Thu, May 29, 2014

Arts, Culture, Real Estate

Archi Awareness: A Historical Perspective Gibraltar Building once Prudential Headquarter, Converted to Essex County Courthouse Newark, NJ.

BY Nicholas Dingman


The name is inspired by the company’s logo, the Rock of Gibraltar. The Gothic Revival structure was designed by the architect Cass Gilbert, renowned for many works including the Woolworth Building and the United States Supreme Court Building. Gilbert was also architect for the Kinney Building at the southeast corner of Broad and Market Streets. Sold in 1987 and later renovated and restored, it now is home the Superior Court of New Jersey’s Essex County Vicinage Family Court, Chancery, and Tax Court, as well as other government agencies and private enterprises.


For those interested it comes as no surprise that many great architects have graced Newark’s skyline.  Perhaps most notable is Cass Gilbert’s contribution, the Essex County Courthouse, though it was not his only gift.  Completed in 1927, the Gibraltar Building is a two tier hierarchy consisting of a sort of chateau above a flat-top highrise.  The chateau can be seen as more important through its smaller size and differentiation of depth of the facade, the latter creates axial symmetry in keeping with the lower portion.  Topping the chateau is a pointed roof with dormer windows treated as Gothic church entries.  Each is framed by a Norman window within a triangular pediment, three pinnacles reach upward from each point (there is probably a proper name for this but it eludes me).  This is the key element that makes the Gibraltar Building Gothic; it gives the building a sense of being taller than it is.  In addition the pointed roof features several pinnacles of its own and a cornice just below.

The second tier, the flat top high rise, is less ornate.  From top to bottom each bay begins with a balustrade of Gothic tracery, moves to a large jack arch window, and expresses the underlying steel supports with unadorned stone pilasters which carry to the ground as a bold counterpoint to the natural horizontality created by the building being longer than it is tall.  The main entrance is off Halsey, through a Gothic gateway along the major axis.  It is the lack of ornament on this portion and not the verticality which puts the Neo in Neo-Gothic style.


This distinguished building was updated inside and out allowing for another lifetime of service to the community. The first challenge was presented on the exterior where custom fit Absolute Black granite panels were selected to replace existing glass windows.

It was necessary to mechanically hang these 50 x 38 x 1-1/4″ thick panels with stainless steel anchors due to their immense size and weight. The rich, dark panels were chosen to convey both a dignity of purpose along with contemporary detailing.  Approximately 70 public and judges chambers toilets were added using nearly 20,000 square feet of 2 x 2″ ceramic floor tile in an interesting three color pattern in beach tan, sand and woodland. Completed with the addition of a 4″ outside border and a 6″ inside border with built-up base using the floor tiles. The full height walls were of 4-1/4″ square almond crystalline tiles along with four 1 ” stripes of woodland colored floor tiles as accent features.

Other inside enhancements include the use of over 230,000 lbs. of Decor Rose granite taken from the mountains of North Carolina. The granite was then shipped to Canada for fabrication in order to meet the demanding time schedule involved. The result was over 8,000 square feet of 12 x 12″ floor tiles and over 3,000 lineal feet of special 8″ high base which now wind their way down these hallways of justice. Over 4,000 lineal feet of custom brass Schluter strip complete the transition from stone to carpet.

In addition to conquering the logistics of painstakingly delivering the materials to their respective floors, the real challenge came in the installation of the 44 elevator door jams and the 55 pilasters with elegant column capitals. The elevator jams were over 4″ thick and arrived in single pieces for the three sides needed, each requiring custom adjustments in installation. The 1-1/4″ thick pilasters were each crowned with a 2-1/4″ thick capital accented with a medallion. The understated design of the capitals required a meticulous installation, as with the exterior panels, mechanically hung due to their weight and size.

The unique designs of these capitals echo existing stonework that remains on several floors, thereby coordinating old with new. The choice of stone was based on its rich, handsome character which conveys a sense of high quality and civic importance, which is particularly appropriate to a court facility.

The two are married by materiality and proportions but most importantly by their different expressions of verticality.  The masonry pilasters serve the same purpose as the Gothic dormers.  Regardless of whether you think it a cockamamie contrivance or a hallowed hall, standing in the long shadow of Classicism it is delightful relief to see such a well-balanced oddity.  If nothing more it possesses the steady hand of one of America’s finest artists.  While Prudential no longer owns their former headquarters, it lives on.  Saved from demolition in 1987 it has been revitalized and re-purposed as Judges quarters.  Thanks to the delicate restoration work by Time Equities Cass’ lesser known work promises to grace Newark’s skyline for some time to come.  Go and have a look for yourself.  The address is 143 Halsey Street Newark, NJ


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