Facing the Facts and the Future of Montclair’s Downtown Look

In recent months, the future of the facade of downtown Montclair has created a buzz around town.

Forest St view of a unique Walnut and Forest Property // Photo By Lila Taylor
Forest St view of a unique Walnut and Forest Property // Photo By Lila Taylor

The recent revisions and discussions surrounding the 256 Park Street property, the building at the corner of Walnut and Forest streets (pictured above), and other business district properties have started a conversation regarding the historic and thematic architecture in Montclair.

During recent discussions surrounding Montclair construction, it has become very apparent that  Montclair residents find it important for newly designed buildings to aesthetically fit within the Victorian, early 20th century, “colonial revival” theme that Montclair is known for. Recently, these new building plans have been revised and proposed in a joint effort among the Montclair Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission.

The historic elements of Montclair’s architecture pose an interesting question for the future of the mixed-use, commercial buildings in the historic districts. There is no question that the Victorian themes of the town are wanted to be kept intact, but does that close off some freedom regarding the approval of construction of more modern structures?

The Montclair Dispatch spoke with Martin Schwartz, a member of the Montclair Planning Board, and designer-contractor, about the business district landscape, and what direction he sees the town moving in given its historic integrity and its structural roots.

Front Facade of Walnut St Side // Photo By Lila Taylor
Front Facade of Walnut St Side // Photo By Lila Taylor

In regards to the case of the new building on the corner of Forest St. and Walnut St., Martin explained that “the design seemed to incorporate an older form with a new design. From the Walnut side, it appears more traditional, but if you look from Forest St., it has a more modernist feel. Like I said during the planning board hearing of the structure, I was not in favor of its design.”

Mr. Schwartz also spoke more generally about construction in the downtown area, saying that, “apartment buildings and other structures in the downtown area are blending the old with the new, creating these modern/industrial designs while still including the more classical style.”

We also had the pleasure of speaking with Janice Talley, who serves as director of planning and community development for the town.

Many of Montclair’s business districts have been designated as historic districts by the Township.  Any new development within these districts is carefully evaluated by our Historic Preservation Commission, Planning Board and Board of Adjustment.  Commercial buildings outside of the historic districts also have significant design requirements to ensure that new development fits within the character of each district.  Our buildings, however, are eclectic and are not limited to one style or period. In fact, the approving boards look to preserve buildings are resources that are historic and to encourage new development that complements the historic buildings in the area rather than replicating a particular style.”

Although the historical aspects of Montclair are deeply integrated into the downtown area and the town’s center, it seems as though creative visions will continue to add exciting elements to the town’s architecture and the landscape of the business districts.   


The author of the article is a Montclair native class of 2017, currently a student at McGill University, studying history and communications within the Faculty of Arts.

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