Arts & Entertainment

North Plainfield’s Historic Stained Glass Illuminates in Ken Lombardo’s ‘Lights of Washington Park’

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'The Lights of Washington Park' by former North Plainfield resident Ken Lombardo. Credits: courtesy of Ken Lombardo
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Ken Lombardo
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The stained-glass in a Mercer Avenue home. Credits: courtesy of Ken Lombardo
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The Mccutchen property.
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The stained-glass and ornamental woodwork in a Myrtle Avenue home. Credits: Ken Lombardo
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Myrtle Avenue
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The hidden window of a Myrtle Avenue home.
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The detailed and ornamental windows of a Rockview Avenue home.
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A Rockview Avenue home.
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North Plainfield's Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross.
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The stained glass of Mount Saint Mary Academy
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NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The Friends of the Vermeule Mansion and the Fleetwood Museum, along with assistance from the Washington Park Historic Association, recently published a book highlighting the most distinctive stained-glass windows in the Borough of North Plainfield and surrounding communities.

The work of author and photographer Ken Lombardo, "The Lights of Washington Park" took more than a decade to complete. The end result is a 240-plus page hard cover book that includes over 600 high-quality color images highlighting the ‘beauty and history’ of some of North Plainfield’s ‘most distinctive stained-glass windows,’ many of which are located within the borough’s Washington Park Historic District.

The district, which runs from the Green Brook and the Stony Brook between Geraud Avenue and Grove Street, was a very early planned community that dates back to 1868. In the book, Lombardo provides history and details on the popular colored-glass windows, referred to as ‘lights’ in vintage blueprints, and also details the appearance and influence of L.C. Tiffany Studios, among others, in homes and churches within North Plainfield – specifically the Washington Park Historic District – and the surrounding communities.

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“The Lights of Washington Park” also includes photographs and explanations on the ornamental woodwork, architecture, and lighting fixtures present in homes constructed in the borough’s historic district during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“When we moved into Washington Park years ago, we would walk to the library passing the glorious Tiffany window in the McCutchen home along the way,” said Lombardo of the historic Rockview Avenue mansion. “I had a desire to see it from the inside, and so once we became part of the historic association, I proposed the notion of creating a book for the neighborhood.”

Over the next five years, Lombardo explored borough residences built between the 1870s and 1920s, taking pictures and conducting research along the way.

“This required research into the architectural styles of the area, town plans and blueprints, books on architectural glass and wood working, church histories, incidental interviews, and somewhat apocryphal data handed down from owner to owner,” said Lombardo, who, prior to relocating to Piscataway three years ago, resided on Rockview Terrace for 25 years.

The book’s ‘House Lights’ chapter highlights the many stairwell windows as well as the smaller sidelights and intimate transom windows present in private residences. “Going from house to house while compiling the photos, I was amazed by the number of windows hidden from the street, along with intricate architectural details,” Lombardo said. “They were commonplace in homes of the era.”

In the book’s ‘Manor Lights’ chapter, Lombardo focuses on the McCutchen home, which features one of the largest collections of interior residential Tiffany windows in the state. Located on Rockview Avenue and built in 1885 by the McCutchen family –one of New Jersey’s most prominent families who built their fortune in the flour exporting industry – the McCutchen home was a centerpiece estate in the borough’s historic district for over six decades. It then served as a nursing home for another six decades and, since 2008, has housed an orthodox Yeshiva.

In the ‘God Lights’ chapter, ecclesiastical windows from the boroughs houses of worship are featured, highlighting many examples of figural painted glass. Among them is the 1868 Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross - the only church that sits within the confines of Washington Park – as well as buildings of other denominations located throughout the borough.

“The Lights of Washington Park” also focuses on ‘Border Lights’ and in the chapter of the same name the stained-glass windows that still adorn public places in communities surrounding North Plainfield are highlighted. Among them are Mount Saint Mary's Academy and the McAuley Chapel in Watchung; St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Metuchen; and the jury room at the Somerset County Courthouse in Somerville.

“Our region abounds with beautiful stained glass and, back in the day, these windows were considered interior decoration and not art,” said Lombardo. “Hence, much of the identification of their origins is not chronicled.”

Additionally, while studying homes and history for the book, Lombardo also organized a crew to uncover a large window at a Myrtle Avenue home that had been hidden behind a floor-to-ceiling mirror for more than 50 years. The story on the window can be found in the book’s closing chapter, ‘Miracle Light.’

“Once I learned it existed, it became a quest of mine to resurrect that amazing window, especially since it would highlight the appreciation of this lost art and be a fitting closing chapter of the book,” said Lombardo.

In 1989, North Plainfield’s Washington Park community was listed in the National and State Registers of Historic Places. It is currently among New Jersey's largest historic districts with more than 200 homes within its borders, 130 of which were built between 1886 and 1910.

“Ken Lombardo did an outstanding job in volunteering to put this book together; the photography clearly shows that the work Ken did was done by a dedicated, conscientious professional,” said Frank D’Amore, president of the Washington Park Historic Association, a group comprised of North Plainfield residents who believe the preservation, restoration, rehabilitation, and protection of the unique architectural structures in the borough’s Washington Park Historic District contribute greatly to its history.

“There is no doubt in my mind that before Ken published this book, many North Plainfield residents were not aware of the historic art treasures we have in our stained- and leaded-glass windows here in the borough,” added D’Amore.

For a limited time, “The Lights of Washington Park” can be purchased for $65 (while supplies last) by contacting Nick Ciampa at (908) 462-4209 or by emailing Ken Lombardo at www.brokenlom@verizon.net. “The Lights of Washington Park” is also available for viewing through the Somerset County Library System. Additionally, a book signing will take place in early spring. For more information, visit www.TheLightsofWashingtonPark.com.

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