While walking along Ogden Avenue, at the edge of the Palisades Cliff, it’s easy to feel a sense of the past in every step. From the cracks in the sidewalk to the overgrown shady trees lining the block, it’s evident that there were plenty of Heights residents who, over time, have gazed out the very same Ogden Avenue windows, looking down at Hoboken and New York City. But new construction, a variety of neighborhood-organized events, and an influx of young families have brought a fresh sense of community and diversity to the area.
“It’s less expensive than downtown Jersey City or Hoboken,” says Becky Hoffman, chair of the Riverview Neighborhood Association and Ogden Avenue resident, “while also being accessible to those places.”
Hoffman, who lives in one of 20 converted Pohlman Hall condos, moved to Ogden Avenue from Weehawken in 2000 because she felt the street “had great views and a lot of character.” Her current home at Ogden Avenue and Ferry Street was originally built in 1874 as a three-story German athletic and social club named Pohlman’s Hall, the only location in the Heights listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Dennis Doran, city historian and trustee of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy, says that the Germans flooded into the Heights area in the late 19th century and in addition to Pohlman’s Hall, there were numerous German churches, plenty of beer halls, singing societies, and concert halls. German was taught in public schools, and the Heights provided easy access to 14th Street in Manhattan, the center of German life at the time.
“The area along the Palisades Cliff (Ogden Avenue) was particularly known for its German artists. It was a ‘Little Bohemia’” or ‘Little Montmarte,’” says Doran.
With the heavy population of actors and artists living in the area, two Frenchmen, the Pathé Brothers, built their silent movie studio at Ogden Avenue and Congress Street in 1910. The studio went on to produce the film serial The Perils of Pauline in 1914, starring New Jersey native Pearl White. “Jersey City Heights certainly has a long and very interesting history,” says Hoffman, who doesn’t live too far from The Ogden-Conrad House, built in 1760 and named after former New Jersey Governor Aaron Ogden. “A lot of people have lived here for years,” Hoffman says, “but I’ve noticed that many more families with young babies are moving to Ogden Avenue.”
Although he is not a father just yet, current Heights resident Aaron Epstein, 29, says “you can’t beat the bang for the buck.” Having lived with his girlfriend on Mountain Road since 2008, Epstein says that the community is doing a lot to add to its character, like building a new public golf course that he hopes to frequent.
Hoffman cites a number of additional projects in the works like the restoration of the 100 Steps, originally closed down in the 1920s, connecting Hoboken to the Heights. New restaurant Trolley Car Bar & Grill, which opened on New Year’s Day 2012 at the corner of Palisade Avenue and Ferry Street, is now hosting rotating art exhibits. “We’re trying to provide a forum for showing work,” Hoffman says. “The intention is to continue the exhibitions and support the local arts scene.”
Ogden Avenue residents can also check out the Riverview Farmers Market in Riverview-Fisk Park every Sunday through October, featuring fresh produce from New Jersey farmers and other local products. The highlight of the fall event calendar is the annual Halloween dog parade, held this year on Oct. 28.
Ogden Avenue, says Hoffman, “is a very vibrant and friendly place to live.”—JCM