|The Proud Merritt's Block circa 1928.|
- The Woodbury Country Club was organized here in August of 1897.
- Central Baptist Church started as a Sunday School here.
- Law offices of Judges Donald and Austin Swackhamer.
- Woodbury Real Estate and Mutual Loan Association offices.
- Numerous apartments for people who worked in and around Woodbury.
- 7 rooms were offered and accepted to the Board of Education to use as classrooms for high school students after the school had burned down after the 1910 fire. Fire escapes were added to the building in 1911 to accommodate this.
- Hendrickson and Wick Real Estate and Insurance offices.
- The Board of Trade room was located here and hosted many civic group meetings such as the Country Club Trustees.
- It was a U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Recruiting headquarters.
- Dentist office for Dr. R. K. Morgan in Room No. 1 circa 1910.
- It featured photo lab department on the second floor.
- It was a popular soda fountain and luncheonette providing an excellent "third place" for the community.
- Space for the U.S. Post Office of Woodbury.
- Thomas Dougherty gave music lessons on the third floor, circa 1937.
- Office of U.S. Senator Robert Clymer Hendrickson, circa 1937.
|Circa 1905, Merritt's on right.|
|Outside Sutton's 1943: Tom Rutledge and Margaret Weld, photo by NathanH100 on Flickr|
In 1954 Merritt's block was in absolutely fine shape, but something strangely unsettling in the American collective psyche at the time obsessed with "progress" and "modernization" thought that this building had to be "updated." Unfortunately, these ideals, partly fueled by an obsession with the automobile, cheap oil, and the mass flight to single-use "sprawl" developments, were mistakenly understood and we, as a nation, have been in a perpetual state of recovery ever since. The pictures of what happened to this building are shocking and speak for themselves. Below is Merritt's block photographed a few months before the "renovation," or rather the "remuddling," and below this is a photograph of the new, "modernized" building. WTF.
A series of fires in the surrounding buildings in the 70s helped to seal the fate of this once grand structure. It is not surprising then to learn that in 1982, just 28 years after the "modernization," the building was condemned by the City of Woodbury because it was discovered that the walls had become structurally unsound. Go figure.
|Architecturally-appealing, mixed-use, a popular destination for the community, this photo was taken in 1954.|
|During the "modernization" March 1954.|
|After the |
|18 years after the "modernization" fire damaged the buildings on the North side of Ralen's. image: Wenonah Fire Co.|
|This photo circa 1970s shows what the building was eventually reduced to after the Ralen's modernization. A series of fires in the buildings to the left of the drugstore in the 70s took care of the rest.|
|Side of current building. This all used to be welcoming storefronts. The message here now: Keep out and go away.|
Let us not forget that it was in the name of progress over the past 50 years that Broad Street in Woodbury began losing its appeal as a community center. As you can see by the above list, Merritt's Block was a multi-use, mixed-zoning building that provided not only quality retail, but also residential living space, civic group meeting spaces and even temporary high school quarters! The building was located exactly next door to the original U.S. Post Office and contained various other shops and living spaces. Merritt's street level corner storefront was open and inviting, encouraging pedestrianism and included built-in customers living overhead. Compare that with the uninviting blackened out permanently-shut-windows and single-use nature of the current building. The building as it stands now is certainly not going to contribute to increasing pedestrianism in our downtown, but this is exactly what current zoning laws all across America dictate we should be building. Single-use zoning whittles away once normally functioning traditional and very social neighborhoods, spreading everything out across many miles, reachable only by a car (a very antisocial method of travel in itself).
The past 50 years or so of architectural practices have predominantly produced remarkably bland and sterile buildings. This, coupled with antisocial zoning practices, has been devastating to our downtown neighborhoods. Thankfully we have the Congress for New Urbanism and firms like Duany, Plater-Zyberk (http://www.dpz.com/) (who are rewriting destructive sprawl zoning codes with the introduction of Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND) planning, etc) helping America ultimately to rebuild their communities! I hope we see locally their expanding and positive effects in our lifetimes.
|circa 1927 aerial showing Merritt's Block|
(1911). In New Jersey Pharmaceutical Association (Ed.), Proceedings of the Forty-First Annual Meeting of the New Jersey Pharmaceutical Association.
Announces plans for modern store, office building. (1954, Feb 2). Woodbury Daily Times
Lovejoy, E. (1982, Nov 26). Ralen building is razed: dilapidated old drug store comes down. Gloucester County Times
Woodbury up to date. (1900, Nov 22). Woodbury Daily Times, p. 1