Another vacant Newark Boys and Girls Club set for demolition

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on December 22, 2015

The Broadway unit of the Boys and Girls Club of Newark in the North Ward will be demolished to build an apartment building.

 

A tall green fence surrounds the empty, dilapidated Broadway unit of the Boys and Girls Club in Newark's North Ward.

Longtime residents and former members heard the news about the future of the building last month.

Others had not and expressed their disbelief.

"We just saw it,'' said Omar Lopez, standing with friends at Wakeman and Nursery streets. "We didn't know what that was about.''

The club that meant so much to so many in this community is being turned into an apartment building after sitting vacant for six years.

This is the intersection of progress versus nostalgia – a spot that can't be avoided. The same thing is happening in the West Ward, with the West Side unit of the Boys and Girls Club on Littleton Avenue.

The West Side building has been demolished. In its place, several floors of steel beams rise from the ground for a new charter school, one of many new projects that will continue to change the neighborhood.

When the West Side unit closed in 2008, a year before the Broadway unit, residents were told the building was too expensive to maintain. The community complained after the club's abrupt closure and residents pleaded with Boys and Girls Clubs officials to keep it open, making a case that it could be saved.  

There wasn't much fuss in the North Ward, because residents of  the neighborhood thought it would reopen after new floors and bleachers were installed before it closed in 2009. At the time, there were funds forthe improvements.

"We didn't see it coming,'' said Elizabeth McGrady, who was a member of the parent advisory council. "We were under the (assumption) that it was a reorganization and that it was going to come back.''

But the heating system collapsed, a repair too expensive for the administration to overcome. Combined with the recession, the organization struggled financially.

Mike Sancho, a former director at the Broadway unit and a former vice president of programs and services for the organization, said there was a lot of discussion within the administration about what to do with all of its clubs.

"It wasn't like we were planning on just closing the club and running out of town,'' he said. But officials, after much thought, eventually decided they had no choice but to close the unit.

The neighborhood eventually gave up hope.Weeds grew, garbage lined the property and vagrants moved in. Nothing  happened until the announcement came about the apartment building last month.

MORE CARTER: Vibrant neighborhood grows from small home improvements

Jorge Padilla, who lives on Wakeman Street, the block behind the club, is emotionally torn. He's glad that something is being done with his childhood playground, but he's sad to see the club go.

Padilla, 45, has never left the block. The home he lives in now is next door to the one in which he grew up.

"It's going to be weird not seeing it (club) there,'' he said.

With two clubs gone, there's only one left – the Central Ward unit on Avon Avenue. And when the Broadway unit is razed, fond memories will disappear, too.

Flip City, a competitive tumbling team, started there and won many national titles. Other club members hit the road for chess tournaments. One of its youth basketball teams participated in an exchange program with suburban kids from Illinois.  

Kids were in a rifle club. Golf was practice in the basement, tennis in the gym.

The Broadway unit started out as the Boys Club, when the Rutgers School of Pharmacy was across the street in the building that now houses the North Ward police precinct.

That's how far back McGrady is associated with the club. Her parents bought a home in the neighborhood in 1955, before the club opened. While growing up, since girls weren't yet allowed to attend the club, McGrady had to learn how to swim at the YMWCA in downtown Newark.

Thoughts of the club now sway from "tear it down'' to what life might be like if it were still open.

"There wouldn't be all of this killing,'' said Jermaine Calhoun, a former member. "This neighborhood would be different.''

This much is true, however. The club did what it was supposed to do during the time it was open on Arlington and Broadway avenues.

Sancho, who is now an executive director with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Florida's Martin County, Indian Town branch, said he sees the impact the club had on former members who he remains connected to through Facebook.

They are fathers at their son's baseball or football games. They are having robust discussions on current events. 

"People's lives were changed for the better,'' he said.

The club, its staff and volunteers had plenty to do with how members turned out in life. Isn't that something.  

Many of them probably thought the club would never go away. It has, but not before leaving an indelible mark on an entire community

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