my parents owned a beauty supply store in downtown newark, new jersey from about 1976 till 2003. i used to go and man the register whenever my parents wanted to go on vacation or go out of town to visit family, well into my 30's. i have a love hate relationship with newark. it was intense being an immigrant kid walking its streets. its urban offerings probably kept my sisters and me from becoming bland suburbanites. i bought my prince and michael jackson albums at the wiz. i learned my street smarts there and in high school went shopping for fashion finds at easy pickins, hit or miss, the rainbow shop, and the bargain floor at bambergers. but the racial divide, hostility and poverty i witnessed were fierce. it was like walking straight onto the set of "do the right thing". i had heard about newark's industrial boom (1870-1920), when the wealthy industrialists came and built their homes there, before fleeing to the suburbs. but what i experienced was the aftermath, a city in the throes of decay and corruption.
when wsj asked me to photograph eric schoenfeld, owner of redfarm restaurant, i was curious to see this other side of newark. eric lives in the forest hill section of newark, in one of the prize mansions from its heyday. there is a lovely, "past its prime", quality to the cluster of grand homes in the historical district. the houses look dignified and well proportioned, not ostentatiously oversized. eric's home is just down the road from branch brook park, designed by frederick law olmstead, and a home built by louis comfort tiffany for his son. eric was very knowledgeable about his home, the local history and was still excitedly discovering markets and specialty shops in the neighboring areas. while not far in distance from where my parents store stood, in the heart of downtown newark, it was certainly a very different world.
i so appreciate it when my work takes me to see things or gains me access to places i would never have had otherwise. being able to walk around the interior of a once opulent home built by one of newark's industrialists in the early 1900's gave me a richer understanding of the history of newark. the extreme dichotomy between the two worlds also gave me a more tangible idea of where the anger and ingrained sense of wrong i had witnessed as a child in many of newark's downtown shoppers may have come from. kudos to eric for shedding some positive media attention on newark. cory booker must appreciate it.
i just came across this flier i saved from the wiz at my mom's house. 1984?