500 Communipaw Avenue
During a developer hosted meeting in August 2020 seeking community feedback on a development idea, the JCLC discovered that Jersey City’s Historic Preservation Office issued a Determination of Significance in February 2020. The determination was that 500 Communipaw Avenue did not meet enough of the qualifying criteria to be protected from demolition as a historic structure. The City’s legal process does not include public notification of the decisions rendered by the Historic Preservation Office. Often the public does not know there is permission to demolish a building till the wrecking ball arrives.
What has transpired with 500 Communipaw Avenue shows us where the process needs to be improved. If a board member from the JCLC had not participated in the community meeting, we could have lost an important structure to the City’s history. The JCLC plans to make recommendations to the City on how to make the process public-facing. Built in the 1920s, this Art Deco style building is an important symbol of the successful past of this commercial area. However, this building’s historic significance runs deeper than its façade, with connections to Jersey City’s political and cultural past. The last commercial use of the building at 500 Communipaw Avenue was a well-known, Black-owned business in the community called the Junction Kitchen/Junction Fishery.
Joyce Willis, a resident of the area since 1958 has fond memories of the Junction. “It was a safe place for teens to hangout and socialize. Brummer’s Ice Cream Parlor was the highlight of the Junction when I was a kid,” she remembers. Brummer’s was open from 1904 to 1989 at 731 Grand Street where the Taylor Insurance Agency is located. Brummer’s moved shop to Westfield, NJ and closed that location in July 2020. The Brummer family owned several properties in the Junction. Roscoe Taylor purchased the original Brummer’s building in 1996 and has operated Taylor Insurance Agency from there ever since. Roscoe Taylor shares his first day living in the Junction, “I lived in various parts of Jersey City and moved into 727 Grand Street on April 4th, 1968, the day Martin Luther King, Junior, was assassinated.” The building was where the vacant lot is, behind the triangle with the chess tables and benches. “I worked in insurance for Peacock Realty, owned by Tom Pakidis. The office was located at 492 Communipaw Avenue, next to Sabor Mixteca Taqueria, where the Red Door Realty conference room is. Rackley’s Upholstery was located where the main office space for the Red Door Realty is now. Eventually, I bought the business from Pakidis and opened my own insurance agency.” Willis adds, “Tom Pakidis was Kool and Gang’s first band manager."
Willis continues, “My father used to go to Field’s Barbershop at 490 Communipaw Avenue where West Kee’s Barbershop is now. There was also the Round Up where the 747 Grand Street building is now. They served milkshakes, hamburgers and hot dogs. As I grew older, I went to the Junction Fishery at 500 Communipaw Avenue every Friday. They had the best, southern style, fried fish. Mildred, the owner would take your order and fry it up right in front of you.”
“Dino’s Restaurant was in the one-story space at 737 Grand Street that the laundromat expanded into recently. The Junction was kind of a hub for musicians. Sometimes it was someone practicing in their apartment or a live performance at the Junction Lounge that was located at 488 Communipaw Avenue where the variety store is at the corner of Prescott. I always remember hearing music in the Junction,” Taylor concludes.
The Junction was named after and has acted as the “junction” for hundreds of years to several thoroughfares, including Bergen Point Plank Road, now Garfield Avenue/Grand Street and Newark Plank Road now Communipaw Avenue. Communipaw Avenue was originally a Native American route to the shoreline. Library Hall at 704 Grand Street was completed in 1866 as a multi-use, town hall building for the surrounding city of Bergen. Bergen was incorporated into nearby Jersey City in 1870.
John Gomez, a historic preservation expert, former board member and founder of the JCLC had some knowledge of 500 Communipaw Avenue’s history. Then the JCLC consulted with historic preservation consultant, Ulana Zakalak of Zakalak Associates for a report on additional facts that make 500 Communipaw Avenue historically significant. Zakalak was the architectural conservator for the Beacon (the former Jersey City Medical Center) for more than a decade. She also worked passionately to protect St. Johns Church on Summit Avenue and St. Anthony of Padua Church on Monmouth Street in Jersey City among other projects.
From the 1930s through the early 1970s, 500 Communipaw Avenue was owned by the family of John Longo, who grew up in and operated several organizations from the building including the Longo Association. Longo was the biggest opponent of Jersey City Mayor, Frank Hague. Longo and the association made several attempts to liberate Jersey City of Hague. The association was also known for promoting the well-being of the City and helping the community. The Jersey City Community Chest was an umbrella organization for 25 agencies around the Junction that would help fellow citizens in need. In 1937, in an effort to dismantle Hague’s power, Longo assembled an anti-Hague slate for the Democratic primary. Hague retaliated against Longo’s efforts by having him arrested on fabricated charges of filing petitions with illegal names in an effort to enter an opposition ticket in the Democratic primary. The prosecution did not bring forward any evidence of these petitions being filed, yet a Hague-appointed judge sentenced Longo to the Hudson County penitentiary in Secaucus for nine months. Hague was re-elected, again. J. Owen Grundy, Longo’s best friend at the time, threw Longo a celebration party when he was released from prison.
Hague had Longo arrested again in 1943 on charges of altering his own registration card for the 1941 primaries. Longo was eventually exonerated of the charges. Despite the obstacles Hague created, Longo persisted in his fight to oust him. He also had growing support from African-American residents to join him in his “Clean House-Smash Hague Bossism” movement. The Longo Association backed the change in Jersey City government from a commission form to a mayor-council plan. The Association demanded that no matter what, Hague would not be allowed to run for Mayor once the government form was changed, before they would throw their support behind the mayor-council plan. They also endorsed State Republican Committeeman Joshua Ringle for Mayor, James J. Creegan, the father of the Freedom movement, or John R. Longo for mayor.
John Longo was one of the most important political figures in Jersey City from the 1930s through the 1960s, and the main opponent to incumbent Mayor, Frank Hague. The building at 500 Communipaw Avenue is a testament to John Longo and his passion for clean government. This building was the home for a quarter-of-a-century of an important local civic association that had a significant role in the political history of Jersey City. Longo’s organization was able to bring all residents of Jersey City together, during the Jim Crow years, to defeat a boss mayor.