By Lawrence Krayn
Weequahic, a part of Newark’s South Ward, is a historic and beautiful neighborhood that is still evolving.
Poised atop a monumental hill which serves as the tee box for Weequahic Park Golf Course’s 11th hole, I’ve often lost my sense of place. At times, I’ve not been cognizant of being surrounded by one of the nation’s busiest airports, a myriad of crowded high-rises, and an arterial network of busy highways. Looking out at a sprawling landscape of hilly lawn, robust trees, and a placid lake, the only thing that might remind anyone of their location in that spot is Manhattan’s Freedom Tower. Often appearing as a dreamy monolith only slightly obstructed by a humid haze on summer days, it remains consistently visible.
After a rare well-executed drive down the fairway or a more frequent slice into the trees, one rides their golf cart into a small valley, and from just above the banks of Weequahic Lake, can catch a panoramic view of Downtown Newark’s skyline. The bustle of New Jersey’s largest city seems a world away from there, but by the time you overshoot the green and end up hacking out of wild fescue near the outer fence, you’ll quickly become re-oriented. There, you’ll encounter the sounds of organized sports competitions, the low hum of bass lines playing from car speakers, and conversations taking place in all directions.
For regulars, like my longtime golf partner Jason Vreeland who makes a habit of memorizing the layouts of Jersey golf courses, this is common knowledge. For many though, it comes as quite a surprise that there is an 18-hole golf course completely within Newark’s city limits. What might also surprise some of those people, is that only a short distance from the industrial areas of Frelinghuysen Avenue and Route 22, Newark Liberty International Airport, and the port of Newark/Elizabeth, tucked away amidst hills and trees, lies one of the region’s most aesthetically pleasing urban neighborhoods.
Weequahic, derived from the Lenape word “wee-qua-chick”, or “head of the cove”, is rumored to have been an important junction for the area’s indigenous inhabitants, a borderland between the Hackensack and Raritan bands of the fabled tribe. It is the beloved childhood neighborhood of author Phillip Roth, oft referenced in his works. Emerging from beneath the route 78 overpass traversing a right turn on Elizabeth Avenue, one leaves a dusty industrial world and enters a residential urban space which feels like a city within and apart from the city to which it belongs. There are hills and green areas split off in varying directions. There are large single family homes of elegant and timeless stature interspersed amongst towering high-rise apartment buildings of art deco and postmodern design. There is a certain bustle of yellow cabs, traffic lights, and pedestrians amongst the aesthetic that’s reminiscent of Manhattan’s East Side, near the area of York Ave. and 68th St.
Goldsmith Avenue features two rows of beautifully maintained homes separated by a grass median. The considerably large and unique homes in this area project the same wealthy history as North Newark’s Forest Hill neighborhood. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Both neighborhoods sit next to parks designed by the Olmsted brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed visionary behind New York’s Central Park. Still, it is not a secret that Weequahic has faced it’s share of unique challenges. Divestment in the area was pronounced in the latter half of the 20th century, and some of the neighborhood’s high rises have been the source of problems.
Despite these issues, Weequahic continues to thrive as a neighborhood, generating local pride and community engagement. Recent improvements to the park include a new community center and revamped athletic facilities. Organized football practices and basketball games seem to be going on day and night, while Newarkers from across the region keep the walking track, with scenic views of the lake, in constant use.
Weequahic is expected to thrive well into the future on a grand scale. Plans for a PATH station and the recent announcement of a Lions Gate film studio to be constructed in nearby Dayton will be boons for residents and stakeholders, generating renewed investment and a continued interest in the area. A high rise formerly referred to as Carmel Towers is being renovated into luxury apartments, to be dubbed The Essex Lake House, which will overlook the park.
For the golf course’s part, it is the oldest public course in New Jersey, having been designed by George Low, a professional at the prestigious and exclusive Baltusrol Golf Club, in 1913. It opened in 1914 as a 9-hole course. It was expanded to 18 holes in 1969 and underwent further renovations in the early aughts. The course has been captured on vintage film from the 1920’s, viewable here at the 15 minute mark.
For me, it’s a serene oasis of urban escape and duffer frustration. It’s my home course, and one where I know my club selection by heart. Whether a seasoned veteran or a beginner to the sport, I invite you to come experience a prime example of Newark’s hidden splendor in the heart of one of it’s most timeless neighborhoods. We’ll pause at the 11th hole, and briefly lose track of where we are.
Lawrence Krayn Jr. is a Newark resident and lifelong New Jerseyian. He graduated from Rutgers University-Newark with a B.A. degree in Political Science and received his J.D. at Rutgers Law School-Newark. A practicing attorney by day, Larry spends much of his spare time engaging in creative projects. He sees Newark as a vibrant hub for the arts, and is an avid fan of various local creators. He has been a musician for many years under the moniker “IL Lusciato”, and hosts a weekly live podcast on current events, entitled “The Logic and Larry Podcast”. Whether fiction or non-fiction, his writing is heavily influenced by his immediate surroundings and his own life experiences.
Featured photo by Lawrence Krayn