers in the building that
visiting an adversary's office usually meant taking a ride in an elevator.
Many cases were settled over lunch
in the 13th floor dining room, or in the lobby while waiting for a lift
upstairs. The lobby was ever alive with lawyers toting bulging briefcases
in the hallways and on the elevators.
In a Star-Ledger article on
October 14, 1997, Seena Stein, president of a Rutherford real estate brokerage,
was quoted as saying of the 744 Building, Every important lawyer in the State of
New Jersey was in that building...It was the queen building of all Newark."
In addition to its legal
residents, it also housed the offices of Newark's professional elite, and had a
number of private dining clubs.
Decline and Near-Death of 744
Following the general decline of
Downtown Newark during the 1980s and 1990s, the 744 Building fell on hard times.
All the largest law firms departed. The dining club closed.
Much of the 744 Building's decline
was related to the threat of crime in Downtown Newark. Another
contributing factor was the poor maintenance of the building while it was under
the ownership of Helmsley-Spear Inc., the real estate development firm of the
late Harry Helmsley and his wife, Leona.
The fear of crime drove many of
the 744 Building tenants to the suburbs, or to the Gateway Complex, with its
accessibility to the nearby Pennsylvania Railroad Station.
A Star-Ledger report of November
27, 1998 describes the time and environment that drove the tenants out of the
"Just a few years ago, as car
thefts and violent crime raged in Newark, the streets of downtown were
considered a dangerous place, especially after dark.
"Most downtown businesses are
shuttered by 6 P.M." The article went on to add that in the two years up
to 1998, crime was down 25 percent and NJPAC (The New Jersey Performing Arts
Center) was fast remaking downtown Newark's image.
Called "White Elephant"
By 1990, the 744 Building was
described in the Third Edition of the classic book titled "Newark" by John T.
Cunningham as one of "the world's tallest white elephants."
Cunningham wrote that talk of
demolishing the tower was noised about but explosives never touched the
structure. He said what the building needed was a new owner with a large
purse and strong faith that the tower could be transformed into a sound
Rebirth of 744 Building
The beginning of the rebirth of
the 744 Building, now referred to as the "National Newark Building" began in
November 1997 when the Helmsley estate sold the 744 Broad Street building to
Cogswell Realty Group, which announced that it would restore and reconstitute
the building to its former glory.
The end result was a $55 million
total renovation of the building and the integration of 21st century
technologies that converted the building into an ideal and inviting modern
Among the new improvements were
1,500 new openable thermal windows, 15 high speed elevators, removal of the
escalators, and the lobby given a complete facelift with restored 25 feet high
plaster ceilings and grand chandeliers.
The classical style facade in the
lobby was scrubbed and repainted and the art deco interior and giant mezzanine
level murals restored.
The restored building slowly has
been regaining its earlier popularity and has been referred to as the "crown
jewel of Newark's renaissance."
The building toady is an elegant
high-tech office tower that is attracting blue ribbon tenants, even from across
the Hudson River.
Still Hold Appeal for Lawyers
The restored building still holds
special appeal for attorneys, as well. One attorney who moved in recently,
said "You can even open the windows. You don't get a modern building where
you can open a window.
Another recent new tenant, also an
attorney, said of the building's facelift: "Its gorgeous! The building has
a lot of character."
The retrofitted 744 Building was
virtually taken apart and replaced. All of the work done while the
building was tenanted and was kept fully functioning during the process.
Today, the building, which had
fallen to 19 percent occupancy, is more than 80 percent occupied.
Several full-floor tenants in the
rebuilt building include the legal publisher Matthew Bender, who occupies the
seventh, eighth, and ninth floors...Broadview Networks on the tenth
floor...Regional Business Partnerships on the 27th and 28th floors...Hiller
Architects on the 29th and 30th floors, Mintz Lighting on the 25th floor, and
the Newark Sports Authority on the 33rd floor.
Today's tenancy, unlike earlier
years as mainly a legal building, today enjoys a mix of architects, attorneys,
technology companies, and communications firms...even a pre-eminent legal
publisher. The building is extremely well maintained and contains all the
latest 21st century technologies.
Mayor James: "A Showpiece"
Newark Mayor Sharpe James, in his
2002 State of the City address, at the outset of 2003, saluted Arthur Stern, CEO
of Cogswell Realty on the restoration. Said Mayor James: "Under his
leadership, Cogswell took the old National Newark Building at 744 Broad Street
and transformed it into a gorgeous commercial showpiece, recapturing its former
glamour and former status. 744 Broad is now the address to have in
744 Building Today
Today brilliant lighting from the
roof casts a glow over Newark's skyline by night making it visible from miles
away. By day, Newark's largest flag flies from a staff high above the
roof, serving the same function. Before its return, the flag had been
missing from the roof for 30 years.
Newark's Ten Tallest Buildings
||National Newark Building
||744 Broad Street
||1180 Raymond Boulevard
||1180 Raymond Blvd.
||Prudential Plaza Building
||745 Broad Street
||80 Park Plaza
||80 Park Plaza
||One Gateway Center
||1 Gateway Center
||One Newark Center
||1085 Raymond Blvd.
||American Ins. Co. Building
||15 Washington St.
||EWR Airport Control Tower
||Sacred Heart Cathedral
||89 Ridge Street
||Blue Cross Building
||33 Washington St.
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