The Many Historic Tudors of West Orange and Why They Were Built

13 Colony Drive West. Credit: Zillow.

At a time when market soothsayers are predicting a decline in housing prices, a Tudor on Colony Drive West in West Orange sold last month above asking price, doubling in value in only five years. Architecture goes in and out of style, but Tudor homes have proven to be “timeless,” Ken Baris, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Jordan Baris Realty, said. “Tudor-style homes make me think of childhood stories and fables,” said Baris, whose firm represented the homebuyer. “People like to purchase homes that have a little excitement.”

30 Undercliffe Terrace. Credit: Zillow.

The winding, tree-lined streets near Gregory Avenue in West Orange are home to the township’s largest collection of Tudors. This style of architecture, inspired by English cottages, was prominent in the 1920s and 1930s. 

“The Tudor style came to the United States by way of the 19th-century landscape architects who were looking towards the England countryside for inspiration,” Marvin Clawson, founding principal of Clawson Architects in Maplewood, told the Four Oranges.

The cluster that exists today near the South Orange border is the legacy of a Newark-based developer, E.J. Maier Corporation, which completed two subdivisions — the Upper Enclosure and Northern Enclosure — on the old site of the Essex County Country Club, Joe Fagan, the township’s public information officer, said. “Tudor-style homes must have been in style with the E.J. Maier Corporation,” Fagan said.

Although the floor plans in these subdivisions were often uniform, the embellishments —  like arched doors and clinker-brick fireplaces — give the illusion of a custom-made cottage. “It has the extra benefit of giving each home a distinctive look rather than a cookie-cutter style often found in developments,” Fagan noted.

The living room of 52 Gilbert Place. Credit: Zillow.

The rich wooden interiors often found inside these homes are the result of a historical accident. “Most of these homes made generous use of chestnut trim around windows and doorways,” said Carol Selman, Four Oranges Arts Beat columnist and past West Orange Historic Preservation Commissioner.  “The American chestnut tree was being devastated by blight. Trees were felled in advance of the disease and available at a good price to the builders.”

The Upper Enclosure, which spans the length of Colony Drive, was built on the country club’s former golf course after it moved to its current location on Prospect Avenue. The Northern Enclosure included streets like Club Boulevard, Lowell Avenue, Gilbert Place, Belgrade Terrace, and Collamore Terrace, Fagan said.

With the advent of the automobile came the third wave of growth in West Orange, carving out much of the street grid residents know today. “It was part of the large-scale suburban development that took off at breakneck pace during the 1920s, with more than a half dozen subdivisions of considerable size and a number of smaller ones like this,” wrote Robert Guter, an architectural historian who completed a townwide survey in 1991. The hills of the Gregory neighborhood and their skyline views attracted upper-middle-class families.

The site of the Upper and Northern Enclosure.

The Tudor style isn’t the only architecture style that derived from England during the early 20th century. Other popular revival styles include the Colonial Revival style, notable for its symmetry, and can often be seen next door to a Tudor home.

“That’s Olmsted,” Clawson said about Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed landscaper architect who design Central Park and Monte Irvin Orange Park. “He came up with that. He was trying to create variety so that everything didn’t seem built at one time.”

Sign up for our newsletter here.