Why is Newark Called Brick City?

By Newark Tees

Columbus Homes Public Housing Complex, Newark. Newark New Jersey United States, 1987

NEWARK — Although no concrete evidence indicates when the term "Brick City" was first used, it was initially coined due to the prevalence of brick structures in the city.

Newarkers of different generations have similar but not quite the same opinion about which brick structures Brick City references, but they generally fall into two schools of thought.

One side holds that Brick City is about the abundance of old factories and warehouses constructed during the Industrial Revolution. The more popular and perhaps slightly cynical view is that Brick City refers to the low-rise and high-rise public housing complexes meant to provide affordable housing for Newark residents.

Two things can be true simultaneously, but this topic could use a bit of straightening so let's dive into each perspective.

Beginning in the 1800s brick became a popular building material in Newark

Brick has a long history as a popular material for constructing buildings in Newark due to its cost, durability, and stylish aesthetic. Mass production and utilization did not really begin until the Industrial Revolution, when mechanical press methods streamlined the brickmaking process.

In the mid-1800s brick remained the standard building material in Newark and were produced by the millions to construct everything from large homes overlooking Branch Brook Park in Forest Hill, and factories on Frelinghuysen Avenue, to office buildings on Broad and Market.

Nowadays, although it is still used as a construction material, brick is mainly used to inject character as an architectural finish.

The popularity of brick for Newark's commercial buildings rose in the early 1900s

A few notable commercial buildings that were built in Newark during the 1900s:

  • Prudential Insurance Company built one of the nation's first office complexes in Newark; it was constructed of 5 million bricks.
  • The Fireman's Building and Kinney Building were constructed before Newark's 250th-anniversary celebration in 1916.
  • The Military Park building was designed to look like a medieval fortress and includes military figures and symbols on its façade.
  • The old New Jersey Bell building is 20 stories tall, contains 1200 windows, and took 3 million bricks to construct.
  • Lefcourt Newark building and the National Newark Essex Bank building are two of Newark's most notable art deco structures.

While Newark is undoubtedly known for the extensive use of brick to construct warehouses, factories, schools, and financial institutions during the industrial boom in the 1800s and into the early 1900s, this is different from what inspired Newark to become known as Brick City.

Newark saw a significant racial population shift during the early 20th century

Population in Newark, NJ

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that Newark's population increased by more than 26% between 1910 and 1950, primarily due to the Great Migration of Black citizens from the South.

The second phase of the Great Migration brought hundreds of thousands of Black people from the South to industrial cities in the Midwest, West, and North, seeking a better life, only to be met with a different version of the racism they had sought to escape.

During the 1960s and 1970s, many whites abandoned Newark as African-Americans moved in, which was a precursor to various social, political, and economic barriers.

The city's Black population increased by a staggering 700% (+65,000 people) over four decades; in contrast, White residents only rose 7% (+25,000 people) during the same 40-year period. 

Douglas Massey argued that this white suburbanization caused significant disruption in cities like Newark, leading to the profound "spatial isolation" of its Black and Hispanic residents.

This kicked off a period in which Black citizens, more than any other race, struggled for equal opportunity. Newark experienced a considerable transformation during this time and was heavily impacted by systemic racism.

Public housing in the city of Newark earned it its nickname: "Brick City" 

Newark is often referred to as "Brick City," a moniker derived from the sheer amount of public housing projects built during the city's urban renewal period in the 1950s and 1960s. In a New York Times article published about Newark, they mentioned, "Its vast tracts of housing projects inspired the nickname Brick City."

Kenneth A. Gibson, the first Black mayor of Newark and founding board member of New Community Corporation, was instrumental in providing affordable housing for so many Newarkers. Turning it around was no easy feat; by the time Gibson took office in 1970, Newark already had the greatest percentage of slum housing in the nation.

At one point, the 24 square mile city of Newark was home to an incredible 46 high-rise buildings with 13,133 units of public housing in 27 projects. Although many of the high and low-rise public housing complexes have been demolished and replaced with townhomes, their legacy remains an important part of the Brick City’s history.

How Brick City is changing and evolving today

In the late 1970s, Harper's Magazine sadly deemed Newark the worst city in America. While it is disheartening to be given this title, such an opinion serves as a reminder of how far Newark has come since that time.

Newark has gone through a period of dynamic development in recent decades. Projects such as the Teacher's Village which includes KIPP SPARK Academy, shops, housing and a science and technology center suggest that Brick City is reinventing itself as an epicenter for arts, technology, and education.

The positive and negative aspects of the nickname, Brick City

Newark is a 300-year-old city known by the nickname, Brick City. While the name brings up associations of hardiness and strength for Newarkers, it can also be viewed as a pejorative term due to its emphasis on Newark's problems with poverty and crime.

Ultimately, whether Brick City stands as an empowering or oppressive moniker depends on who uses it and how it is used. As mentioned in The New Yorker in 2008, Newark is a place of heft and big bones and solid constitution. Brick City, it calls itself.

List of Newark public housing projects that influenced the Brick City name

Baxter Terrace

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Orange Street, Nesbitt Street, Boyden Street, Sussex Avenue
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Seth Boyden Terrace

  • Ward:
  • Neighborhood:
  • Streets: Foster Street, Frelinghuysen Avenue
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Bradley Court

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Tremont Avenue, North Munn Avenue
  • Opened: 1942
  • Status:

Brick Towers

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: MLK Blvd (formerly known as High Street), Montgomery Street
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Clinton Hill Apartments

  • Ward: South 
  • Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
  • Streets: Clinton Avenue
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Christopher Columbus Homes

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Sheffield Street, D'Auria Street, 8th Avenue
  • Opened: 1988
  • Status:

Court Street Apartments

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Broad Street, Court Street
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Stephen Crane Village

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Stephen Crane Plaza, Franklin Avenue, North 6th Street
  • Opened: 1941
  • Status:

Felix Fuld Court

Little Bricks is a nickname for Felix Fuld Court in Newark, New Jersey

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Jelliff Avenue, Muhammad Ali Avenue (formerly Waverly Avenue), Livingston Street, Rose Street
  • Year Opened: 1942
  • Status:

Hayes Homes

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Streets: Hunterdon Street, West Kinney Street, Boyd Street, 17th Avenue
  • Opened:
  • Status:

High Park Gardens

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Prince Street, Court Street, Somerset Street, Muhammad Ali Avenue (formerly known as Waverly Avenue)
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Hill Manor

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: West Kinney Street, MLK Blvd (formerly known as High Street)
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Hyatt Court

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Hawkins Street, Horatio Street, Vincent Street
  • Opened: 1942
  • Status:

Otto Kretchmer Homes

  • Ward: South
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Ludlow Street, Frelinghuysen Avenue
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Mount Calvary Homes

  • Ward: South
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Chadwick Avenue
  • Opened: 
  • Status:

Munn Avenue

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: South Orange Avenue, Munn Avenue
  • Opened:
  • Status:

New Community Corp

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Bruce Street, South Orange Avenue
  • Opened:
  • Status:

New Hope Village

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: West Market, Norfolk Street
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Pennington Court

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: South Street, Dawson Street, Johnson Avenue, Pacific Street
  • Opened:
  • Status: 1940
  • Pennington Court

Prudential Apartments

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Raymond Blvd, Oxford Street, Lexington Street, Fleming Avenue
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Homes

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Franklin Delano Roosevelt Homes
  • Opened: 1947
  • Status:

St. James Towers

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: West Kinney, Washington Street
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Scudder Homes

  • Ward: Central
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Mercer Street
  • Opened: 1963
  • Status: Demolished in 1987

Shalom-Clemente Towers

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Clinton Avenue
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Millard E. Terrell Homes

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Chapel Street, Riverview Court
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Georgia King Village

  • Ward: West
  • Neighborhood: Fairmount
  • Streets: Bergen Street, West Market Street
  • Opened: 1976
  • Status:

University Court Gardens

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: West Kinney Street, Court Street, University Avenue
  • Opened:
  • Status: 

Walsh Homes

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Erie Railroad, McCarter Highway, Grafton Avenue
  • Opened: 1953
  • Status:

James C. White Manor

  • Ward: 
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Bergen Street, Avon Avenue
  • Opened:
  • Status:

Stella Wright Homes

Prince Street Projects is a nickname for Stella Windsor Wright Homes in Newark, New Jersey

  • Ward: Central
  • Neighborhood: 
  • Streets: Spruce Street, Prince Street
  • Opened:
  • Status:

 

Photo Credit: Vergara, Camilo J, Photographer. Columbus Homes, Newark. Newark New Jersey United States, 1987