The James Street Commons Historic District of Newark, New Jersey, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and has long been the residential and cultural center of the city. The area was once the first ward of the city of Newark, home to city founders and civic, political, and business leaders. In the years surrounding World War I, the James Street Commons area attracted a number of large businesses and cultural and educational institutions, including several major insurance companies and the main branch of the Newark Public Library (1903).
Today, the 22-block James Street Commons Historic District retains late-19th century homes, landmark buildings from the mid-1800s through the 1930s, and Washington Park, the city’s oldest commons, with its monumental statuary from the early 20th century. Rutgers University-Newark and the New Jersey Institute of Technology occupy portions of the area, and the Halsey Street corridor is becoming a revitalized commercial and arts destination. More than 15,000 people work and study in the historic district every day, and a few thousand residents call the district home.
The James Street Commons Historic District is featured prominently in bus tours of the city run by the Newark Preservation & Landmarks Committee. Notable local landmarks include the Ballantine House (1885), the Victorian-Era home of major Newark brewer John Ballantine; and the Newark Museum (1909), which features exhibits in the arts and natural sciences and operates tours of the Ballantine House. St. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral (1849), Newark’s first Roman Catholic cathedral; and Pennsylvania Station (1933), an Art Deco building finished in Indiana limestone, are also listed as historical landmarks by the Committee.
The Halsey Street area, a major business corridor in the 1930s, was the target of an improvement project initiated by the city in 2008. A façade improvement program has restored the historic appearance of the buildings on Halsey Street in the historic district. This effort, financed by both private investment and public grants of between $600 and $1,000, incentivized business owners to remove dilapidated siding and expose buildings’ original brick façades. Further rehabilitation of storefronts in the corridor was reviewed by the Newark Preservation & Landmarks Committee, and streetscape beautification efforts have taken hold in the form of repaired sidewalks, streetlights, and street trees.
The James Street Commons Historic District also hosts many annual cultural events, including the Newark Black Film Festival, the New Jersey Historic Fire Truck Parade, and the summer-long Halsey Street Block Party.
Designated a Preserve America Community in August 2012.