|THE ELIZABETH FORUM 2010|
BAYWAY: THE CLASSIC INDUSTRIAL NEIGHBORHOOD
Special recognition should be made for the strategic contribution of volunteer Bayway researcher, Michael T. Simon, the MC of today’s Elizabeth Forum.
It may belabor the obvious to say that Elizabeth NJ’s Bayway began at the bay, the watercourse of Arthur Kill into Newark Bay. Just as Elizabeth, New Jersey itself began at Elizabethport, which is to say the water, the oldest sections of the city attached itself to the primary locus of transportation: the ocean-going schooners which could climb the Elizabeth River to the present day public library until the American Revolution. Also a stimulus for early growth were the ferry-boats to Manhattan, which took advantage of America’s great, natural harbor, international from the time of Henry Hudson’s original discovery. Bayway mirrored this development but also quickly realized the perils of water access. From the international rivalries of the 17th and 18th century which culminated in the American Revolution, access to water and shipping was also a disadvantage, as much from competing nations as from coastal pirates and smugglers. This disadvantage set the context for the second source of city growth in Elizabeth, far from the bay and the Arthur Kill, in an area that serves today as the center of Elizabeth, the crossroads of Broad and Elizabeth Avenues: the current site of the Elizabeth Public Library, the Union County Court House, the First Presbyterian Church.
Bayway’s own development reflected this two-pronged approach to commercial and residential cultivation. In the 1880s Bayway at Front Street had both residences and commercial establishments. On its northern boundary – where today sits Bayway Circle – there were a sprinkling of homes, much less dense than housing at the water edge of Bayway. Between these two areas of development, there was no construction whatever: only swampy, relatively level uncultivated terrain. But the 1880s Union County map makes clear the names of the owners of this land. The two principle owners were wealthy New York based speculators: William P. Wetmore and the Coudert brothers. The land was not developed but very valuable. In 1880s speculators had the example of Singer Sewing Machine constructing its enormous factory at waterside, connected as it was to the hinterland by railroads. The undeveloped sections of Bayway, it was clearly anticipated, would follow this pattern and provide land for factories and worker housing. Wetmore in 1880 continued in his father’s footsteps as investor in trade and the engines of economic progress.
Shortly he would use his speculative profits to launch a successful career as Governor of Rhode Island and later US Senator from that state. The Coudert Brothers, originally French immigrants in the 1850s, would develop a wealthy and powerful investing corporation that only expired in 2004 with the economic implosions of the early 21st century. Even before the development of central Bayway, national and international influences shaped this area.
Ultimately several corporations dominated development in Bayway: first, Phelps Dodge, a manufacturer of copper wire and its byproducts, and later the oil refineries, first John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and later its successors, Conoco Phillips and Infineum. The important point here is not the specific corporations but the arrival of a dominant corporate influence that simultaneously directed the economy of Elizabeth and created an urban middle class which would offer the corporations a counter-influence of development. This twofold permanent tension makes Elizabeth a stellar example of the dynamics that shape most American cities at the end of the 19th century. Bayway’s development replicated in small these larger developments and landscapes.
In the 1910 federal census McKinley Place and Brunswick Avenue formed the northern border of the Bayway neighborhood. The residents were recently arrived immigrants, mostly Polish and almost all, working as laborers for the nearby Standard Oil refinery. Bay Way extended uninterruptedly to the Bay, which meant Front and Amboy Streets. Here residences were more concentrated and other employers especially the “wire works” (eventually Phelps Dodge) and the Chemical works were the dominant employers. In this section, unlike the more northern parts of the area, there was a small managerial class (10% of our sample), which ran the corner groceries and the several saloons. While there were plenty of Poles in this portion, other ethnic groups were well represented. What all of the immigrant residents had in common, was their penchant for renting spaces to “boarders,” usually not relatives but commonly members of the same ethnic group. Many residences reported six or more of such individuals, which of course enabled many with working class wages to aspire to middle class standards.
BAYWAY STATISTICAL SAMPLE – OCCUPATIONS
BAYWAY STATS – NATIONAL ORIGINS
Ten years later more and different businesses had entered the neighborhood. Heidritter Lumber Yard, Cook and Swan Refinery (fish oil), Simmons Bed Company among others. But most of all, now dominating employment, even greater than Standard Oil company with 21% of Bayway workers, was the Grasselli Chemical Company (f 1839), which in 1920 employed some 23 % of our sample household heads. For many years the company had become a major producer of sulfuric acid and was based, like Standard Oil, in Cleveland Ohio, literally adjacent to Rockefeller’s original company. They worked with each other and trafficked among the same circle of friends and politicians (like William McKinley, the 25th president of the US, and Ohio machine politician, Mark Hanna). By 1920 the Grasselli company, led by by third generation corporate titan, Cesar Grasselli (1850-1927), owned 14 factories nationwide worth over $30 million. His 1920s business literally exploded with the development of heavy metals and especially nitroglycerine (in conjunction with E . I . Dupont Nemours & Co), essential to the prosecution of World War I. After the war and his acquisition of the German patents for aniline dyes, Grasselli’s corporations became too large for family control. In 1929 it was acquired by the Duponts in one of the largest corporate mergers in the US to that date. Through the 1920s his Linden plant (f 1888) on Tremley Point was within walking distance of the old neighborhood at the bottom of Bayway.
The 1920 national profile continued to have a 76% Polish representation. Now the census designation no longer distinguished between Austrian/Polish and Russian/ Polish, though a few decidedly Polish individuals, mostly Jewish speaking, put “Galicia.” The new nationalisms of the post World War I agreements appear to have rooted themselves in the census categories. A large majority of the entire 1920 Bayway sample had emigrated after 1910, suggesting the wartime upheavals had taken their tolls not only on people’s physical but also their psychological lives. In the northern portion of the neighborhood, there were enclaves of new and different people like Lithuanians but for the most part the Front Street residents shared roughly equal percentages with those north of McKinley Place. The neighborhood, incontestably Polish, became thereby a cohesive community, however recent one’s arrival in the US.
Even though our sample residents had arrived recently, they made it known to the Roman Catholic authorities that they wanted their own church. St. Adalbert’s Church at 250 East Jersey in the Port area, Bayway residents considered too far away. In the early 1920s the Simmons Bedding company granted groups of Bayway residents permission to hold a Sunday mass in their factory recreational hall. In 1925 the Newark Diocese granted their wishes and formed St. Hedwig’s, named after a thirteenth century Duchess of Silesia.
Initially the first pastor, Rev Waclaw Slawinski, put the church and a small school in the same building but gradually more land was bought , primarily from the Standard Oil company, and from 1934 to 1968 under the leadership of Rt. Rev Joseph Amlicki, a new and beautiful church was built on Myrtle Street, on the site of the Simmons company’s recreational hall.
The church, finished and dedicated in 1960, became more than a spiritual center, holding many parties, dances, carnivals and other activities over the years, all graced with abundant stuffed cabbage, perogies, babkas and kielbasa provided by the congregants.
Many residents, like Anne and Jerome Nowak, who were married in 1945 in old St Hedwig’s, recalled that the old church was now the present school’s athletic facility.
By 1930 the dominant Polish presence had become less dominant, though still half of the community. Now more native born Americans resided in the neighborhood, though in 1930 many of these residents had immigrant parents. In addition, a greater diversity of ethnic groups – Italians, Irish, Scottish along with other eastern Europeans like Lithuanians, Czechs, Hungarians etc could be found there. The expanding corporations had their impact as well with a substantive increase by 1930 in skilled laborers, achieving a rough parity with unskilled. Like in 1920, most of the residents with managerial positions continued to be local storekeepers, although now there was a sprinkling of “foremen” of the varied factories in the neighborhood.
Most of all, the area between Bayway Circle and McKinley Place had become residential for the first time. The older residential section of lower Bayway by Front Street increasingly became squeezed with corporate expansion. By 1930 not only had key institutions like St Hedwig’s Roman Catholic Church been created, recreational spaces like Mattano Park - one unit of the1920s Olmsted design of a Union county park system - made their appearance. The support structure for a permanent community had materialized in the interwar period in an unprecedented way.
In the 1920s new housing and residents set the context for Theodore Roosevelt Public School Across Bayway from the school, empty lots served as baseball fields. The rapidly expanding Standard Oil company located itself officially in Linden, but that town’s 8th Ward was considered by residents to be “Greater Elizabeth” because of the number of St. Hedwig’s parishioners and Bayway employees, like Anne Nowak’s father, who could walk to the facility. Later residents insisted that jobs with family wages overrode any consideration of industrial smells or factory smoke that attended the new industrial culture.
In the early twenties, Standard Oil began its shift from kerosene production to the introduction of lead additives to produce a more durable fuel for new automobiles. The additives quickly resulted in a number of hospitalizations and indeed a few suicides of employees whose minds were impaired by the new compounds. The hue and cry from newspapers received a quick reorganization by the refinery, and Mrs. John Rockefeller herself in 1923 paid for a company recreational facility which later expanded to all Elizabeth citizens and became one of the busiest spots in Elizabeth.
Many Bayway residents first learned to bowl on their eight lanes, shoot pool and play cards at the facility. It cultivated a chorus and performed publicly as the Esso choristers. It opened a baby clinic under professional auspices and later a nursery school under a qualified teacher. Movies and shows became standard fare and basketball leagues played there through winter.
Later the Center offered courses for women in interior decorating, foreign languages, home economics and cooking; it developed a range of activities geared to all ages, expanded in 1939 and lasted into the 1970s. In 1973 Exxon transferred ownership of the facility to Elizabeth for its social services agencies.
On Tremley Point Standard Oil had bought land for its plant in 1907 and had created a functioning refinery by 1909. The speed of construction can be grasped with this 1909 photo of an extensive plant and smoke stacks. It diversified its production lines into many popular products like Flit, the insecticide, baby oil, asphalt, waxes , heating oil and a range of lubricants and moisturizers.
Through this development the company began to cultivate an aggressive, paternalistic attitude toward its employees, not just via the sponsorship of sporting events and teams but through quiet interventions. Elizabeth patrolman and later police director, Pat Maloney recalled during his episode with typhoid, the company assumed all hospital bills because his father was their employee. Singer, Maloney asserted, never took analogous responsibility for its employees.
In the postwar boom Standard Oil prospered and expanded. New fuels for turbine and jet propulsion resulted in “turbo oils” and eventually the separation of its oil refining business from its chemical production. In 1993 after a downturn in revenues, Exxon (as the oil company called itself since 1972) sold the refinery for $175 million to the Tosco Corporation, which almost immediately reorganized and returned the company to profitability.
In 2001 the Phillips Petroleum Company purchased Tosco and in the next year merged with Conoco (the Continental Oil Company) to realize the second largest US oil refining company, Conoco Phillips. Its Bayway plant processes some 238,000 barrels of crude oil per day, resulting in 145,000 barrels of gasoline, 110,000 barrels of distillates. Such output ranks the Bayway refinery fifth in the Conoco Phillips operation of 19 refineries worldwide. The new company brings with it a new brand of paternalism, working not only with its employees’ Teamster representatives but with the US Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials. Conoco representative, Michael C. Karlovich, boasts an enviable record of employee and visitor safety as a matter of corporate policy.
Recent official OSHA reports bear out a close working relationship between the US government and the Bayway Refinery. This relationship also contains ongoing tensions about present monitoring procedures and the long history of industrial elimination which makes both Conoco- Phillips and OSHA highly sensitive about workers and visitors’ protective clothing, construction dredging, ground water testing, and public access for reasons of security and safety. Elizabeth residents continue to wonder about the impact of the refinery’s impressive air plumes on their health, but at the same time they still seek employment with the corporation. The century-long (1909-2009) history of the Bayway Refinery, so varied from a corporate standpoint, actually became part of the familiar environment of Bayway for its citizens. Bayway, as one close observer has remarked, was a first encounter for its many immigrant residents. The factories meant family wages, which trumped almost everything, except perhaps one’s Roman Catholic allegiances.
The Zakarevicis on Richmond Terrace might belong to St Valdimir’s Russian Orthodox Church rather than Polish St Hedwig’s but their papal allegiance made the distinction moot. By 1930 not only had many residents lived in the area two decades but most realized that any return to their original homeland receded quickly as a serious option. By the end of the 1930s intermarriage between different ethnic cultures further dispelled inherited traditions as a source of contention. On any given block, neighbors watched out for their neighbors’ children and passed along information by word of mouth, sometimes more efficiently than a telephone connection, which few Baywayans actually owned in the interwar years. When someone in a family married and proposed to leave Bayway – for, say, a house in Linden or South Plainfield – there was often a serious, if momentary, crisis of the family and neighborhood culture, a tribute to the intensity and resiliency of Bayway’s social bonds.
The empty spaces of central Bayway gave way in the interwar period to housing trees and other activities. Workers in the nearby factories developed after work routines, which invariably included the many taverns - Drotar ’s, Perozak’s, Whitney’s and on lower Bayway Halecki’s, renown for its large sandwiches and polka dancing. For housekeeping mothers convenient stores that structured daily shopping ventures included Akelonis and Adams Drug store, Larry’s Butcher Shop and below McKinley St, Joe’s shoemaker, Minnie’s Candy Store and nearby a local A&P with a counter where Mr. Fanaro waited on customers. For children of school age who did not attend St Hedwig’s, there was Lafayette, initially K-9, later Junior High school and a
stepping stone to Battin (for girls) or Jefferson High School (for boys), both within a healthy walking distance of Bayway.
Efficient public transportation usually was used to get to school only on inclement days; otherwise this resource – especially the #28 bus along Bayway and the #62 from Perth Amboy – was a part of visiting Elizabeth relatives outside a good stretch of the legs. Recreation centered on, first Mattano Park in the late 1920s, then on
Drotar Field, a donation to the city by either or both Julius (a 47 year old copper works foreman living on Garden St) and John Drotar (a 50 year old tavernkeeper at 502 Bayway), descendants of Czechoslovakian immigrants and local Bayway residents. In the 1920s Drotar Field had been plotted for housing. By the late 1940s Drotar Field was synonymous with summertime lanyard making, games like paddleball, etc and a center point for the numerous Bayway adolescents.
The nearby Elizabeth River also provided a source of adolescent fascination, occasional turtle hunting and adventures in the swamp reeds. It rarely was associated with swimming or fishing, since everyone recognized the meaning of the river’s black water, a product of industrial waste.
During the Depression years the percentage of Bayway residents who were skilled workers spiked to 35% (from 11% in the 1920s), a function of the large industries, most of which were sufficiently large and diversified to experience the economic crisis as something less than a crisis. The industrial neighborhood still retained a substantive core of wage-earning workers. Their incomes helped maintain the many small shops and markets, which were more sensitive to economic downturns. Most of these residents were aware of the operations of city government and voted for their councilmen, but few expected elected individuals to improve their family’s life chances. The full impact of the New Deal prototype of government activism lay in the future. The emergent value – remembered by virtually all interviewees – was a sense of self reliance and mutual support within the neighborhood. The return of full employment during World War II only intensified this collective sense of solidarity.
In 1952 the mayoral election of Nicholas LaCorte, who had represented Bayway ‘s 4th Ward as a councilman, was a function of shifting political winds. LeCorte was much admired in Bayway and in Elizabeth in spite of his Republican affiliations. He did not immediately alter Bayway’s prewar sense of collective independence but recognized that postwar America required a different kind of politics. After the April 15, 1952 primary he received substantial support from Polish Democrats in the 4th Ward where they said air pollution from the airport reflected lack of planning.
The Elizabeth Journal also pressed the issue with commentaries on the lack of planning – soon a LaCorte theme – in the face of Turnpike design, Newark airport policies in the wake of the 1951-52 airplane crashes, and economic decline of the railroads. LaCorte also talked about the importance of an Elizabeth River Parkway.
LaCorte’s instincts were however correct that Elizabeth need to do something to alter not only the waning of its assets but the shifting residential patterns of both industrial leaders and citizens to the emergent suburbs. However, many of these novel dynamics were beyond the political control or power of even forward-thinking political leaders. The event which revolutionized the Bayway neighborhood and arguably Elizabeth itself was the creation and later expansion of the New Jersey turnpike, [Photo 38 – NJ Turnpike overpass at Bayway] a development uncritically welcomed by Mayor James Kirk who joined many state officials accepting the Turnpike as “necessary and desirable.” The central problem for Elizabeth, which was more adversely affected by the Turnpike than any other community, was its division of the city at 4th Street. Many individuals pressed for alternatives that put the roadway along the Arthur Kill. But the several large and many small industries already on the Arthur Kill resisted vigorously. Singer Sewing Machine Company threatened to leave the city if the Turnpike took away their water access.
In addition to dividing the city, the Turnpike would demand the condemnation of 240 (out of 450 state-wide) homes Relocated Bayway from Goethals Bridge] and some three dozen local businesses. Barbara Sprovkin’s grandparents had resided for many years in their home on lower Bayway, but their home was one of many that was lost to Turnpike progress. Gone also were familiar shops and businesses like Karolina Grocery (111 Bayway), Dudek’s (332 Bayway), Miksiewicz (105 Bayway), Cioban’s (95 Bayway), etc. Ed Jackus missed the razed Royal Diner across from Halloran Schooll where he and his father often had breakfast.
The choice of where to lead the turnpike through the city ended by directing the construction through one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, one least equipped to mount substantive resistance. Subsequently the ensuing noise and auto fumes helped raise the environmental consciousness of citizens and the official indifference to such issues in roadway construction. In the aftermath of this devastation the projected state cost of purchasing realty inflated from $10M to more than $17M. Many Bayway residents observed how profitable their loss had been to many real estate interests.
Profiteering, however, became a less public issue to the speed and overall efficiency of Turnpike completion. In addition, the high speeds of the road and reduced time from place to place became a modern marvel in a postwar period where most householders were now also car owners. In addition, the 142 mile turnpike became a major artery for new housing construction in the suburbs, often accelerating relocation from cities like Elizabeth that had considered such development more problem than benefit. In 1986 when the NJ Turnpike Authority proposed to widen the road at Elizabeth and rework exits to the city, Mayor Tom Dunn embraced the idea as progressive. The result was a complex configuration that some have dubbed the “mixing bowl.” One unexpected dividend for Elizabeth was the removal of 36 nearby toxic dumps and eleven Meadowland landfills that would never have been addressed but for the Turnpike expansion. In spite of protests for such expansion in East Brunswick and elsewhere, Elizabethans did not capitalize on the novel protest practices refined during the Vietnam War, the women’s and environmental movements. For the most part, the resources required to field a substantive resistance to the Turnpike’s impact seemed so immense that critical resistance never materialized.
Indeed the Turnpike’s economic and commuter benefit seemed so manifest, that many citizens likely felt protests meant fighting their own best interests. (In 1989 70% of Turnpike motorists were New Jerseyans). Still, the noise and exhaust fumes from both highway and airport have become perennial refrains not only for Elizabeth but for many analogous towns and their politicians.
Threatened but hanging on were the ubiquitousPolish butcher groceries like Grobowski’s (Maple and Bayway) or Halecki’s (427 Bayway )that sustained a social fabric, which made this older section of Bayway as vibrant as any portion of the area. The evisceration of the neighborhood via the Turnpike intensified the residential development of the neighborhood north of the roadway division; it also gave successive postwar councilmen – Eddie French, Donald Wichen and Casimir Kowalcek – plenty to do.
One of the few construction projects of the Depression years – and indeed a strategy to generate construction jobs and income flows within Elizabeth – began during the mayoral tenure (1934-38) of Joseph Brophy, a highly popular and effective political leader. Apropos New Deal housing policies, Brophy sought public housing for low- income residents of the Bayway area.
His initiative would be realized after he left office with the 1942 construction of Mravlag Manor, named after an earlier mayor and physician, Dr. Victor Mravlag. The facility would take up 15 acres and produce 423 dwelling units (117 one bedroom, 258 two-bedroom and 48 three-bedroom units) at $21 a month in the early 1940s , together with a one-storey administration building and social center. The projected cost of these four brick buildings would be in excess of $2M and required the approval of US Housing Authority, which responded favorably in 1939.(The approval also included Pioneer Homes elsewhere in the Elizabethport area).
Existing Bayway residents worried overly about the new influx the Manor would provide and were not entirely relieved when they discovered many Polish families, along with Irish and Italian renters, among their new neighbors. The newcomers were perceived as a “rougher” class but not so rough as residents of Pioneer Homes, the other public housing facility which housed a large African-American population. Still, many of the Mravlag Manor residents had either large families (which did not stay long) or household heads who were either widows, widowers or disabled workers.
In spite of external perceptions, the inner workings of Mravlag manor proved far less rough than imagined. Manor residents developed their own routines for cleaning stairways and abetting older neighbors who had shopping and coping issues. Don Rabig later could easily recall the 1970s camaraderie of the rare phone owner, who took calls for neighbors and sent her sons to convey messages or retrieve a designated party. Similarly the early TVs became shared resources. After school Rabig would often find himself in a cluster of TV viewers, few of whom were related to the TVs owners. So tight was the Mravlag community that Rabig’s mother – a single divorcee who worked at Morey Larue Laundry within walking distance – always regretted her later retirement move to the Jersey shore, where she could no longer walk to convenient shops or run into her neighbors along her daily routines. Don Rabig wasn’t the only Bayway reader who thrilled at the library branch in the Manor complex. Even non-Mravlag neighbors like Irene Wysocki, recalled Mravlag’s arts and crafts programs where she went happily in spite of initial family resistance to the housing. Doris Haloran’s grandmother, though non-Polish, moved into the Manor and was happy for her own place within walking distance of many stores. Barbara Sprovkin recalled that if any student had no place to go for lunch, fellow students simply brought them home without a second thought, whether they lived at Mravlag Manor or not. Everyone enjoyed baloney sandwiches or spaghettios. The Mravlag social fabric in the early decades (1942-72) was as tight and welcoming as Bayway generally.
The Elizabeth Housing Authority imposed an income ceiling to Mravlag residents from the outset: $2000 for all families rose in 1947 to $2300 for a family of 2 persons; $2500 for three or four; $2700 for five or six; $2900 for seven. However, during World War II wages rose, and many residents who initially complied with the restriction, found themselves out of compliance. In 1951 eviction notices were issued to individuals in public housing complexes on grounds of excess income. What kinds of amenities were public housing residents permitted before they breached Public Housing standards? After a hue and cry, the ceiling was raised to accommodate higher standards of pay. However, the Authority shortly raised its rents to $25 a month and looked askance at apartment units with TVs or renters with cars. Later TV aerials were closely policed, reducing many Mravlag citizens to the ineffectual TV rabbit ears rather than outdoor antennas.
The Authority had worked closely with the architectural firm of Pohlman Poggi Keimig and Dennis but especially its partner, C. Godfrey Poggi, (1875-1957) a NJ native, Elizabeth resident (in 1900 233 Murray St) and shortly after his Mravlag design, the president of the NJ Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. His firm had designed not only Mravlag and Pioneer Homes but St Elizabeth’s Hospital, the Elizabeth Public Library in Elmora, the Elizabeth Daily Journal building as well as six
elementary schools plus Grover Cleveland Junior High, the Singer Recreation Building and Warinanco Park Administration Buildings Warinanco Admin Bldgs]. Was there an Elizabeth architectural style to the newer public facilities?
Up to the 1970s the integrity of the Bayway community could be captured by merchant services. Most gave credit; most contributed to anchor institutions like St Hedwig’s, even those who were not Catholic. Many stores delivered. Fred Leighton of Bayway Liquors has been with his family’s business since 1974. “When I was a kid,” he explained, “we cashed checks. My most seared-in memories, were of the afternoons when Allen Meatpacking – over by the Turnpike, they aren’t there anymore – when the meatpackers came in to cash their checks – lots of LARGE men in meatpacking clothes, and they smelled .. and the neighborhood had an [aroma],...”
The cohesiveness, even the presence of Mravlag Manor, did not change the character of the community until the coming of large chain stores and the illicit drug trade of the 1970s introduced elements which made Bayway a “tough” neighborhood to do business. “I spent a lot of time in Mravlag Manor,” Leighton continued, “I would deliver cases and leave the hand truck at the bottom of the stairs with stuff on it. It wouldn’t matter. This was in the 70s. Leave the stuff I couldn’t carry in. Back then too there were returnable bottles of beer, so if you went up, you came back with them . You could infer if I did that today, the stuff wouldn’t be there. We don’t deliver anymore. We were like the little butcher and grocers: we were a neighborhood store. “ But in spite of the changes, neighborhood stores didn’t think of their customers as simply customers. Again Fred Leighton: “And you know, Elizabeth is a wonderful city. We have a United Nations here in Elizabeth. Our store reflects the same thing ... but I have to tell you in the afternoon when the [school]bell rings and all the kids come out, the whole neighborhood just comes alive. It is a wonderful experience on a day like today. We let them use our parking lot. We are all part of the same community.”
The community sustained a sense of solidarity because of the adaptive nature of its institutions. Ed Jackus, now an Elizabeth Councilman, recalled growing up in the Mravlag Manor and attending the new Halloran School, named for Elizabeth teacher and principal, Wm F Halloran For him one of the key Bayway experiences was the assimilating force of organized sports.
The Elizabeth Police Athletic League introduced the neighborhood youth to a range of sports from boxing to baseball. Its founder, Eddie Grey, an Elizabeth detective, became known throughout the city and county for his determination to involve especially troubled youth in the discipline of the game. His staff, especially Fred Erxleben, provided a core, after-school and weekend focus to energies that might have gone into less productive channels. Their use of Drotar Field was a constant.
Even when the Elizabeth river overflowed its banks in winter and flooded Drotar, the crisis became an opportunity to learn ice skating. “I would not have traded this [experience of Mravlag and Bayway] in for anything, “Jackus has insisted, “ because it has taught me so much at an early age. I saw things growing up in the Manor that many wouldn’t see in their lifetime... But all in all it prepared me for later in life ... I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.”
Bayway is a classic industrial neighborhood, not because one can find there elements that outsiders consider “gritty” or “decayed,” but rather because over time Bayway has reinvented itself in spite of successive impacts beyond its control – immigrant and linguistic barriers, turnpike disruptions, industrial layoffs and airport pollution. Nevertheless, each of these impediments also contains modernizations, opportunities and employments.
Bayway continually relied on its indigenous resources and has permitted amélange of different races and ethnic peoples to forge together via church, school and cuisine among other traditions, a place of residence that many – even those who have moved away – consider not only safe but distinctly supportive and wholesome. In the face of unexpected crises Bayway always seems to have attracted new Americans and have produced a voice that articulates –“the resurgence of Bayway.” Here is a direct quotation from a 2010 participant-observer: “We are now an Hispanic restaurant mecca. . . ... the amount of fine dining that is opening up on the Bayway is wonderful. People are investing in Bayway. . . There is Mohiotos, which is Cuban and Bamboo which just opened up – the old Pinocchio’s. . .
There is a great little Portuguese joint and joint is the proper term for the restaurant down the street [Photo 60 – Bayway street] ... [They are used] like in the old days when men got out of work: they will have their drink or in the morning they will have their espresso. It is very European. It is a very old school European . . . . I hope so much that it is successful for everyone. “
It seems so odd that distinctively historical resources should have played such strategic parts in Bayway’s past without its residents self- consciously acknowledging the neighborhood’s distinctive history. Everyone who comes to Bayway for residence or commerce knows Bayway’s boundaries: the NJ Turnpike, The Arthur Kill, the Route1 & 9 Bayway Circle, the Bayway refinery, Mattano Park. Few, however, who visit or stay and put down roots seem as clear about the internal resources of ordinary people. These resources, especially because of their routine and daily character, seem mundane compared with the dramatic, corporate silhouettes on the horizon.
But it is really these familiar artifacts of neighborhood life that ultimately shape the social fabric and culture that people of Bayway recognize as distinctively their own. The great industries of the area – Standard Oil, Grasselli, Simmons Bedding, Phelps Dodge, Thomas and Betts, Conoco Phillips, etc – provided the context for Bayway development, but its citizens and their inheritances are the actual creators of the Bayway community that continues into our own time.