By ROBIN WOODS
For Montclair Local
For one afternoon, Montclair became Montechiaro (Clear Mountain in Italian) at the Van Vleck House & Gardens, 21 Van Vleck St., for an event titled “From Montclair to Montechiaro: Discovering Italy in the Local Architecture.”
The June 9 event began with a lecture by decorative arts historian Kathleen Bennett, and architect Frank Gerard Godlewski, and included a bus tour, and a musical performance by tenor Sandro Naglia and pianist David Witten, professor at the Cali School of Music at Montclair State University.
About 80 people attended the events. Teresa Fiore, the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies at Montclair State University, worked for almost a year to plan and organize this event, in conjunction with Montclair’s Historic Preservation Commission. This was the first off-campus event for the department, with more lectures and concerts planned for the future.
The lecture listed some of the strong Italian elements in Montclair architecture.
Bennett, a Montclair State University alumna who is also chairperson of the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission, and Godlewski presented background information, slides and photos showing design influences from ancient to contemporary Italy. The Van Vleck House, they said, is an Italianate villa designed by Joseph Van Vleck in 1916. A Montclair resident with a firm in New York City, Van Vleck also designed the Deron and Hillside schools and the George Innes Annex of Montclair High School. The amphitheater at MHS was influenced by Greek and Roman ruins he had seen in Italy.
After the lecture, a one-hour coach bus tour took attendees to see many of the Italian-inspired homes, from the Llewellyn Park area of West Orange, where Thomas Edison lived, to Stonebridge Road homes. Montclair’s first female mayor, Mary Veronica Mochary, lived in
“Stone Eagles,” at 60 Undercliff Road. The Highlawn Pavilion in Eagle Rock Reservation is a Florentine structure with a redeveloped Casino building. “Casino” is the Italian word for a country villa with a pavilion.
Traveling back downtown to the Pine Street Historic District, guests saw the area where many Italian immigrants settled in apartment buildings and attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church.
Once back at Van Vleck, Fiore spoke of Montclair State University as an active center of Italian culture where students learn the language and study its artistic past. “I am fascinated by the beauty of the area and Montclair’s association with Italy,” she said. “It pays homage to the immigrant community which helped build the town.” In 2017, Aquilonia, Italy, was named a Montclair Sister City.
Godlewski said he was excited about Fiore’s coming to Montclair, since he had lived and studied in Italy. “I lived there for 24 years and the homes we saw are like a time capsule taken from Italy in the 1800s to New Jersey,” he said.
Tenor Sandro Naglio performed songs in Italian, accompanied at the piano by David Witten, of the Cali School of Music, while guests enjoyed Italian aperitivos (light refreshments) and toasts of Prosecco in the beautiful outdoor garden area.
Mayor Robert Jackson, who lives in the southernmost part of town, said he learned about the depth and breadth of architecture in town. “I saw buildings that I never knew about while on the bus tour, and the many influences of Aquilonia, where I traveled a few years ago.”