Union Block

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A photo of the Union Block after its devastating fire.
The Union Block on December 6, 1903 after a fire ripped through the Powers-Miller Department Store.

The Union Block is located on West Church Street, occupying the southwest half of the block between 4th Street and 3rd Street. It is currently home to Thirty One West, Moe's Original Barbeque, the Denison Art Space, Sage Yoga, Little Arrows Play Cafe, Bootlegger Bar, and Munkehed Tatu.

Construction began on the building in October of 1902. The Newark Real Estate and Improvement Co. funded the project and designed the structure to house the Powers-Miller Department Store. After a short eight months of work, the building neared completion but lacked a name. The company decided to hold a contest to name the new landmark, offering a $25 award to the lucky person who could supply a satisfactory moniker. On June 7, 1903, the winning name of “The Union” was announced in The Newark Daily Advocate. Two men, G.W. Downing and Frank Snyder, both came up with the same name, so they were each granted $12.50 for their creativity.[1]

The Powers-Miller Department Store opened in the space on June 18, 1903.[2] It occupied half of the building, covering 22,000 square feet and three floors. Several other businesses filled up the rest of the block, including a bicycle shop, a printing office, and a piano store to name a few. The second floor housed an elaborate ballroom with a dining room and reception hall, as well as several apartments. Newark had truly seen nothing like it before.[3]

The momentum surrounding the new establishment came to a screeching halt on the morning of December 6, 1903, when a fire broke out in the basement. A ruptured gas line resulted in an inferno that overtook all three floors of the store. Several fire departments responded to the blaze, but the gas company did not have a wrench capable of shutting off the valve that supplied service to the building. Fire crews attempted to have a wrench created by a local blacksmith to staunch the gas leak, but it was a useless attempt. After more than twelve hours of effort, the Powers-Miller Department Store was a total loss. An estimated $125,000 in damage had been done to the building and the store’s stock of merchandise.[4]

Just three months later, the department store reopened after an extensive renovation. On March 23, 1904, Powers-Miller made a triumphant return with new merchandise and festive decorations. The employees of the store were unable to keep up with the throngs of customers who visited the store upon its reopening.[5]

The longest tenant of the building, which occupied the retail side of the building after Powers-Miller relocated to a new space, was the Stewart Brothers and Alward Company, which operated in the Union Block for 86 years, between 1906 and 1992.[6]

C.S.

References

  1. “$25 Cash Prize for Name,” The Newark Daily Advocate, May 12, 1903, 5.
  2. Ad for Powers Miller Department Store Grand Opening, The Newark Daily Advocate, June 17, 1903, 5.
  3. “$25 Cash Prize for Name,” 5.
  4. “Disastrous Fire Visited Newark Sunday Morning,” The Newark Advocate, December 7, 1903, 1.
  5. “New Store,” The Newark Daily Advocate, March 23, 1904, 3.
  6. J. Bell, “Downtown Landmark to Close Its Doors,” The Newark Advocate, July 2, 1992.