On the Irish Waterfront was honored Thurs. evening by an award from the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy. The venue–the majestic Loew’s theater in Journal Square—is the city’s most conspicuous, heroically preserved landmark, making for a wonderful setting and event shared with awardees from fields of historic preservation, architecture, and yes, local government, which is alive, well and gloriously contentious as ever in Hudson County (as one honoree knowingly blurted from the podium: ‘I don’t care what party…with this governor you’ll never know what you’re gonna get’).
It was a special treat to receive the J. Owen Grundy History Award from Landsmark Conservancy president John Hallanan who, as I informed the audience in my own Hudson County moment, was an all-time favorite student during my stint teaching at Saint Peter’s College. Yet as John quickly rejoined, those grades were submitted nearly a decade ago.
John wrote his senior thesis on Frank Hague, whose mayoral successor a few removed, Jeremiah Healy, made a gracious appearance early in the evening’s festivities. I’m counting on John Hallanan to make his own City Hall ascendancy in a decade or two from now. I know he’ll make it much easier for historians to function openly in Jersey City than did Hague, who petulantly harassed J. Owen Grundy for decades. The city’s official historian only made it harder on himself by reminding Hague that the Grundy’s had been present in Jersey City since the era of the American Revolution.
Hague’s idea of history was yesterday’s receipts from the ‘Horse Bourse,’ the incredibly extensive, ruthlessly efficient telephone wagering empire he installed throughout Hudson County after most of Manhattan’s leading bookies were driven across the river in a publicity-grabbing Tammany gesture at civic reform.
Thanks in very large part to the Landmarks Conservancy, Jersey City is today a model of discerning historic preservation (though the Horse Bourse was lost to the mists), much if not most waterfront and rail-traffic related. There is no place like that place, as I learned over a decade of historical inqury—much of it conducted in the precious confines of the New Jersey Room of the city’s public library—endless walks, and revelatory passages from classic works by Tom Fleming and Helene Stapinski, Jersey City authors I’m now honored to call both friends and fellow recipients of the J. Owen Grundy History Award. Thanks to all, and especially Dr. Chew and Charlie for making this special night out work smooth as a cool breeze for our tight team of three.