The award-winning adaptive reuse of the old New Jersey Bell Headquarters brings new splendor to a forgotten 1929 architectural gem. Renamed Walker House in honor of its designer, Art Deco master Ralph Walker, it is located in downtown Newark overlooking historic Washington Park. The real estate company, which was acquired by L + M Development Partners in 2016, has converted the building into a mixed-use housing estate with affordable rental apartments customary in the market and a large number of commercial spaces.

“It has great bones,” says Jake Pine, a director of L + M, when we meet in the stunning lobby of this 21-story skyscraper, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. He’s not exaggerating. If you love architecture, and Art Deco in particular, this brick and sandstone tower is a must see.

While Walker’s telephone and telegraph buildings are rightly hailed as Art Deco triumphs in New York, I believe this is his best project of this typology. Here, thanks to the perfect storm of, he achieved a highly sublime design Site, setting and program.

Walker House facade

Unlike his previous Barclay-Vesey building for the New York Telephone (now known as One Hundred Barclay), a bulky 32-story building that covers a trapezoidal 1.2-acre lot, here he worked on a more reasonable scale of 21 stories in a 0.8 acre site with orthogonal dimensions.

Unlike its earlier switchboard buildings that have been converted into luxury condominiums – Walker Tower in Chelsea and Stella Tower in Hell’s Kitchen – this was a trophy property with a generous budget for artistic detail. John Cetra, FAIA of CetraRuddy Architects, who was involved in this and these projects, says, “Of the three Ralph Walker buildings that we have converted from commercial to residential, Walker House has the most exuberant and magical details on the exterior and Inside. “

George Washington sculpture in Washington Park

Perhaps what made this building stand out most was the opportunity offered by its context. “The Newark building,” Walker explained, “is a transition between the public buildings that surround the park and the more modern skyscraper because of its location in Washington Park.” The park has a strong civic and artistic character, including a statue of its namesake by J. Massey Rhind just opposite the site.

Sculpture showing telephone company employees in the apartments of Walker House

As shown in the photos above and below, artist Edward McCartan created six sculptures across from the park Represent employees and customers of telephone companies. As Walker put it, “They were created to compose with the classic facades of the library and museum, as well as the Globe Indemnity Insurance Building, and create a monumental line around the park.” McCartan, who designed the clock and allegorical statues around the same time of the New York Central Building on Park Avenue, gave its contemporary motifs a look reminiscent of Athenian ancestors.

Decorative detail of the Walker House Apartments

In the back of the lobby, which is equipped with marble walls, terrazzo floors, decorative plaster and a multi-planar ceiling, there is a second commissioned work of art. As shown in the photo below, hbefore finding a terrazzo mural, “which, in Walker’s words, represents” man’s control over global communication. “It was designed by German-American painter Alfred E. Floegel and by L. Del Turco & Brothers, one still in Newark operating company, executed.

Terrazzo mural by the painter Alfred E. Floegel and executed by L. Del Turco & Brothers

In addition to these characteristic works of art, the building also has elegant Art Deco details in highly visible places. On the outside, reliefs with floral, vegetative and geometric themes are placed around the entrances, on a frieze above the first floor, in rooms connecting the McCartan sculptures, at setbacks and along the roof line. they They bear a strong resemblance to those of the Barclay Vesey building, which is not surprising given that architectural sculptor John De Cesare worked on both buildings.

Ornament in the Walker House

Similar decorative motifs are applied inside, for example in metalwork that frames the elevators. However, aesthetics is not just about creating visual interest; its goals are broader. For example, after a description by Walker’s colleague Edgar Albright, in the lobby An attempt is made to create a sense of spaciousness and warmth of color through the use of lines and different levels that extend from wall to wall across the ceiling. “

Walker House Apartments lobby

Nice, although it was when New Jersey officially dedicated it to Bell on April 4, 1929, until 2016, when L + M acquired it: “tThe building had seen better days and was in a state of disrepair, ”explains the project’s historical preservationist, Ulana Zakalak from Zakalak Restoration Services. Outside of Sparkle the McCartan sculptures and other facade elements were restored. “Inside,” she adds, “no expense has been spared to bring back the marble-clad lobby with its ornate plastered ceilings, bronze doors, plaques, historic lighting and terrazzo mural.”

Ornamental metal doors and lobby of the Walker House Apartments

As I saw myself touring Walker House with Jake Pine from L + M and the general manager of the building, Jamie Confessore balanced contemporary needs taking into account the architectural heritage.

Ornamental grills in the lobby of Walker House

The second to fifth floors contain commercial space, but above all offices Telephone switching equipment from Verizon, the successor to New Jersey Bell. The sixth through twentieth floors comprise 264 apartments, a mix of studios, 1, 2 and 3 bedrooms. Thereof 53 (20 percent) are affordable for households earning 40 and 50 percent of the area median income. The affordable units are spread out everywhere. “Both commercial and affordable tenants share the same large lobby entrance at 540 Broad Street.” Stressed jaw.

Residents' Library - with 1929 lithograph of the building by Louis LozowickResidents’ Library – with 1929 lithograph of the building by Louis Lozowick

Instead of a penthouse above, the 21st floor, formerly a mechanical level, offers amenities that are open to all residents. It also offers access to an outside terrace.

Furnished model apartment in Walker House

Converting old spaces into new uses in historic buildings takes masterpieces of architectural alchemy, and for Walker House much of the credit goes to the English architecture and engineering who acted as the architect of the records. “Rediscovering and reinvigorating the work of the great Ralph Walker with a head start on the 21st century,” says Inglese’s Alex Merlucci, “was a great challenge and an honor.”

Kitchen in a furnished apartment

A challenge to be sure, but in the eyes of the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, the Walker House team was more than up to the task. On February 19, 2021, the state authority presented L + M with a Historic Preservation Award in recognition of the exceptional value of the project.

new public entrance and entrance area with vehicle drop-off,Photo courtesy of L + M Development Partners

In addition to historic preservation and contemporary modernization, the Walker House team also did added new pieces that they believe sympathize with the historical character. This contains Walker variations, a backlit metal relief sculpture on the rear facade by Tom Nussbaum. It marks a new public entry and vehicle drop-off area in an area used by Verizon for parking and charging. Incidentally, there are no parking spaces in the Walker House, which is easily accessible by trains and trams.

climbing hall

Below the class, a problem turned into an opportunity. What to do with a 40-foot-deep room that once housed kettles and a staff cafeteria? Fortunately, Method Climbing + Fitness came along, took the large, raw room and lined it with climbing walls. It is expected to officially open soon. Even down there, in the deepest depths of the place, you can find an Art Deco remnant in the form of colorful tiles in the anteroom of the elevator.

Art Deco remains in the basement around elevator

Back on the ground floor, Newark Local Beer, a microbrewery, occupies part of a space that was once used as a corporate auditorium. The opening, which has been pushed back due to the pandemic, is expected to take place in the second quarter of 2021.

Newark Local Beer is coming soon to sign

The original design was inspired by the surroundings, and L + M’s Pine claims that this project not only continues that legacy, but also makes a contribution to the city. “The revitalization process has artfully strengthened the neighborhood,” he suggests, “cementing Walker House as a landmark in the heart of downtown Newark.”

Walker House is clearly a remarkable project, but like everything in those times, it has been affected by COVID-19. While residential property leasing began and has been going strong in 2019, some of the retail space in the office and ground floor remains available. Hopefully its mix of old and new will position it for even bigger days ahead of the pandemic.

Next, check out Ralph Walker’s Art Deco masterpieces in New York and learn about other adaptively reused Ralph Walker buildings, including the One Hundred Barclay Residences and the One Wall Street Penthouse. Contact the author @ Jeff.Reuben1

March 3, 2021