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East Orange's Golden Age

The Hotel Suburban was once the focus of a glamorous downtown.

Posted December 23, 2013 by Marcia Worth-Baker

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Hotel Suburban 1
Room at the Top: The Hotel Suburban in its heyday.
Hotel Suburban 2
In 1960, an 11th floor was added for the restaurant Paris in the Sky, left, which recreated a Parisian streetscape—with a Manhattan view.

We don’t often associate East Orange with glamour. But turn back the hands of time to the prewar years and the picture changes. East Orange was an attractive middle-class community with modest, well-tended homes. Stylish department stores such as Best & Co., B. Altman and the locally owned R.H. Muir drew the well-heeled to the city’s bustling shopping districts. Central Avenue, where several of the department stores were located, was known as the Fifth Avenue of the Oranges.

“It was a glamorous era and a glamorous area,” says Goldie T. Burbage, president of the East Orange Historical Society. At the center of it all, she says, was the Hotel Suburban, “the gem that sparkled brightest.”

Built in 1926 as both a residential and a traditional short-stay hotel, the 10-story, 250-room Hotel Suburban featured restaurants; function rooms named for flowers; the Dubonnet Bar, where smartly uniformed waiters delivered drinks on silver trays; and a grand ballroom—all under the slogan, “Where living is gracious.”

“When you said you were headed to Hotel Suburban, people looked up from what they were doing,” says Burbage, a longtime resident of the Oranges. Located on South Harrison Street, just steps from the Central Avenue shopping district, the hotel was, she says, “the place to be.” (The hotel had a smaller Summit annex, now the site of the Grand Summit Hotel.)

What locals remember best was the elegance of the area. As a child, Burbage would dress in her Sunday best to stroll downtown; as an adult, her social group, the Town and Country Women’s Association, frequently gathered at the Hotel Suburban. It was always a “hat-and-gloves” affair, she says.

No wonder Spencer Tracy checked into the Suburban when he visited the Oranges in 1940 for the premiere of the movie Edison, the Man at the nearby Hollywood Cinema. “That was a big event,” recalls Burbage.
Dinner menus were written daily. A typical 1941 menu featured Long Island duckling, fresh-caught sea trout and minute steak. A four-course meal cost no more than $1.50.

In 1960, the hotel added an 11th floor for a new restaurant. Run by radio personality Dick Kollmar and his wife, newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, a regular on the celebrity quiz show What’s My Line?, the couple called their supper club Paris in the Sky.

Jeff Smith, an amateur local historian, claims Kollmar spent $25,000 “to reproduce a typical Parisian street” in the club, with mock storefronts and kiosks. The club, with its Manhattan skyline view, drew praise from the New York Times. “It [Paris in the Sky] offers musical trios and singers that are not loud, French décor, a bottle of champagne for every four persons, untouched scenic splendors, and a seven-course pheasant or sirloin steak dinner for $15.”

The nightclub’s fortunes ebbed after Kilgallen’s death in 1965. By the following decade, as the community changed, the Hotel Suburban became an office building. Eventually, it fell into disrepair and closed in the late 1990s.

The building was renovated in 2009 and soldiers on as a nondescript apartment house. The area’s grand old department stores are long gone, replaced by low-end shops, state offices and medical clinics.

Still, for locals of a certain age, the memories of Hotel Suburban linger. “It was our Paris here in East Orange,” says Burbage, “and as they say in the pictures, we’ll always have Paris.”

Marcia Worth-Baker is a freelance writer in South Orange.



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Comments
Hotel Suburban on South Harrison Street

I found the article to be quite a stroll down memory lane. I was a young newspaper delivery boy for Marx’s Newspaper Delivery Service located near Brick Church Station and I delivered many a newspaper to residents who lived there.

I am wondering if the author has any knowledge of another residential hotel located in East Orange about the same time. it was located on Williams Street where the School of Fine Arts is now situated.

It was know as The Hotel Edgemere. The residents were generally longtime resident and the hotel had a dining room similar to that spoken of at the Hotel Suburban. I worked there in many rolls during the period of World War II particularly as a pantry-man and busboy in the food service department. Many great memories from those early days.

Posted by: Colonel (Ret) James A Manning, Lakewood, WA | Jan 01, 2014 18:11:10 PM |

Hotel Edgemere

Dear Colonel Manning:

Thank you for your close reading of my piece. Hotel Edgemere rings a bell, and I may have a photo/postcard of it. Let me dig around; the East Orange Public Library archives are a wonderful resource. Stay tuned...

Marcia

Posted by: Marcia Worth-Baker, South Orange | Jan 02, 2014 15:02:36 PM |

Suburban Hotel

Site of the 1958 senior prom.

Posted by: Barbara Larsen Wright, East Orange, New Jersey | Feb 15, 2014 12:14:08 PM |

Hotel East Orange

Do you know anything about the Hotel East Orange? If I recall correctly, East Orange High held some dances there, too. I really enjoyed your article about the Hotel Suburban. I’d love to read more about EO.

Thanks,
Joanne Becker Hanna

Posted by: Joanne Hanna, Avon | Feb 17, 2014 15:42:46 PM |

Information on EOHS graduates

If you’ll send me your e-mail addresses I’ll send you information about famous graduates of yesteryear from our High School, including the actress Ann Harding, EOHS class of 1919. Her birth name was Dorothy Gatley and she is in the Syllabus at the library. Her family lived at 222 Dodd Street. There are others. I was at that Senior prom at the Hotel Suburban. The town was an example of what modern communities should emulate.

Posted by: Stan Muller, Monroe, NJ | Feb 17, 2014 16:07:34 PM |

info

My e-mail address was left off of the prior submission it is kstmuller@gmail.com. I am a graduate of EOHS.

Posted by: Stan Muller, Monroe, NJ | Feb 17, 2014 16:39:33 PM |

Hotel Edgemere, East Orange, NJ

I discovered that there are hand colored post cards of hotel Edgemere available on eBay. It was nice to see pictures of the place that I remember from the 1940s. Thank you for your response.

Posted by: Colonel James A Manning, Lakewood, WA | Feb 18, 2014 05:54:33 AM |

Dear Colonel Manning, I was in the Newark Public Library archives just yesterday morning, looking for info. I’m returning there for more as soon as I can, but I have so far seen some souvenirs of Edgemere. Thanks again! Marcia

Posted by: Marcia Worth-Baker, South Orange | Feb 22, 2014 13:44:04 PM |

This sure brought memorys back.i enjoyed reading about the hotels I love in east orange for 21yrs and than moved to west orange n.j. Unptill I moved to tacoma,wa which I like it here.even though we have rain here more than sun.

Posted by: Marie peterson(Freddie), West orange | Feb 26, 2014 18:11:27 PM |



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