The Riviera Hotel at 167
Clinton Avenue, in my growing-up years from the 1920s to the 1940s, was a crown
jewel in Newark's old Third Ward.
It was located at the southeast
boundary of the old Third Ward astride the corner of Clinton Avenue and what was
then High Street (now King Blvd.).
Although I never entered the
Riviera, it was part of my Third Ward neighborhood. It was my
understanding that it was mostly a residential hotel, occupied by Newark
businessmen, judges, professionals, politicos, and the like.
The Riviera was also the longtime
residence, during the Prohibition era, of New Jersey's leading crime boss, Abner
The Riviera Hotel location, in
those years, was on a fashionable residential street, within easy walking
distance of Newark City Hall and Downtown Newark, and close to the handsome 19th
century brownstones, occupied by some of Newark's prominent families, who lived
in the nearby vicinity of Lincoln Park.
Father Divine's Movement
In this same era, there was a
growing presence in Newark, and mainly in the old Third Ward, of branches of the
Peace Mission Movement, founded around 1920 in Brooklyn by Father Divine, an
African-American born George Baker on a rice plantation in Georgia in 1880.
His followers proclaimed him God
in the flesh. He attracted thousands of disciples in various Eastern
cities, and amassed millions of dollars from their contributions which was
heavily invested in real estate.
His followers were eagerly sought
after by employers as they were devout, dependable, and scrupulously honest.
Among Father Divine's purchases
were hotels in a number of cities. He called these hotels
On October 20, 1949, the Rivera
Hotel became Father Divine's Newark Heaven.
It was purchased for $550,000 in
cash, brought to the closing by his aides in satchels. The Riviera was
brought from the Carter Hotel Operating Company of New York, although in the
1930s, it had been owned by the Prudential Insurance Company, which had its
headquarters on Broad Street near the Four Corners of Downtown Newark.
The newspaper report of the
transaction said the hotel was built in 1922, although I recall seeing a
photograph of the hotel that bore a 1920 date.
Although Father Divine died in
1965, it is my understanding that his movement, now called the International
Peace Mission Movement, still functions, and his followers still operate the
hotel on Clinton Avenue in Newark as the Divine Riviera.
It is hoped that readers of this
entry who are more knowledgeable can contribute to this memory, correct these
recollections, or bring them up to date.
For me, it is sufficient to recall
that in the old Third Ward neighborhood of my childhood and youth, among the
ramshackle coldwater flats and tenements, there was once a "Heaven."
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