Signage is in place at the historic Blackwood National Bank building announcing it as the Future Site of the Gloucester Township Community & Arts Center.
Gloucester Township is expecting the bank at the corner of Black Horse Pike and Church St to become a community hub for the Gloucester Township Arts District in Downtown Blackwood.
It will become a “shared space” where Gloucester Township residents and non-profit entities (such as the Library and Mainstage) can hold events there.
The town plans a full interior and exterior remodel of the building, bringing the front façade aspects back closer to the original!
The flexible floorplan is designed so the space can be used for a variety of events; theatre-in-the-round, temporary art exhibits from local artists, event and lecture hall, family movie theater and other community events.
As part of the full project, the white building next to the bank will be demolished to make room for parking.
Additional parking is located across the street in the Rite-Aid lot, where the spots closest to the Harwan Park are considered public parking.
Back To The Future!
As mentioned Gloucester Township is doing a full remodel with plans to restore much of the bank’s original front façade.
The bank building is over 100 years old, being built in 1911.
My research in area newspaper articles from the time refers to the bank as the Blackwood National Bank, but seems it was also known as a First National Bank.
The structure will be one of the most handsome buildings of its kind to be found anywhere.Board of Directors of Blackwood National Bank – Courier-Post May 1911
A 1929 Courier-Post article shows the building originally had a “grander” front entrance with columns and exterior steps.
Today there are no columns. The top portion of the entrance has been filled in to be flat going across. and the lower doorway entrance is a protruding 1980s era metal and glass box.
But Gloucester Township will be bring back that original “most handsome building” status!
Most bank buildings from the early 1900s were built with that large grand column entrance. And Blackwood’s had that… for about 20 years.
The change to the bank façade started 90 years ago when the Black Horse Pike was being widened. Several businesses were going to be impacted and for the bank this meant cutting back the front façade.
The need for this was a few factors.
First, in the early 1930s Blackwood was a booming town for new homeowners and shops with many visitors.
Cars were becoming more common in American homes and roadways.
And the Black Horse Pike was becoming a major South Jersey roadway. It was being extended to Atlantic City. Of course Route 42 and the Atlantic City Expressway did not exist in 1930.
So this was a big deal project back then… a 1930s version of our “Direct Connection”!
Not only was the Black Horse Pike widened, but key cross roads where upgraded and intersections made larger to support turning cars and trucks.
So important was the widening project 90 years ago that it seems for the Presbyterian cemetery across the street, they had to relocate graves!
(Have you noticed the angled corner cut out of the cemetery at the intersection? While I could not located an old image or map to confirm but my “gut” is telling me that notch was removed for the widening of the roadways. But I digress)
Well the good news for today is a rendering provided by Gloucester Township in their newsletter shows that they plan on bringing back some of that original exterior look!
The 1980s bumped out metal and glass entrance will be removed.
There are currently two square stone columns framing the entrance. They will stay, but the space between them will be cleared out as it was not original.
And two columns will be added on the inside of the stone piers.
The rendering even shows a clock at the top of the peaked roof!
The upgraded look and fresh remodel inside and out really should help create the community centerpiece the town is looking for in Blackwood!
Downtown Blackwood Improvement Funding
I’ve been seeing notices of different grants being announced this year for Gloucester Township, which is really what grabbed my attention to this story.
The old Blackwood downtown has been on a path to revitalization for decades.
There are definitely bright spots! Holy Tomato Pizza is a very popular restaurant located close to the bank building (the new parking lot will be next to them).
I also recently featured Mystic Ginger Organic Hair Studio and Herbal Apothecary who did an amazing job remodeling an older building.
So it’s definitely a work in progress but it’s encouraging to see the town investing into the district with hopes of bringing it back… looking at unique ideas and funding sources to help facilitate positive growth.
Honestly I normally wouldn’t delve into town project funding but Gloucester Township newsletter “GT Works” highlighted the purchase, plans and cost to acquire including grants.. so I’ll summarize here.
- $200,000 NJDCA Community Capital Needs Grant
- $129,000 : Building acquisition
- $71,000 : Reconstruction
- $25,000 : External Facade Renovation Assistance; Neighborhood Preservation Program
We are extremely grateful to receive the grant from NJDCA. The historical bank building is located in the very heart of the Downtown Blackwood in a highly visible area. The proposed Gloucester Township Community and Arts Center will serve as a catalyst project to solidify the revitalization efforts in the district. Without this funding Gloucester Township would not be able to realize other investments to make this project a realityGloucester Township Mayor, David Mayer
They then list “approximately $550,000 in additional funding from various Federal, State and local sources will go towards this project.”
The August GT Works newsletter adds the Township is contributing over $400,000 to the project, as well as County and Federal contributions
The acquisition of the adjacent white building is listed as “in addition, the Township is funding the acquisition and demolition of the the adjacent building…” so it’s not clear to me if that is included in the listed funding.
The newsletter continues on the describe additional upgrades to the Black Horse Pike Arts district including a rehab of the Harwan Park with lighting improvements, landscaping upgrades and a new LED sign.
Harwan Park has been featuring a weekly farmer’s market this year.
Also on the plans are new “blade signs”, a mural over near the cemetery and other building façade improvements.
Links and Locations
Gloucester Township Community And Arts Center (under development)
3 S Black Horse Pike
Gloucester Township Arts District NPP Website
GT Works August 18, 2022 (PDF)
GT Works June 30, 2022 (PDF)
GT Works Main Page: