IRVINGTON, NJ — Essex County Veterans of Foreign Wars District Commander Cheryl Turner and the members of Camptown VFW Post 1941 were not able to save the old Servicemen’s Clubhouse on Springfield Avenue from being sold and demolished to make way for a new Taco Bell restaurant, but they are involved in the effort to have the East Orange Veterans Administration Hospital on Tremont Avenue designated a New Jersey historic site.
Turner is a former Camptown VFW Post 1941 Commander in Irvington, who currently serves as the district commander for Essex County, in charge of 12 posts around the county. She’s also an outspoken advocate for veterans and their need for affordable housing; she is currently involved in talks to convert the old Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery site on the border between Newark and Irvington into a housing and service community for veterans.
But Turner has mixed feelings about the East Orange VA Hospital being designated as a New Jersey historic site.
“It’s good and it’s bad,” said Turner on Monday, July 17. “If they make it a historic landmark, then it’s going to cost more in the long run, every time we have to fix parts on the outside, because we have to use the same kinds of parts. But making it into a historic landmark will be a wonderful thing, because that means we’ve been around for quite a long time.”
Turner and her Camptown VFW Post 1941 cohorts wanted to save the old Servicemen’s Clubhouse but, by the time they got involved in the fight to stop the sale to private developers that Brenda Jenkins of the Irvington Volunteer Network for Veterans started, it was already too late. They said the clubhouse’s destruction was a done deal for a long time before it actually occurred in the mid-June.
“It’s a shame that we’re going to lose the facility, but we tried to take steps to stop the procedures that were going on,” said former Camptown VFW Post Commander Lewis Johnson on Sept. 3, 2016, after Jenkins of the Volunteer Network for Veterans tried to mount a last-ditch effort.
If Historical Society of East Orange President Goldie Burbage has her way, that won’t happen to the East Orange VA Hospital. She is asking anyone interested in seeing the Veterans Administration Hospital on Tremont Avenue become designated a historic site to take a bus on Thursday, July 20, from the East Orange Senior Citizens Center on Halsted Street to Trenton, to testify at the hearing to be held by the New Jersey State Review Board on the matter.
“The hearing will be at 10 a.m. at the Department of Environmental Protection building on the first floor of 401 East State St. in Trenton,” said Burbage on Monday, July 17. “We’re going down on Thursday in support … of naming the East Orange Veterans Administration Hospital … a New Jersey historic site by the New Jersey State Review Board. The bus is leaving from 90 Halsted St. at 7:30 a.m.”
“You’ve got to be there on time. I would say be there by 7 a.m. People have to be signed up in advance,” she added.
“A couple of our H.S.E.O. members are vets who formerly worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital, so you know we’re going to be there,” Burbage said. “The Veterans Administration Hospital used to be the home of the late Bamberger family that used to own the store of the same name on the corner of Market Street and Broad Street in downtown Newark. The building is still there, it’s just not called the Bamberger Building.”
According to Burbage, there is quite a bit of history to the place, when it comes to the VA Hospital building in East Orange and the old store in downtown Newark. She said she was once a member of the Essex County Tuberculosis League, which used to have meetings there.
“We’re hoping that we can get enough people to represent East Orange,” Burbage said. “We want to rally around the cause. We hope to get veterans to come out, too. There is limited space on the bus leaving from the Senior Citizens Center on Halsted Street, but people can go down on their own if they wish. I would think that veterans especially would be interested in it.”
Orange at large Councilwoman Donna K. Williams, herself a Navy veteran, said she is definitely interested in the VA Hospital being designated a state historic site. The Orange Public Library and post office on Main Street have both been designated historic sites and she said she wouldn’t mind the VA Hospital, which sits on the border between Orange and East Orange, having that designation, too.
“I support it wholeheartedly and I believe it is long overdue,” Williams said Monday, July 17.
East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor, a member of the Historical Society of East Orange who helped Burbage and the organization file the proper paperwork to earn its nonprofit status a few years ago, agreed with Williams.
“The East Orange Veterans Administration Hospital is much more than a historic landmark for our community,” said Taylor on Monday, July 17. “For six decades, this hospital has aided those who bravely served to protect our freedom. By designating the VA as a historic site, the state is officially preserving the rich legacy of care and compassionate service that this facility has provided for those who have sacrificed the most.”
To ride the bus from the East Orange Senior Center down to Trenton, contact East Orange Health and Human Services Department Director JaDonna Johns at 973-266-5465.