Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street

Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street

by David J. Goodwin
Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street

Left Bank of the Hudson: Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street

by David J. Goodwin


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In the late 1980s, a handful of artists priced out of Manhattan and desperately needing affordable studio space discovered 111 1st Street, a former P. Lorillard Tobacco Company warehouse. Over the next two decades, an eclectic collection of painters, sculptors, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, and writers dreamt and toiled within the building’s labyrinthine halls. The local arts scene flourished, igniting hope that Jersey City would emerge as the next grassroots center of the art world. However, a rising real estate market coupled with a provincial political establishment threatened the community at 111 1st Street. The artists found themselves entangled in a long, complicated, and vicious fight for their place in the building and for the physical survival of 111 1st Street itself, a site that held so much potential, so much promise for Jersey City.

Left Bank of the Hudson offers a window into the demographic, political, and socio-economic changes experienced by Jersey City during the last thirty years. Documenting the narrative of 111 1st Street as an act of cultural preservation, author David J. Goodwin’s well-researched and significant contribution addresses the question of the role of artists in economically improving cities. As a Jersey City resident, Goodwin applies his knowledge of the city’s rich history of political malfeasance and corruption, including how auspicious plans for a waterfront arts enclave were repeatedly bungled by a provincial-minded city administration. In writing this story, Goodwin interviewed thirteen artists and residents, two businesses, three government officials, and five non-profits, civic organizations, and community activists. The book chronologically explores the history and business of the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company, its evolution into a bustling arts community, the battle to preserve the warehouse as a historic structure, and the lessons to be drawn from the loss and ultimate demolition of the building in 2007, as well as the present state of the neighborhood.

Setting the facts straight for future generations, Left Bank of the Hudson provides an illustrative lesson to government officials, scholars, students, activists, and everyday citizens attempting to navigate the “rediscovery” of American cities.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780823278039
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Publication date: 10/03/2017
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

David J. Goodwin is an urban historian and historic preservation advocate and currently a librarian at Fordham Universitywhere he received his MA in Urban Studies. A resident of Jersey City, Goodwin has served as a member and chairman of the Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission and he is a current board member of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy.

Read an Excerpt

Left Bank of the Hudson

Jersey City and the Artists of 111 1st Street

By David J. Goodwin

Fordham University Press

Copyright © 2018 Fordham University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8232-7803-9


The Lorillard Legacy

Long before artists braved the exotic lands of the state of New Jersey, 111 1st Street stood as a place of work and production and represented a city (and even a nation) caught up in rapid and often scarring industrialization, yet increasingly confident of its place on the world stage and certain of its own progress in the later decades of the nineteenth century. The P. Lorillard Tobacco Company occupied the facilities at 111 1st Street for the majority of the building's existence. The history of the building and the business it housed brought an intangible yet absolute value to the property. It deserved to be saved from the wrecking ball, not only because artists and other creative individuals had wandered through its corridors but because the story of the building itself alluded to the layered past of Jersey City. In fact, the founding of the P Lorillard Tobacco Company in 1760 predated that of the United States itself by a full sixteen years.

In 1866, a year after the conclusion of the Civil War and amid the contentious years of Reconstruction, the Continental Screw Company erected a three-story facility at the address of 111 1st Street in Jersey City, New Jersey. The building spanned a full block of Washington Street and an estimated two hundred feet of 1st Street. An interior wing contained boilers and chimneys for the machinery of the factory. (This original footprint was much smaller than the final shape of 111 1st Street at the time of its occupation by the artists beginning in the late 1980s.) By the early 1870s, the American Screw Company merged with or outright purchased the Continental Screw Company, forming one of the early manufacturing conglomerates in the United States. The arrival of the American Screw Company also marked the first national business's choosing to locate in the area of Jersey City known today as the Powerhouse Arts District, initiating an era of light industry, shipping, and storage for that part of the city. In 1870, the P Lorillard Tobacco Company moved its production and warehouse facilities from the present-day borough of the Bronx, New York, to 111 1st Street in Jersey City, New Jersey. The company maintained operations in the building until 1956. The P. Lorillard name remained on the building until its destruction in 2007, a visual reminder of an industrial heyday and a largely forgotten family, fading against inclement weather and general disuse. The story of the Lorillard family and its business is important when considering 111 1st Street and its role in Jersey City.

The joined histories of the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company and the Lorillard family were intertwined with forces sweeping through the forests and fields and the towns and cities of the metropolitan region and America itself over the course of nearly two hundred years. In the same way, the history of the area and the country might be viewed through the Lorillard family and its enterprise. The Lorillards were a Huguenot family. A minority Calvinist sect in Catholic France, a minority in a Catholic country, the Huguenots faced forcible conversion or expulsion following the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685. As members of this imperiled religion, the Lorillards fled France in the mid-1700s, escaping a lifetime of persecution. Following the pattern of the English Puritans, the Lorillards first emigrated to the Netherlands and finally to the New World. Drawn by promises of religious tolerance and freedom of worship, several thousand Huguenots abandoned France for the relative security of the Dutch and later English colonies in North America. Some settled throughout what would become the New York City region beginning in 1624, notably founding the city of New Rochelle in Westchester County and a community on the south shore of Staten Island, today the neighborhood of Huguenot. The decision of the Huguenots and the Lorillard family to adopt the New York colony as their home was not likely by chance or luck, for New York already had established a reputation for itself as a welcoming port for ethnicities, religions, and eccentrics, at least, by seventeenth-century and eighteenth-century standards.

Pierre Lorillard arrived in New York City on an uncertain date in the mid-eighteenth century and established a tobacco factory and shop on Chatham Street (now Park Row) in lower Manhattan in 1760. This modest business was the first in the United States to manufacture finished tobacco products, circumventing the mercantilist system of exporting raw commodities to Great Britain and importing the finished goods to the American colonies. This small shop in Manhattan would eventually grow into the nationwide P. Lorillard Tobacco Company. Because of his support for American independence, Pierre Lorillard was driven from his home in British-controlled New York City during the early days of the Revolutionary War. In 1776, a prison break occurred near Lorillard's business. Depending upon the account, Pierre Lorillard was killed by a prisoner or by Hessian soldiers attempting to foil the escape plan. A romanticized history published by the P. Lorillard Company claimed that Pierre Lorillard was executed by Hessians for his patriotic and revolutionary fervor. Nearly a century later, in 1882, his heirs still considered Lorillard's death a murder. However, no objective source documents or verifies this proud family legend.

The newly widowed Anna Catharine Lorillard (née Mohr) assumed the management of the factory and the shop until her two eldest sons, Peter and George, came of age. A woman running a business and an industrial operation was far from ordinary in the eighteenth century (and in some quarters today), raising intriguing questions about the personal character, determination, and grit of Anna Lorillard. Unfortunately, documentary evidence on the Lorillard matriarch remains scant, thus allowing little more than guesses. In 1790, Anna Lorillard transferred ownership of the businesses to Peter and George Lorillard, then respectively twenty-six and twenty-four, and she appeared to disengage herself from the family's professional affairs.

Already expensive, increasingly dense, and rapidly urbanizing by the closing years of the eighteenth century, Manhattan limited the ability of the Lorillard brothers to expand their tobacco workshop on Chatham Street. As their commercial ambitions grew, the brothers developed a method to grind raw tobacco into snuff using stones, allowing them to transform a labor-intensive and manual process into a mechanized one. In order to apply and maximize the grindstone production method, the Lorillards needed access to a waterway in order to generate hydropower. The firm's desire to expand and to invest in this new technology required their leaving Manhattan. In 1792, Peter and George Lorillard purchased a grist mill, a dam, and fifty acres with water rights along the Bronx River. The property previously had been seized from a Loyalist landholder and sold at a public auction. With their storied family history, the Lorillard brothers may have derived a vengeful pleasure from that knowledge. After the brothers refitted the mill, they closed down the plant in Manhattan and hauled its operations north to the Bronx. The Chatham Street retail shop remained open as the commercial and public face of the Lorillard Company. The facilities situated along a "very wooded and extremely beautiful" stretch of the Bronx River would produce the many popular flavored tobacco products of the P. Lorillard Company until the Jersey City plant at 111 1st Street opened in 1870. With the relocation of the Lorillard facilities from lower Manhattan to the Bronx, the transition of tobacco production from the work of craftsmen to one of mechanized assembly occurred. This localized decision belonged to the larger industrial revolution reshaping the Western world and its concepts of space, time, and work.

The Lorillard family left a lasting and visible legacy in the Bronx. A family estate of a mansion with grounds grew alongside the original and two later successive water mills on the banks of the Bronx River. Although a large section of the property was dedicated to tobacco production — that is, early industry — the family preserved an old-growth hemlock forest and scenic river gorge with "splendid falls." In 1885, the New York City government purchased the Lorillard estate from the three surviving daughters of Peter Lorillard, and that land was incorporated into the New York Botanical Garden in 1891. In part, the Garden owes its existence to the Lorillards' land preservation on their estate. Today the old-growth forest — "the magnificent stand of hemlocks" — is known as the Thain Family Forest. The Lorillard Company constructed its final snuff mill on the estate in 1840, and that building eventually served as a carpentry shop for the New York City Parks Department and later the New York Botanical Garden until renovations took place in 1952. That mill was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1976 and underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation in 2010. Today, the mill houses administrative offices for the New York Botanical Garden and catering facilities for events. A street named Lorillard Place runs through a neighborhood near the Garden and Fordham University, another reminder of the family's local prominence.

Following the Civil War, a more robust and massive industrialization began in the northeastern and the Great Lakes regions of the United States, ushering in the era of sprawling, smoke-belching factories, cramped tenement apartments, and successive waves of immigrants. Work became more mechanized, more routinized, and more stratified. Urban areas, both small and large, emerged as centers of American industry, drawing capital and people from the rural areas of the United States and from European countries. New York City and its surrounding smaller urban areas in New York state and New Jersey grew into cauldrons of industry and production. Earlier, in the late eighteenth century, Lorillard had embraced the nascent technology of the first period of industrialization when it moved its facilities to the Bronx for both the physical space and the riparian power provided by the Bronx River. Now the company needed to reorganize its methods and integrate modern technology to compete in the shifting economic landscape and hold its position as the premier tobacco manufacturer in the United States. This required access to resources and infrastructure unavailable or too expensive in the Bronx.

Charles Siedler, a German immigrant and a future mayor of Jersey City (1876-78), joined the board of directors of the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company in 1868, and he likely hinted at the abundant advantages of Jersey City to his fellow board members. This industrial area of Jersey City (today known as the Powerhouse Arts District) then bordered the railyards and the shipping docks on the Hudson River, allowing the company multiple avenues to access raw materials and to transport its finished goods. Jersey City was soon to merge with smaller adjacent townships along the Hackensack River (Jersey City is a peninsula wedged between the Hackensack and Hudson rivers), creating a larger city with a more stable tax structure and stronger finances. As a figure in the local political scene, Siedler was undoubtedly aware of the ongoing local and state political negotiations aimed at accomplishing municipal consolidation. Meanwhile, a stream of immigrants, largely German and Irish, were settling in Jersey City, thus furnishing the Lorillard Company with a ready labor pool. Jersey City also offered a municipal water system, which the company could utilize for manufacturing and for a sprinkler system to protect its goods. Stockyards and slaughterhouses operated near the Jersey City waterfront, guaranteeing a necessary ingredient for snuff tobacco — animal bladders. Convinced that Jersey City promised a modern infrastructure — railroads, port facilities, and waterworks — a deep labor supply, and a streamlined government, the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company believed it could ambitiously expand and solidify its position as a dominant tobacco manufacturer in the United States by crossing the Hudson River to New Jersey. In 1870, the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company moved its industrial operations to 111 1st Street in Jersey City, New Jersey.

n the latter half of the nineteenth century, industry fascinated a reading public eager to comprehend the forces radically changing the rural and urban landscapes. Published tour guides prominently featured local industries and industrial operations, suggesting that travelers might fit scheduled factory or mill visits into their itineraries A travel guide from the 1890s describes two major industries in Jersey City, the Colgate plant and the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company, in its chapter on the state of New Jersey. An article published in Scientific American detailed the operations of the P. Lorillard Tobacco Company at 111 1st Street and included an illustration of the entire manufacturing process. The author described Jersey City as "a workshop of the metropolis of no little importance" with extensive shipping and an array of industries, including soap works, sugar refineries, and steel mills. With annual sales of 24 million pounds of tobacco and 2,500 employees (men, women, and children) on its payroll, the P. Lorillard Company ranked as the largest tobacco firm in the world.

By the 1880s, the Lorillard workforce had expanded to between 3,500 and 4,000 employees, and the company refurbished its factory in the shape and form largely familiar to the artists of 111 1st Street more than a hundred years later. A monograph on the industries in northern New Jersey contained a detailed illustration of the factory, admittedly embellished with a mixture of local boosterism and artistic license, yet close to the image sketched by artists and preservationists in the last years of the building's life. In this illustration, horse carts and pedestrians parade by the massive complex encompassing an entire large block. Smaller inner structures stand within the courtyard, and the iconic smokestack pierces the skyline. The 111 1st Street complex dwarfs the surrounding warehouses, factories, and tenements. A church steeple and a line of wooded hills, likely the southernmost tip of the Palisades and the present-day Heights neighborhood of Jersey City, break the horizon. The church and the factory were the two dominant institutions in industrial working-class neighborhoods in the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century city. A tavern would have completed the picture.

The paternalistic relationship between Lorillard and its employees also garnered the attention of journalists and magazines. The Lorillard Company crafted a rather enlightened and admirable array of services and benefits for its largely immigrant workforce. An article in Frank Leslies Illustrated Newspaper reported on a five-room school and library operated by the company for the education and betterment of its employees at Booraem Hall on Newark Avenue, within walking distance of the factory. (Because of development and urban planning, Newark Avenue no longer runs to the likely address of Booraem Hall.) The library held more than 8,000 volumes "all selected with unusual care," including biographies, histories, scientific treatises, and novels. Subscriptions were maintained for daily newspapers and fifty weekly and monthly magazines. The bookshelves bulged with dictionaries, gazetteers, atlases, encyclopedias, and other trusted reference sources, and colorful maps decorated the walls. The illustration in Frank Leslies newspaper depicts a well-stocked and cheery reading room. A cast-iron stove stands in the center of the library, welcoming its patrons into a warm, cozy chamber. Men sit reading in comfortable plush chairs, and a pair of gentlemen exchange comments (in, one would like to believe, low, courteous whispers). Standing behind the wooden bannister separating the collection from the reading room, a librarian passes a volume to a patron and appears to be discussing the requested publication. Full bookshelves line the walls, and framed prints fill the gaps. Two chandeliers illuminate this beautiful and inviting library. In the late nineteenth century, many municipalities still lacked a public library, and printed material was a luxury likely beyond the financial means of many immigrant factory hands. The library was a true gift to the employees and their families by the Lorillard Company, presenting them with the materials to expand their minds, cultivate their interests, and escape their humdrum world.

The company organized a school at Booraem Hall as well. The school held free night classes for Lorillard employees, many of whom were children. By the 1880s, New Jersey child labor law mandated day or night school for all children under the age of sixteen. A percentage of the Lorillard workforce comprised children and teenagers of both sexes, and many families relied upon the wages of their children for the basic survival of the household. This fact seems horrifying today, but child labor was largely legal and unregulated in late-nineteenth-century America. Unfortunately, Jersey City failed to offer a public night school; thus, in order to comply with the state law and maintain a child labor force, Lorillard opened a school for its employees. In addition, immigrants made up the bulk of the labor force of the company, and many of these immigrants were uneducated, illiterate, and possibly barely conversant in English. A modern, industrial factory as that which operated by the P. Lorillard Company needed literate employees possessing a rudimentary education, if it aimed to succeed in the long run.


Excerpted from Left Bank of the Hudson by David J. Goodwin. Copyright © 2018 Fordham University Press. Excerpted by permission of Fordham University Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction. Why Does 111 1st Street Matter?
1. The Lorillard Legacy
2. Crossing the Hudson
3. The Spaces in Between
4. Who Owns a Space?
5. When a Dream Dies
6. One Last Fight: Historic Preservation and 111 1st Street
7. What Might Be Learned
Conclusion: Some Years Later
Epilogue. The 111 1st Street Exodus: Where Are They Now?
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