The Society Hill condominium complex, at Droyers Point, is located at the southwest section of Greenville along Newark Bay. It became an example of middle-class residential waterfront construction in an urban environment built in the 1990s.
An Airport Proposal
The isolated reclaimed land of Droyers Point was not considered for development until the late 1920s, when the site was leased by Jersey City for the proposed Jersey City Airport. The prospect for an airport in Jersey City came about after the transatlantic flights of Charles Lindbergh and the interest of a little-known transatlantic aviator Clarence D. Chamberlin in 1927. Chamberlin came into Jersey City to advance the new air travel industry with his airplane manufacturing plant and flight school, known as Crescent Aircraft Corporation, at Droyers Point. Chamberlin became a representative of the Jersey City Chamber of Congress and was named manager of the airport project.
The future of the airport became a victim of the Depression, but the site was soon slated for a new project. To create jobs for its struggling working class, Jersey City's Mayor Frank Hague (1917-1947) applied for federal funds under the Civil Works Administration and Works Progress Administration available from the New Deal program of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Under the terms of the grant program, the money received could not be used for the purchase of property; to obtain the grant, the city had to contribute the land for a development project. According to the mayor, the only city-owned property available at the time was Droyers Point, and the best use of the site was the construction of a municipal sports stadium. He claimed that the stadium would be a self-sufficient operation and employ 250 men on a seasonal basis, while the existing airport would eventually be a financial liability to the city.
Sports Complex Makes History
Mayor Hague's decision led to the construction of Roosevelt Stadium, named for President Roosevelt, its benefactor. Considered the best minor league baseball park of the time, the Art Deco style stadium, designed by architect Christian H. Ziegler, was constructed of steel and concrete and opened in 1937.
Of all of the events held at Roosevelt Stadium, the most historic was undoubtedly the debut of Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 18, 1946. The 27-year old Robinson broke the "color line" in professional baseball when he stepped into the batter's box, his first game in organized baseball. Brooklyn Dodger president Branch Rickey had signed up Robinson six months earlier amidst much controversy. A college football and track star, Robinson had played one season with the Kansas City Monarchs of the National Negro League. Rickey sent Robinson to the Dodgers' Montreal team, the Royals, where he played second base. In 1947 began his career in major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers for whom he played second base until his retirement in 1956.
Sports fans recall other noteworthy events at the Roosevelt Stadium. The Brooklyn Dodgers played seven games at the stadium in 1956 and 1957. It was used by the local schools and colleges for sports and graduations. New Jersey City University (former Jersey City State College) began its football program there in 1966 before it built the Thomas M. Gerrity Sports Complex at the adjacent Tidelands. St. Peter's Prep and Dickinson High School held their Thanksgiving Day Classic football game there for many years.
In the 1950s, attendance began to falter at the sports stadium. As a result, different events were scheduled at the stadium after the 1960s--rock concerts, professional wrestling, ice skating, drum and bugle corps competitions, and meetings of the Jehovah Witnesses. The Allman Brothers, Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, Tony Bennett, Grateful Dead, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, among other performers, used the stadium. An ice skating rink became a popular winter attraction at the stadium, but it cost more to maintain the facility than the incoming revenue.
Roosevelt Stadium fell into disuse in the 1970s and demolition began in 1984. This once again left Droyers Point available for economic development. The K. Hovnanian Companies of Red Bank, NJ, took on the task of eventually building a 1,176-unit condominium on 90 acres of the site for $150 million. The project was delayed some five years due to the finding of chromium-contaminated soil on 28 acres that reduced the scale of the project.
On April 14, 1989, Jersey City Mayor Anthony R. Cucci (1985-1989) conducted the groundbreaking ceremony for the Society Hill. He commented, as reported by Victor E. Sasson of The Record, that "The contaminated soil is separated from the building site by a wall that is sunk 16 feet into the ground. . . . the soil has been sealed . . . . The cost for the work, expected to total $8 million, will be shared by the developer and the city redevelopment agency" (16 April 1989). It was explained that the presence of the contaminants came from local chrome-manufacturing plants in the 1950s.
The gated community of Society Hill today includes a mix of town houses and apartments of one, two or three bedrooms; they are located on streets named Juniper, Alder, Holly, Walnut, Dogwood, Cedar, Cherry, Hemlock, Locust, Redwood, and Birch. The units sold for prices starting at $95,000. The complex features a marina, swimming pools, tennis courts, waterfront gazebo and club houses. A waterfront walkway at Society Hill is part of the proposed Hackensack RiverWalk along the Westside of Hudson County.
On April 17, 1996, the Hovnanian corporation placed a plaque in the gazebo at Society Hill to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening game of baseball at Roosevelt Stadium since the end of World War II and Jackie Robinson's landmark entry into baseball history on April 18, 1946, in Jersey City. The plaque reads: "His leadership and grit changed baseball and deeply influenced public opinion. He bore freedom's torch to serve family, sport, business, government and family" (quoted in Sterling 18 April 1996).
Borsky, Frank. "Park of an Era Will Fall with Roosevelt Stadium." New York Times 1 July 1984.
"Chamberlin Acquires Plant in Jersey City." New York Times 15 September 1928.
"Chamber Is Sales Head." New York Times 9 April 1931.
"Chamberlin Plan Put in Receivership." New York Times 15 August 1930.
Garrabine, Rachelle. "From Minor League to a Major Project." New York Times 14 May 1989.
"Jersey City Leases Ground for Airport." New York Times 9 May 1929.
"Jersey City to Get WPA Stadium Fund." New York Times 26 September 1935.
"Hague Hails New Deal as He Starts Stadium." New York Times 12 December 1935.
Navarez, Alfonso A. "Housing to Be Built on Stadium Site in Jersey City," New York Times 20 May 1984.
"Plans New Airport Close to the City." New York Times 17 April 1930.
"Robinson Made History Here First." Jersey Journal 13 April 2007.
Sasson, Victor E. "Condos Where Willie Mays Played Roosevelt Stadium: From Fans to
Family," The Record 16 April 1989.
"The Stadium's a Burden to a Hard-Pressed City." New York Times 20 February 1972.
Sterling, Guy. "Here's to You Mr. Robinson." Star-Ledger 18 April 1996.