(ABOVE: Fire at 812 Willow Ave on May 28, 1977 — image via Hoboken Fire Department Memories)
From the late 1970’s through the early 1980’s, Hoboken burned.
A series of “mysterious” fires cleared out a number of properties over the years—properties which were then immediately flipped and converted into relatively higher-end residential properties. Thus began Hoboken’s rapid transition from a traditional, affordable blue-collar town to a pricey, gentrified bedroom community.
Among the ashes of that era, 55 people were lost—many of them children. The Hoboken Fire Victims Memorial Project has recently brought focus back to that terrifying time in the city’s history, intent on honoring the fallen and installing a permanent memorial on their behalf.
All Saints Episcopal Church will initiate its own program, titled, “The Mile Square Cathedral: Remembering the Fires 1978-1983.” Hosted by Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas, rector at All Saints, the three-part series will begin with a morning of community conversation and storytelling at the church at 701 Washington Street, from 10:00 a.m. to noon on Saturday, February 29.
Representatives from Mile Square Theater will be on hand, with renowned playwright Joseph Gallo delivering a dramatic reading from the stage adaptation of his documentary play Yuppies Invade My House at Dinnertime, which details the arson fires and gentrification of Hoboken in the late 1970s and 80s.
On Saturday, March 7, the All Saints series continues with a Prayer Walk, beginning at 10:00 a.m.
at 67 Park Avenue—the site of an October 1981 fire that killed two children. The Prayer Walk will then continue past several other fire locations—also stopping off at the Hoboken Shelter and
In Jesus’s Name Charities, both of which were founded as a direct result of the fires.
The walk will conclude at Tom Olivieri Park on the corner of 13th and Willow. The park, which was renamed in June 2019 in recognition of Olivieri’s long years of service as an advocate for affordable housing and the Puerto Rican community, is the proposed site of a memorial to the victims of the fires.
On Sunday, March 15, at 4:00 p.m., an Interfaith Service of Remembrance will remember and honor the dead and provide comfort to those who still bear the emotional wounds from those devastating fires. Multiple choirs and members of the Hoboken Clergy Coalition will participate.
The public is invited and encouraged to attend all of these events. More information is
available from the rector of All Saints, The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas, at firstname.lastname@example.org.