Signage is in place at the historic National Bank building in Blackwood announcing it as the future site of the Gloucester Township Community and Arts Centre.
The Township of Gloucester expects the bank at the corner of Black Horse Pike and Church St to become a community center 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 city is planning a complete remodeling of the interior and exterior of the building, bringing aspects of the front facade closer to the original!
The flexible floor plan is designed so the space can be used for a variety of events; theater in the round, temporary art exhibitions by local artists, event and conference hall, family cinema and other community events.
As part of the full project, the white building next to the bank will be demolished to make way for parking.
Additional parking is located across the street in the Rite-Aid lot, where the locations closest to Harwan Park are considered public parking.
Back to the future!
As mentioned, the Township of Gloucester is carrying out a comprehensive refurbishment with plans to restore much of the bank’s original front facade.
The bank building is over 100 years old and was built in 1911.
My research of newspaper articles in the area from the time refers to the bank as Blackwood National Bank, but it appears it was also known as First National Bank.
The structure will be one of the most beautiful buildings of its type that can be found.
Blackwood National Bank Board of Directors – Courier-Post May 1911
A 1929 Courier-Post article shows that the building originally had a “taller” entrance with columns and exterior steps.
Today there are no columns. The upper part of the entrance has been filled in to be flat across. and the lower door entry is a protruding 1980s glass and metal box.
But the township of Gloucester will regain this original status of “most beautiful building”!
Most bank buildings of the early 1900s were built with this large, tall columned entrance. And Blackwood had that… for about 20 years.
The change in the bank’s facade began 90 years ago with the widening of Black Horse Pike. Several businesses were going to be impacted and for the bank this meant reducing the front facade.
The need for this was due to a few factors.
First, in the early 1930s Blackwood was a booming town for new owners and shops with many visitors.
Cars were becoming more and more common in American homes and roads.
And the Black Horse Pike was becoming a major road in South Jersey. He was lying in Atlantic City. Of course, Route 42 and the Atlantic City Expressway didn’t exist in 1930.
So it was a big project at the time… a 1930s version of our “Direct Connection”!
Not only has Black Horse Pike been widened, but major junctions have been improved and intersections enlarged to accommodate car and truck turns.
The widening project was so big 90 years ago that it looks like for the Presbyterian cemetery opposite they had to move the graves!
(Did you notice the cut angled corner of the graveyard at the intersection? Although I can’t locate an old image or map to confirm, but my “gut” tells me the notch was removed for widening roadways. But I digress)
Well, the good news for today is that a render provided by Gloucester Township in their newsletter shows that they are planning to bring back some of that original exterior look!
The 1980s metal and glass entrance will be removed.
There are currently two square stone columns framing the entrance. They will remain, but the space between them will be cleared as it was not original.
And two columns will be added inside the stone pillars.
The render even shows a clock atop the peaked roof!
The upgraded look and interior and exterior renovation should really help create the community centerpiece the town is looking for in Blackwood!
Funding for Blackwood Town Center Improvements
I saw notices of different grants announced this year for Gloucester Township, which really caught my eye on this story.
Blackwood’s old town center has been on the road to revitalization for decades.
There are definitely bright spots! Holy Tomato Pizza is a very popular restaurant located near the bank building (the new parking lot will be next to it).
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 city investing in the neighborhood with the hopes of bringing it back… looking for unique ideas and funding sources to help facilitate positive growth.
I honestly wouldn’t normally delve into city project finance, but the Gloucester Township “GT Works” newsletter highlighted the purchase, plans and cost of acquisition including the subsidies. So I will summarize here.
- $200,000 NJDCA Community Capital Needs Grant
- $129,000: Acquisition of building
- $71,000: Rebuild
- $25,000: Assistance for the renovation of the exterior facade; Neighborhood Preservation Program
We are extremely grateful to receive the grant from NJDCA. The historic bank building is located right in the heart of downtown Blackwood in a highly visible area. The Gloucester Township Community and Arts Center Project will serve as a catalyst project to solidify revitalization efforts in the district. Without this funding, the Township of Gloucester would not be able to make further investments to make this project a reality.
Gloucester 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 that the township is contributing more than $400,000 to the project, along with county and federal government contributions.
The acquisition of the adjacent white building is listed as “in addition, the Township is funding the acquisition and demolition of the adjacent building…” so it is not clear to me if this is included in the funding listed.
The newsletter goes on to describe additional improvements to the Black Horse Pike Arts district, including a rehabilitation of Harwan Park with lighting upgrades, landscaping upgrades and a new LED sign.
Harwan Park offers a weekly Farmer’s Market this year.
Also on the plans are new “blade panels”, a mural near the cemetery, and other improvements to the building’s facade.
Links and locations
Gloucester Township Community and Arts Center (under development)
3S Black Horse Pike
Gloucester Township Arts District Nuclear power plant website
GT Works August 18, 2022 (PDF)
GT Works June 30, 2022 (PDF)
GT works Home page: