World Premiere Screening of the highly anticipated Documentary Feature Film "Union City, U.S.A." Friday, April 20, 2018 at 7:00 PM at the Union City Performing Arts Center, 2500 Kennedy Boulevard, Union City, NJ. Free Admission.
The documentary feature film "Union City, U.S.A." directed by Lucio Fernandez will have its World Premiere Screening on Friday, April 20, 2018 at 7:00 PM at the Union City Performing Arts Center, 2500 Kennedy Boulevard, Union City, NJ.
The film covers the span of the City's history, from the Lenni Lenape era to present day Union City. A must see for anyone who has ever called Union City home.
Free admission. Free parking at the 23rd Street Municipal Parking Deck located on 23rd Street between Summit & Kerrigan Avenues.
(Image: "La Pasion" 2018 presented at the Union City Performing Arts Center)
The original version of Passion Play to be performed in Union City was “Veronica’s Veil” which debuted in 1914 at the St. Joseph’s Parochial School Auditorium and played annually until 1999 when the school was rebuilt to become Veteran’s Memorial School. Up to that point, “Veronica’s Veil” had been the longest running Passion Play in the US; the distinction later passed on to the production at The Park Theatre.
The production at the Park Theatre, now thelongest running Passion Play in the United States has been performed in North Hudson, New Jersey since 1915 and at the Park Theatre since 1931. The historic Park Theatre was built in 1931-1932 to house the local parish presentation of “The Passion Play”. The play or musical is the story of Christ’s last days on earth, which has been performed in the parish since 1915.
The Passion Play would draw thousands of people to Union City. Buses would line the street dropping of persons wishing to witness the story. With demographics changing in Union City and Hudson County, attendance dwindled.
The new Union City Performing Arts Center, a modern state-of-the-art 1,100-seat theatre located in the recently constructed Union City High School, which offers top-notch performances, responding to demands from a primarily Hispanic christian community decided to produce a Spanish language version. This year the UCPAC will present a lavish new production of the Passion Play in Spanish. This version will be presented annually.
(Image: "La Pasion" 2018 presented at the Union City Performing Arts Center)
the Perpetual Rosarywas erected in 1912 – 1914 and referred by residents in what was then West Hoboken
now Union City as the “The Blue Chapel” because
of its glowing bluestone masonry walls and cool-tinted stained glass memorial
December 21, 1891, the first community of the Dominican Sisters of the
Perpetual Rosary was founded in West Hoboken (Union City), New Jersey. In New
York Harbor, four Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary arrived from France. They
were met by the founder of their cloistered order, Father Damien Marie
Saintourens and proceeded to their new home. The monastery was completed in 1914.
Here the nuns would follow a disciplined routine of household chores and
prayer, based on a schedule known as the Liturgy of the Hours, praying for
those who do not pray. From this first American Monastery of the Perpetual
Rosary, 21 others throughout the nation would rise. Today the Blue Chapel
remains an oasis of tranquility in Union City and a reminder of the City’s rich
Below is a wonderful history written by John Gomez for The Jersey Journal
The Google Earth satellite image of the Convent of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary -- referred to since 1915 by West Hoboken (and now Union City) residents as the "Blue Chapel" because of its glowing bluestone masonry walls and cool-tinted stained glass memorial windows -- appears to be occupied. But it has been vacant since 2009.
From above, through the fixed levitating lens of a Google Earth satellite, the Convent of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary -- referred to since 1915 by West Hoboken (and now Union City) residents as the “Blue Chapel” because of its glowing bluestone masonry walls and cool-tinted stained glass memorial windows -- appears to be occupied.
The elevated grounds, perimetered by plumb pointed trap rock stone walls 15 feet in height, are seemingly maintained. Giant hedge bushels, planted ages ago in a centered convent court outlined above by roofed abbey walkways, are still finely sculpted and manicured. Old growth trees dating back to the early 1890s still forest and shroud the now-endangered architectural monument bounded by Central Avenue on the west, 13th Street on the south, Morris Street on the east and 14th and West streets on the north.
Little can that sacred satellite sense that since 2009, after nearly 120 years of Dominican Order nun occupation, the ornamental iron gates of the closed-off cloister campus have remained locked, save for the daily presence of a property caretaker.
One must be at ground level, at the 14th Street sidewalk entrance, to hear the footstepped echoes still emanating from the abandoned chambers within.
THE HOLLOWS OF TRAPHAGEN STREET
These Blue Chapel grounds are an ancient hollow -- one of the only remaining traces of the once dominant Kerrigan Woods of West Hoboken and Union Hill, two 19th-century cities that merged later in 1925 as Union City.
A statue-lined vista fenced off by steep walls and sharp wire - the piercing peals of the present absorbed and silenced by the aged buildings of a municipal monastery. Time here has been captured - light and architecture are captured, frozen, cocooned. I could be standing on 14th Street in 2011 -- or Traphagen Street in 1891.
Someone -- something -- is watching, be it the eyes of a man-made orbiting lens or the spirits of the departed sisters.
The non-Union City visitor - the historic site stumbler, the urban adventurer, the lover of landmarks -- will ponder the complex at the narrow concrete bourn and ask, What is this solemn place? Who reared its magnificent walls and chapel? Who laid out its idyllic lots with Dominican Order saints perched on pedestals, tucked away in towers? Why here at this precise precipice on the volcanic Palisades ridge?
Staring, pushing through the secured “Ave Maria” fence fired and fixed in place in 1915, asking more: Where are the cloistered sisters who came here so long ago - where have the peeking eyes and inner Gregorian chants gone?
The Google Earth satellite imagery gets it all wrong: the tranquil place is not immortalized on the lot. These memorized masonry walls are surmountable after all. Architecture is adrift here -- images from the past abound and are superimposed with the present. What was snapped-shot by multimillion-dollar technology in 2010 could instead be facsimiles of former moments.
VISIONISTS IN WEST HOBOKEN
Such is the indescribable mysticality of the Blue Chapel. Time here gives way to four French-speaking nuns and a vision-filled priest. I -- anyone -- could be standing there with them as their story and destiny unfold: they wave their arms at the forested property as if conjuring the Gothic Revival structures that will rise there almost 25 years later.
Father Damien Marie Saintourens, O.P. and the four nuns -- two from Rouen, France and two from Louvain, Belgium -- have traveled to America via the steamer Gascogne exactly eleven years after founding the Perpetual Rosary order in the French town of Calais in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France. The Dominican friar’s intent: spreading the preachings and spiritual philosophies of St. Dominic through the cloistered contemplative order of sisters whose apostolate is the constant recitation of the rosary for the sinners of the world.
In Father Saintourens’ eyes, West Hoboken is the perfect spot for this growth - affordable lots and easy accessibility to Manhattan via a newly erected trolley trestle leading from Hoboken to Palisade Avenue.
The potential for growth -- and longevity -- is, however, greater than they can ever realize. After rooming for a few months in a tenement on Hudson Avenue, the ambitious monk and sisters purchase the former Chambon Estates property -- and the ancient ramshackle wooden structures it comes with -- thereby establishing, with the signing of a West Hoboken deed, the first Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary monastery in the country.
We could, even now, see these five pilgrims transforming the estate into a makeshift cloister: reconfiguring buildings into prayer and dormitory rooms, Gothicizing facades, laying out walking paths and gardens for meditation. By 1895, 34 postulate nuns, prioresses and Father Saintourens are occupying the “Mother-House” and adhering to, day after day, around-the-clock, orthodox vows of poverty, chastity and strict obedience to the order.
To support themselves they farm their own organic fruit trees and vegetables. They tend to their ailments with self-taught medicinal treatments. They train and support themselves in the handicrafts of the then-burgeoning Arts & Crafts period: embroidery, sculpture, jewelry, painting. The sisters become skilled artisans and smart merchants in the surrounding West Hoboken community, selling rosary beads, condolence cards and other religious articles.
While they become a self-reliant, self-sustaining order, they seek out the support of the nearby, all-powerful Passionists at the Monastery of St. Michael the Archangel. The priests become both chaplain and protector of the sisters and will assist them in their architectural ambitions later on.
The sisters’ success is derived from their commitment, energy and drive. As a new century turns they branch out to establish cloisters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1897), Catonsville, Maryland (1899), Camden, New Jersey (1900), Buffalo, New York (1905), La Crosse, Wisconsin (1909) and various cities in Canada and the West Indies.
And as 1912 arrives the sisters find it necessary to expand and add on to their own house. With the financial help of the public, they will erect a vernacular convent and chapel complex on their 1.3 acre campus, gifting West Hoboken (and the future Union City) with its greatest architectural landmark - a landmark now silenced and threatened with erasure.
The Blue Chapel's rich stained glass memorial windows are extraordinary examples of the Munich School style and were crafted by the Leo P. Frohe Art Glass Works of Buffalo. The Sacred Heart, Dominican saints and the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary are all depicted in triptych and lancet panels located in the north nave wall, clerestories, chancel and choir. Photo by Andrew Blaize Bovasso
This distinct Catholic history continues to willingly unfold at the Blue Chapel site as I trace its rustic landscape, explore its graveled grounds, contemplate its uncertain future, walk with the imaged spirits of its founders.
Grottoes -- some sacked and barely discernible in the shadows, others perfectly intact with glowing statues of Dominican Order saints -- are greened and glazed by moss-mud and gripping poisonous vines. Ivy patches and great overhanging tree branches densify the paved and pebbled grounds. Gated pathways and stepped courts, well-worn by decades of gentle footsteps, traverse the blue convent walls and lead into a labyrinthine landscape of leaf-layered cavities and alcoves. A museum-like series of statues are galleried across the courts. Graves edge the elevated perimeters in inadvertent pockets. A central cemetery lies along the Morris Street wall. Leaning sun sheds, solitary clothing line poles, hand-built barbecue huts, stone seats, heaps of leaves - all still ring with the presence of the departed sisters.
But I am drawn most to two massive cornerstones -- an architectural enigma that also unravels at every time-cross-dissolved step.
One is etched with the year 1912, marking the construction of the convent dormitory. The other block glows with 1914, informing us that the chapel addition was started slightly after. Two highlighted years, I see, and yet one defining moment in October 1915 when both are unveiled simultaneously to the public.
Designed by Buffalo-based architect Henry Spann and contracted by Michael T. Connelly of Jersey City, the costly u-shaped Gothic Revival cloister complex -- $175,000 in total, all raised by chapel store sales and public donations -- is built of specification bluestone and terra cotta trimming. Each stone trap rock block is a memorial, a purchased prayer of perpetuity and penance. The names of the dead and their donors are etched between the mortar, hidden from view.
Staring at the cornerstones, I can almost see it: nearly 800 people gathering into the Ave Maria Chapel on October 23, 1915 for the blessing and dedication of the conjoined convent and chapel in its entirety, from deep basement to high rooftop, by Bishop John J. O’Connor. Above, glowing even now in a towering flèche coming out of the nave, an electrically illuminated statue of the Virgin Mary donated by Mrs. B. Holmes of Hoboken.
“The procession was led by six little girls, dressed to symbolize angels, and four little boys, who acted as pages...” observes a reporter in 1915. “Bishop O’Connor was highly pleased when 4-year-old Frances Markay, of Charles Street, West Hoboken, presented him with a beautiful bouquet of roses before he left the convent.”
Seminal image-filled words that pull me into the inner Blue Chapel sanctum where echoes -- some ancient, others of the present -- still resonate.
I pierce a shallow wood-worked vestibule that leads into a seated parlor reception area. Immediately, from this 1915 center point, this waiting room, the chapel’s sister-watched spatiality becomes evident.
This Blue Chapel is the revived architecture of the French medieval monastery - drenched in darkness, floor-planned with cavernous chambers, cellars, closets, corridors. Windows and transom lights are screened off. Surrounding doors, labeled with directional placards, are shut tight. Hallways and stairways fade into a lingering pitched shadow-fog. All is shadows and silence.
“A lattice divides the room,” another reporter observes at the dedication ceremony and public inspection. “On one side the visitor may be seated on a chair and through the small opening of the lattice work, about four inches square, may converse with the sister seated on the other side. This is the only means of communication with those who have taken the veil...All conversations are held in an undertone.”
Entering the chapel area, I see -- I imagine -- the actual 1915 crowd, now packed into the chapel. Their presence concludes a two-week public inspection -- a dispensation - initiated in early October in preparation for the dedication and the official sisters’ enclosure where, afterward, no layperson will be permitted to view their habited faces or cross over into the convent’s communal depths.
The sanctum is vaulted at the top. A mosaic crucifix reredos adorns the altar. Recessed apsidal alcoves pulsing with animated shrines line the north nave wall. Decorations by the famed Rambusch Decorating Company, including brass railings, sanctuary lamps and gold-leaf crown heraldic patterns, are abundant throughout. Stained glass memorial windows crafted in the Munich School style by the Leo P. Frohe Art Glass Works of Buffalo depict, in triptych panels, the Sacred Heart, Dominican saints and the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.
I infiltrate the abandoned depths of the convent through an expansive choir chamber flanked by more large memorial window lancets and hanging lamps. Industrial and medical rooms and corridor divides transition into the three-story, 51-room dormitory. Climbing upward, my steps releasing trend-creaks and banister rasps, I enter a once-closed region of architectural echoes and lingering primordial light. The convent rattles with wind. Chimes ring out in unseen corridors. All is lit by shafts of sunlight.
Across three floors, at each landing, over fifty doors shoot down in a pointed perspective. The rooms, each a narrow cell lit by a single Gothic window, are blocked by upturned beds, desks, chairs. Dust is accrued across the sagging threshold. Rain water leaks down freely through compromised plaster walls. Rosary bead parts lay scattered like spilled salts. Sleepy-eyed statuettes are left atop tables. Heavy crucifixes are innumerably pinned to walls. A cloistered open-air abbey runs across the convent wings high above. Below, a classic medieval cloister courtyard, squared off by a screened mint-green subway tiled abbey, centered by a large statue of the Virgin Mary.
I hurry back to the chapel. The dedication event is ending. The West Hoboken residents file out into the municipal void. Like a lost nitrate film, a fading to black occurs - or it could be that the hourglass measuring my visit expires under the coppered light of dusk.
But before leaving, the silent, slow-motioned bishop carries out a final astounding act. With the turning of his long staff, under the glow of mosaic and metal, he ceremoniously locks the convent and chapel for eternity -- effectively transforming the exposed edifice into a private monument, a surreptitious sanctuary meant not for public peering ever again.
With that locking, architecture pulls itself away from public eyes and sacrifices itself to the shadowed veil of the sisters.
Outside it is now 2009 -- and the Blue Chapel, after 118 years, has been decommissioned, vacated, orphaned. By the early fall, the last few sisters of the Union City mother house are gone.
The next year arrives. Preservationists in Union City, frustrated with a municipal government that has a terrible preservation track record, submit an application to the non-profit, Trenton-based Preservation New Jersey, in the hopes that the Blue Chapel will be added to its 2010 Most Endangered Historic Sites register.
For a brief moment, the landmark is on the lips of the public. Suggestions for adaptive reuse -- a home for the aged, a school, condominiums -- are put forth.
But ownership is not clear. People ask: who is in charge of the Blue Chapel’s fate? Who will determine development plans? The deed, they claim, lists the Society of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary as owners. Others say the true proprietor is the Newark Archdiocese. Still some surmise that the Manhattan-based Dominican Order can lay claim and no one else.
In truth, in the larger preservation picture, the question of ownership is irrelevant. Union City itself will decide what happens to the Blue Chapel.
Recently, in a generous though missed-the-mark gesture, the city ceremoniously declared the site a city landmark. Everyone knows that that is not a binding protective designation and could be challenged and overturned in court.
A progressive city needs a preservation ordinance with legal oversight and regulatory powers. Why Union City does not have a real historic commission is beyond comprehension.
The Blue Chapel is Union City’s greatest preservation opportunity. From this precious monument can come an inner-city pastoral park oasis, an enriching cultural site, a civic amenity unlike any other.
The biggest mistake would be to allow developers to dictate reuse - or decide on demolition.
Pulling back, I walk past the elevated walls of the Blue Chapel. The tops of the site’s old growth trees bend and sing with leaf-whirs.
Reaching Palisade Avenue, I catch the flèche flickering within, candle-like, with the green efflorescing glint of a half-obscured statue.
Circa-1913 photo of the Rev. Father Damien Marie Saintourens, O. P. In 1880 Father Saintourens founded the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in the French town of Calais, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France. By 1891 he and four nuns - two from Rouen, France and two from Louvain, Belgium - were in America to establish a "Mother-House" in West Hoboken, New Jersey (now part of Union City). The Dominican friar's intent: to spread the preachings and spiritual philosophies of St. Dominic through the cloistered contemplative order of sisters whose apostolate is the constant recitation of the rosary for the sinners of the world. The Catholic Church in the United States of America, Vol. II, The Religious Communities of Women, 1913. The Preservation Papers, Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy Architecture & Historic Preservation Collection, The New Jersey Room, Jersey City Free Public Library. - John Gomez, M.S. Historic Preservation, Columbia University
Circa-1913 photo of the Convent of the Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary, Traphagen Street, West Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1891, Father Saintourens and four Dominican sisters purchased the former Chambon Estates property bounded by Traphagen Street (now 14th Street), Hill Street (now 13th Street), Morris Street, West Street and Central Avenue. The 1.3 acre site, once part of the fabled Kerrigan Woods, came with ancient ramshackle wooden structures that were transformed into a makeshift Gothicized cloister (above photo). By 1895, 34 postulate nuns, prioresses and Father Saintourens were occupying the "Mother-House" and adhering to around-the-clock, orthodox vows of poverty, chastity and strict obedience to the order. As the 20th century dawned, the West Hoboken monastery branched out to establish cloisters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1897), Catonsville, Maryland (1899), Camden, New Jersey (1900), Buffalo, New York (1905), La Crosse, Wisconsin (1909) and various cities in Canada and the West Indies. The West Hoboken sisters, however, found it necessary to expand and add on to their own house. With the financial help of the public, they were able to unveil a substantial bluestone convent and chapel complex on their picturesque campus, gifting West Hoboken (and the future Union City) with its greatest architectural landmark - a landmark now silenced and threatened with total erasure. The Catholic Church in the United States of America, Vol. II, The Religious Communities of Women, 1913. The Preservation Papers, Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy Architecture & Historic Preservation Collection, The New Jersey Room, Jersey City Free Public Library. - John Gomez, M.S. Historic Preservation, Columbia University
For well over a century the Blue Chapel's population of Dominican sisters was revered and beloved by the surrounding community. Of all, however, Sister Mary of the Compassion, O.P. (1908-1977) stood out for her artistic brilliance. Born in London in 1908, the former Constance Mary Rowe studied at the Clapham School of Art and the Royal College of Art before winning the internationally prestigious Prix de Rome. In 1937 she journeyed to Union City to enter the Dominican cloister -- for life. While there, she painted Catholic art canvases that found their way into monasteries, museums and private collections across the country. Later in life she turned to the handicrafts, including smithmaking, in order to help her fellow sisters raise much-needed funds. Phyllis Liguori, a Union City resident, befriended Sister Mary in the early 1970s and helped curate an exhibit of her latest art work. As a token of her appreciation and their friendship, Sister Mary crafted a stunning gold and jade ring that she called The Loaves and Fishes. "To this day I treasure this ring," says Phyllis. Photo credit: The Dominican Province of Saint Joseph, The Order of Preachers, www.op-stjoseph.org. -- John Gomez, M.S. Historic Preservation, Columbia University
For many decades from the late nineteenth century to the last decades of the twentieth century, the embroidery and lace manufacturing industry was the dominant business of Union City and North Hudson County. Although all but gone from Union City, the impact that the embroidery industry had on the development of the City is not forgotten. A banner stretches across an overpass in Union City above the NJ 495 roadway. It proclaims,Union City “The Home Of The American Embroidery Industry.” The Schiffli embroidery symbol is featured on the Union City seal, adopted in 1975. And May 30, 2014 saw the dedication of Embroidery Plaza on New York Avenue & 30th Street in Union City.
Embroidery business’s had existed in West Hoboken and Union Hill since the 1860’s, run by skilled Swiss, German, Italian and French artisans. Embroidery at that time, the mid-nineteenth century was all done by hand or manually operated machines. It was in the early 1870’s when Issac Groebli of Switzerland invented the first practical Schiffli Embroidery machine. This machine was based on the principles of the newly invented sewing machine. Groebli’s machine utilized the combination of a continuously threaded needle and shuttle containing a bobbin of thread. The shuttle itself looked similar to the hull of a sailboat. “Schiffli means “little boat” in the Swiss dialect of the German language, so his machine came to be known as a schiffli machine. The machine, powered by electricity, allowed for the mass- production of fine embroidered silks. Dr. Robert Reiner of Weehawken, a German immigrant who came to America in 1903, was the person most responsible for bringing the schiffli embroidery industry to Union City. He realized the potential for embroidery and became the American Agent of a German company that manufactured schiffli machines. Then began the mass importation of embroidery machines to northern New Jersey. Hundreds of Austrian, Swiss, and German immigrants, many in West Hoboken and Union Hill, became the manufacturers of schiffli embroidery. Many of the names of the Silk Mills still hold a familiar ring. The Schwarzenbach, Huber & Co. Silk Mills, Givernaud Brothers’ Silk Mills, De Poli Silk Mills, and the R. & H. Simon Silk Mills. From West Hoboken to Union Hill these and many other Silk Mills brought employment and prosperity to early Union City.
Many other factors contributed that made Union City the ideal place for the embroidery industry. First, was its location directly across the Hudson River from New York City and its garment district. Second, was the solid bedrock of the Palisades to which the five- ton to eight-ton machines were anchored by twenty-foot shafts, in order to keep the needles from vibrating. Third, the bustling shipping ports and railroads on both sides of the Hudson River, that until the 1950’s, were the main ways to transport goods across the country and overseas. Fourth, was the large labor force of skilled and unskilled workers employed by the silk mills. Whether employed in one of the areas silk mills or doing “piecework” for the mills at home, the embroidery industry employed thousands of people, many of them first-generation-immigrants. From the early German and Swiss immigrants of the late 1800’s, to the Italian immigrants of the early 1900’s, and the Cuban immigrants fleeing the oppressive regime of communist Cuba in the 1960’s and 1970’s, they all found employment in the Silk Mills of Union City, giving them the opportunity to succeed in America.
"The Embroy" Sculpture
Perhaps the most enduring legacy to the embroidery industry in Union City was seen at the dedication of the Embroidery Plaza. Many of those in attendance were the children and grandchildren of those first-generation immigrants. Most of them leading successful lives as doctors, lawyers, educators, and artists. They stood there in the sunset with smiles on their faces remembering their immigrant ancestors and the opportunity that was given to them by the silk embroidery industry in Union City.