Montclair: Then and Now


Like all communities, the Montclair of 2019 is very different from the Montclair of 1964.  It’s a much more lively, complex town of 38,000 than the town of our teenage years.  As living in New York City became more and more costly, New Yorkers began flocking out to the NJ suburbs, resulting in a huge influx of ethnically diverse, frequently wealthy people.  Added to that, was the fact that NJ Transit electrified the train service and offered “mid-town direct’ service to make commuting to NYC easier.  Further, because Montclair was always seen as an integrated town with a good school system, people who wanted to live in a more diverse community have gravitated to the town.  All this has attracted a large influx of actors, musicians, artists, bi-racial couples, as well as LGBTQ couples.   As a result, the Montclair of today is quite artsy, liberal-minded, and an expensive place to live.  There is affordable housing but not a lot.

To accommodate all these social changes, Montclair has completely modified its school system to a magnet school plan (see details under Schools).  The diverse offerings of the schools have increased the attraction of Montclair, making it less and less affordable for low-income families.  And, to meet the housing demand, many of Montclair’s landmarks are gone and replaced with high-end condos and specialty shops.  The town has also become a mecca for restaurant offerings (as have the neighboring towns), but many of the stores and theaters we all frequented and loved are gone.  It is no longer possible to do any real shopping in Montclair or even the surrounding towns.  The malls and online shopping have replaced those former shops. 

So, before you start your nostalgic tour of your old hometown, be aware of these changes:

Now gone:

  1.  Hahne’s Department store was replaced with high-end condos and first floor specialty stores.
  2. The small Sears on the corner of Valley was replaced with a high-end motor company.  That was torn down and has been replaced with a new luxury hotel, The MC, which recently opened.
  3. Montclair Community Hospital was razed and replaced with high-end townhouses.
  4. Bowlero Bowling Alley on Bloomfield Ave. was torn down and replaced with high-end condos and specialty shops.
  5. The old Montclair firehouse on the corner of Bloomfield Ave. and Valley has been moved to a large firehouse on the corner of Pine and Bloomfield Ave.
  6. The Washington St. YMCA off Elm St. was torn down and replaced with Charles Bullock Elementary School K-5.
  7. Lackawanna Train Station on Bloomfield Ave. was renovated when the entire train line was electrified and moved down to Bay St.  Initially, the station was a shopping mall containing a large Pathmark and multiple shops.  The Pathmark closed a few years ago, and now the site is being completely renovated again.
  8. Mountainside Nursing School closed a number of years ago and was recently torn down and is being replaced with a medical professional building.
  9. Pal’s Cabin was torn down a couple of years ago and replaced with a CVS.
  10. Acme on Claremont Ave. below Grove St. was replaced with yet another CVS.
  11. The Marlboro Inn sadly was torn down in 2004.  Much to its regret, Montclair allowed 10 very large homes built on the property.  
  12. The Bellevue Theater closed its doors in 2017.  However, there is a group of real estate developers looking to remodel the theater and re-open it as a dine-in theater with a bar.
  13. Bond’s ice Cream parlor in Valley Rd. has been gone a very long time and replaced by a bank (how boring!), but we will always have our memories!!

These 10 building projects are currently in progress:

The MC Hotel, Orange Road and Bloomfield Avenues: 159 rooms; 31,764 square feet retail and office space just opened.  It is supposed to have a roof bar area with a great view.

Valley & Bloom rental apartments: 359 apartments; 31,764 square feet retail and office space. 

37 Orange Road (currently Ferrara's gas station and auto body): 50 apartments

Hahne's Parking Lot on Church Street: 74 apartments

Seymour Street: 200 apartments; 75,825 square feet retail and office space replacing the former Social Security building and tire store.

The Montclairion II, 125 Bloomfield Avenue: 40 apartments; 1,410 square feet retail space

The Vestry: 147 Bloomfield Ave., near Bay St. station.46 apartments; 1,634 square feet retail space

Baldwin Street, Glen Ridge (behind Bay St. station): 200 apartments

Spectrum 360 School, 1 Sunset Avenue, Verona (partially in Montclair): 300 apartments

Lackawanna Station, Bloomfield Avenue: 154 residential units; 111,726 square feet of office and retail space over 7.6 acres


Some Big Changes:

  1. Mountainside Hospital is now huge with a new garage being built on Baldwin St.
  2. Montclair State is now an enormous university with a student body of over 40,000, many of whom are commuters.  The former quarry is now a parking lot for the university.
  3. The Welmont Theater was completely renovated and is now a big venue for concerts.
  4. Walnut St. west of Grove has become a place filled with interesting shops and restaurants.  Every Saturday a Farmer’s Market runs from 8 am to 2 pm in the train station parking lot area.
  5. Applegate Farms is still making great ice cream, but the entire open area behind it has been developed.
  6. Montclair/Kimberly Academy combined years ago and now has 3 co-ed schools:  the Lower School (formerly Brookside), the Upper School (formerly Kimberly Academy), and the Academy High school (formerly Montclair Academy).
  7. Bay St. Station is the location of the mid-town direct train line.  That entire area has been developed with condos and senior housing.
  8. Mt. Carmel Catholic School (across from Niccolo’s) on Baldwin St. closed many years ago and is now a condominium.
  9. The Presby Iris Gardens on Upper Mountain Ave. in Up. Montclair contain over 1500 varieties and 10,000 irises.  It’s the largest iris display in the country.
  10. Brookdale Park now has two dog parks- one for big dogs and one for little dogs.  It has recently built 6 pickleball courts on the 3 courts closest to the backboard.


Montclair’s School System:

In order to promote integration and diversity, in the 1970’s Montclair developed the magnet school program and utilizes busing to facilitate the plan.  Families can apply to the program of their choice, but the goal is to keep each school with a 50% white-50% minority population.  Dr. Nathan Parker has just begun as the new interim Superintendent of Schools.  He is the former superintendent of the Orange School system for 5 years and recently, the Summit School system for 7 years.


The Elementary Schools and their magnet focus:

  • Bradford School:  K-5:  Standard elementary program with emphasis on CARES concepts (cooperation, acceptance, respect and responsibility, Empathy, and Self-control).
  • Charles Bullock School K-5:  Standard program with emphasis on environmental science.  The entire building was built with sustainability in mind.
  • Edgemont School K-5:  a Montessori-based learning program.
  • Northeast School K-5:  Standard program with emphasis on global studies.
  • Watchung School K-5:  Standard program, probably the most “neighborhood-like school” of all.
  • Nishuane K-2 and Hillside Gr.3-5:  Gifted and talented program with emphasis on the arts.

Note:  Both Southwest School and Grove St. School are now private special education schools.  Mt. Hebron elementary School closed in order to accommodate the middle school program.

Through the efforts of our classmate Jane Riffin Susswein and others, a pre-school program based on need was begun a number of years ago.  It is housed next to the Montclair Bd. Of Ed. building on Valley Rd.

The Middle schools:  Grades 6-8

  • Buzz Aldrin School (formerly Mt. Hebron): the largest of the middle schools with an emphasis on STEM programs (science, technology, engineering, and math)
  • Glenfield School:  the gifted and talented continuation of Nishuane and Glenfield.
  • Renaissance School:  housed in the former Rand School on Chestnut St., is the smallest of the middle school programs and has an emphasis on community-based learning.

Montclair High School:

The high school had 2000 students last year, with 51% minority. George Inness is now part of the high school program and is considered the Freshman Annex.   Those who visit both buildings will be surprised (and disappointed) at how few renovations have been made.  The biggest renovation is the new athletic building next to Woodman Field.


So, for those of you who want to take a few hours to drive around Montclair, it’s still a beautiful, interesting town, particularly the south end of town with all its historic homes.   Take your time and enjoy the sights.   If you have a chance, stop and visit:

  • The Montclair Art Museum on the corner of Bloomfield Ave. and South Mountain Ave. 
  • The 9/11 Memorial at Eagle Rock Reservation and the beautiful restaurant, Highlawn Pavilion, nearby.