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Englewood is facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity. It is to repurpose the historic, 120 year-old, architecturally recognized Russell C. Major Liberty School with a Bergen County Magnet Public High School for the Arts to be developed and operated in association with the renown LaGuardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City. “We want to be there for the Liberty School as mentors, supporters and fellow artists,” said Lee Lobenhofer,” Drama Development Coordinator at the LaGuardia School.

This rare, extraordinary partnership of two nationally-ranked schools: Bergen County Technical Schools and LaGuardia High School for the Arts, will provide Englewood and Bergen County with enormous economic, social, cultural, and educational benefits. 

Having a working, interactive relationship with one of New York’s top cultural and educational organizations will be a tremendous boost for Englewood’s public schools and to local businesses. It will ignite West Palisade Avenue between the school and bergenPAC, a local arts venue whose success will be assured by its shared activities with the school. 

Being linked to New York Arts & Cultural networks will raise the quality of life in Englewood, bringing back the energy in the Arts, the dynamic cultural history for which Englewood is known. Longer-term, the school will be a major benefit to Bergen County, a first step, with many to follow, toward making the Hackensack River Basin a tri-state Arts & Cultural Destination for tourists, new residents and businesses.    



Originally approved September 12, 2000; modified version approved May 13, 2003

Liberty school is both historically and architecturally pivotal. In addition, its location is historically significant. The 1981-2 Bergen County Historic Sites Survey accords it two pages of its own as pivotal historic site number 0215-56. It is therefore included by reference both in a 1997 amendment to the 1995 Master Plan and in the 2003 Master Plan adopted in April by the Planning Board.

After Englewood incorporated in 1889, Liberty School, the first public building it invested in, made a statement about the new City's priorities. Begun in 1901 and dedicated on September 6, 1902, the original Jacobean Revival core of Liberty School was designed by Herbert C. Davis of Davis, McGrath, and Kiessling. The same firm designed many other significant buildings including St. John's Catholic Church in Kings Bridge, NY and the Public Library of Kearney, NJ. In Englewood, where they were active between 1901 and 1910, the firm designed the Highwood and Nordhoff Firehouses and many of the grand houses on the East Hill including the Dean Fellows Platt House (200 Booth ave.), the Gaines House (251 Linden Ave.), the William M.Probst House (300 Linden Ave.), the H.W. Blake House (377 Walnut St.), the B.F. Reinmund House (104 N. Woodland St.), the L.D. Mowry (184 Dwight Pl.), the D.Arthur Johnson House (256 Lydecker St.), the A.J. Post House 64-72 Dwight Pl.), the Flanagan House (280 Mountain Rd.), and the F.M. Burr House (140 S. Woodland St.), all of which were written up in American Architect, as well as a second Probst House (83 Linden Ave.) praised in Aymar Embury II's 100 Country Houses.

Liberty School's Jacobean Revival core retains its original architectural features, including the symmetrical plan, the materials (common bond brick with Indiana limestone trim), the hip roof, the main entrance arch with its keystone, the three ornamental gables with the crisscross brickwork over the central section, and the four bold chimneys with insert arches. The core mixes in classical features including the keystones over the first story windows, the entrance fanlight, and the balustrade above the main entrance. As a result, the 1981-2 Bergen County Historic Sites Survey concludes that the building shares elements of the Jacobean Revival and Renaissance Revival modes. 

Remarkably, the additions and alterations to the building, which consists of the northern side section (1913), the southern side section (1927) designed with admirable restraint by Lawrence Licht, and the more recent one-story bay window projections on the facade, complement the character of the core, so that the whole building looks symmetrical, coherent, and well-designed. Both side sections and both pavilions retain the original materials and the original hip roofs and add brick quoins at the corners. The northern entrance features a 1 bay entrance porch with Doric columns and a large rounded window above the flat arch doorway opening with its keystone. Note that Lawrence Licht, one of Englewood's most distinguished. 

Architects also designed Dwight Morrow High School, the Morell Birtwhistle House (370 Highview), which was written up in Architectural Forum, additions to Lincoln School and Cleveland School, the Roosevelt School, the Junior High School, and Leggett Hall at Dwight Englewood School.

Long before Liberty School was built, its site was associated with education and with history. In 1766 the area around the Englewood Monument took on the name it retained during and long after the American Revolution: Liberty Pole. In 1776, a substantial portion of George Washington's army narrowly escaped superior British forces marching down Tenafly Road though Liberty Pole. The current name of the area, Liberty Square, harks back to that historic name. 

There has been a school at that key intersection of Palisade Ave. (the King's Highway), Lafayette Ave., and Tenafly Rd. since 1804, when a wooden schoolhouse was built. In 1818 prominent local residents replaced it with a more permanent sandstone structure called the Liberty Union School. In 1850, that simple, graceful building was moved to 486 Tenafly Rd., where it still stands.

Liberty School has been seen as architecturally significant from its construction until now. In 1909 it was written up in American Architect, one of the central publications in the field. The City's substantial investments in addition and alterations in 1913, 1927, and more recently prove it has continued to see Liberty School as valuable to the community. In 1981-2, the Bergen County Historic Sites Survey chose it as one of 47 buildings singled out for extensive individual treatment. The Englewood Historical Society included it in its 1993 tour of Englewood's 50 most important historic buildings and its 1999 Centennial tour of 100 of the most historic structures in the City.

On June 12, 1999, the building was renamed the Russell C. Major Liberty School. Responding to broad support by members of the community, the Board of Education thereby recognized a man who had served on the board 18 years, longer than anyone else. Throughout his six terms he served as a strong voice for excellence in public education. Should the building be demolished, that aspect of its history will disappear along with the others.

Central to Englewood's history as a community as well as to the history of public education in Englewood, Liberty School remains a building of great architectural significance and integrity which should be preserved. From an historic preservation point of view, regardless of whether it is used as a school, for administrative offices, or for some other purpose, and regardless of how drastically the interior is renovated, the irreplaceable form and details of its exterior elevations should be retained.
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