As a lover of architecture and museums, I was thrilled with the assignment to visit and experience the Bayonne Community Museum. The building, at 9th Street and Broadway, combines the best of both.
Housed in the former Bayonne Trust Company building, the museum is hidden in plain sight, across from the Bayonne Bistro diner. Most residents probably drive past without giving it much thought.
What they’re missing is a truly grand building that’s on the state and national registers of historic places. And with good reason.
Built in 1912, the two-story Vermont granite-clad structure is a testament to fine design, construction, and craftsmanship.
It was built in the beaux-arts style, which was in vogue in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and common in Europe and the United States, where it was incorporated into many of the major public buildings of the time, including Grand Central Terminal and the Ellis Island Great Hall.
At the Broadway entrance, the original bronze doors have been replaced with contemporary metal and glass ones. A large gilt lamp adorns each side of the entrance. The name “Bayonne Trust Company” is still etched into the frieze on the façade facing the street.
Building features include a high ceiling with a teal-and-amber stained-glass center, a terrazzo floor, and the original bank vault, about 12 feet tall. A finely crafted, winding staircase leads to basement rooms with safe-deposit boxes and a painted metal safe where “night-drop” deposits slid down from a steel pull-draw on street level.
The city acquired the building from Fleet Bank in 2002 for $1. Using the money from a number of grants, the city made several improvements, including removing modern banking fixtures and a dropped ceiling. The interior walls and the three-part stained glass in the ceiling were restored.
The museum opened in 2008 and since then has increased its following of community groups, residents, and renters.
Musing, music, and art
What makes this museum different from almost every other is that it doesn’t house or store artifacts. Rather it serves as a town square for citizens to think, compose, entertain, or be entertained with art or music.
The entire community is invited to use the facility. An avid user has been the Art Circle of Bayonne, which presents art shows and drawing nights in which artists sketch live models.
Resident Joan Hajducsek Rosen is a member of the museum board and the Art Circle and
former director of music and art in the Bayonne school system.
“I think it’s important for the community to have a site where art can be celebrated,” Hajducsek Rosen says.
Following Hurricane Sandy, the museum became a temporary center for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In late January and early February, an exhibit piggybacking on the Super Bowl was held here, featuring the work of Bayonne native Paul Lempa. “Gridiron Greats,” Lempa’s images of National League Football figures, included a portrait of Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway.
In March, an Irish music concert sponsored by Mayor Mark Smith and the Bayonne St. Patrick’s Day Committee was presented at the museum.
In June, one of the museum’s most anticipated annual events, the Bayonne Arts & Music Festival, will be staged, with an indoor art show as well as activities outside.
“Broadway between 9th and 10th streets will become a pedestrian mall, with live music and al fresco dining,” says Joseph Waks, Bayonne director of municipal services and an Arts Circle member. Held first in 2013, the event was an instant success.
The museum is usually fully booked, and 2014’s second half will feature a Haunted House/Scary Stories in October, Thanksgiving storytelling with apple cider and donuts in November, and Christmas stories and a holiday movie in December.
Hajducsek Rosen says of the museum, “It’s like a civic center, where people can actually experience the arts. And more than just visual arts. It can be poetry, it can be music, it can be dance, or theater.” —BLP
Those wishing to use the museum should contact Joseph Waks at (201) 858-6112 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The museum is open only when an event is taking place. Virtually all the events are free, except for fundraisers and private rentals.