Thousands of commuters daily pass through a triangular-shaped plaza as they wait for a bus or use the Grove Street PATH station. Few know much about the history of this small municipal park in the downtown section of Jersey City.
The intersection of today's Newark Avenue, Christopher Columbus Drive, and Grove Street has served as a crossroad for the city since 1841. Known as Grove Plaza, it pulled together the dispersed settled areas in the Van Vorst Township.
Christopher Columbus Drive was originally called Railroad Avenue. It was so named as Jersey City's early railroads ran along this thoroughfare, originally at grade level and subsequently along elevated tracks, which followed the length of the street from the waterfront westward. Today, the PATH train tracks run underground following the same right-of-way of the railroad.
The small park was once the site of a four-story tenement building and the Old Stone House, a tavern owned by a Democratic Party freeholder "Sandy" Clements; it faced Grove Street in the old town of Van Vorst. Cornelius Van Vorst and others found the town in 1841 on the portion of land that had been settled in 1638. It was adjacent to the old Jersey City and extended south to the City Hall area. The town lasted ten years when it joined the municipality of Jersey City.
The Old Stone House, along with the cigar store of Philip Muldoon at Grove Street and Morgan Street, was known as a "political center" of Jersey City in the 1910s. Here Democratic party supporters gathered to hear political boss Robert "Bob" Davis in a room behind the cigar store. Also, a fire alarm was located at the Grove Plaza; it sounded for the "buffaloes" or "men at call," as the volunteers were called, to assist the understaffed fire department. It was removed at the turn of the twentieth century.
Dedicated in 1947, the .13 acre park became the Fitzgerald-Holota Memorial Park. It was named to honor two Jersey City soldiers who were killed in action during World War II. Pvt. William Fitzgerald served with the 141st Infantry of the 38th Division of the US Army and was killed in action in France on October 3, 1944. He was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Good Conduct Medal, and the European Theater ribbon. Sgt. Eugene M. Holota served with the 77th Infantry Division and was killed in action on the Island of Guam on July 24, 1944. He was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, the Expert Infantry Badge, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and posthumously the Purple Heart.
Periodically, the heavily trafficked site requires a facelift. In 1969, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey moved the entrance to the Grove Street station on the triangular property. It added a twenty-five foot flagpole, fences, trees and other greenery to the park that was completed in 1970. The Port Authority participated with Jersey City in the rededication of the renovated park that was a gift to the city.
In 1996 the Van Vorst Alliance, founded in 1992, renovated the park with support from a Green Acres/Green Trust grant of $380,000. The park again was renovated with the construction of Grove Pointe, a 29-story apartment building, near the Grove Street PATH Station on Newark Avenue, completed in 2007.
Cruz, David. "Park Players." The Jersey City Reporter 30 June 1996.
"Dedicated Plaza As Memorial." Jersey Journal 26 May 1947.
"Honor Heroes Sunday at Park, Rich in Memories, Downtown." Jersey Journal 23 May 1947.
"Park Rededicated to War Heroes." Jersey Journal 28 May 1970.