Alagna, Ace. Photo Album Documenting the Hill Street Urban Renewal Project. Newark, New Jersey: 1962-1963. 11¼” x 9¾”. Flexible faux leather multi-ring binder. 17 mylar sleeved leaves with a total of 33 black and white photographs inserted both sides. Photos measure 8”x10”. Binder good: moderate wear, soiling and some chipping; photos generally very good plus or better with some foxing on versos.
This album documents one of a series of urban renewal projects in the city of Newark, New Jersey that first started in the early 1950s. Through the late 1960s, Newark experienced 17 of these projects, the second largest of any city in the country. According to the preface of the 1959 Newark Urban Renewal Plan, “Creeping blight threatens every portion of Newark. Together with the existing severely substandard conditions, it has made imperative the establishment of a city-wide comprehensive renewal program in order to deal effectively with these problems.” The website, RiseUpNewark.com views these projects differently, “Urban Renewal did not mean construction of new housing and neighborhoods—just vacant land, until somebody decided what to do with it. . . . Because the vast majority of urban renewal policy makers were white, Black and Puerto Rican communities had little representation in projects that they were disproportionately impacted by.”
The Hill Street Renewal Project, classified as NJR-49 by the Newark Housing Authority, demolished buildings near City Hall with a proposed goal of building high rise apartments and new commercial buildings. The project received a nearly $4 million Federal Capital Grant and the 22 story Hallmark House Apartments, built in 1965, now occupy the area. The photos were taken by Ace Alagna with his backstamp on versos. Alagna was a native of Newark and a professional photographer who was a member of the White House press corps for decades. He purchased Newark's Italian Tribune in 1968 and ran it for the next 30 years. His exceptionally well composed street level views capture the work of NJR-49. We see buildings in the process of demolition, piles of rubble, and cleared lots. One of those lots became a (presumably temporary) parking lot across the street from City Hall.
Dozens of local businesses are seen with exquisite signage, though we are unable to tell how many of these were torn down. At least one, Miles & Co., an appliance store, is shown with with sales signs in the windows reading “Building Coming Down, Everything Must Go!” While contemporaneous reports show that only a small number of residents were affected by NJR-49, it's clear from these photos that many businesses were impacted, even if they weren't torn down. We think further research could determine whether those businesses were African-American owned and/or whether they were ultimately demolished. RiseUpNewark.com also argues that these projects significantly and negatively impacted African Americans, leading to demonstrations and protests of one project in 1966 and 1967 and as such contributed to the social boiling that led to the explosion of the 1967 Newark riots.
While the Monsignor Noe Field Archives & Special Collections Center has a large archive of Alagna's work, it does not appear from the finding aid that it has any of these images.
A fascinating glimpse of Newark's business district around City Hall, documenting its buildings and businesses in a time of ever-increasing social strife.
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