When it comes to the colorful history of The Barrow Mansion, perhaps no one other than Andrew “Andy” Rhode has more insight regarding the Jersey City Landmark throughout the years.
Rhode Jr. was born around the corner on Mercer Street, and still resides in that house to this very day. The Barrow Mansion is right next to St. Matthew’s Lutheran Evangelical Church, where Rhode and his family were congregants, and the two buildings “were and are very intertwined.” Rhode himself has, for his entire life, been very much intertwined with both buildings. As a child, he was in the church choir, attended Confirmation classes at Barrow, was part of a theater group that raised money for the church, where his father was Sexton of the church.
While Rhode didn’t move in, he did spend much of his teenage years at Barrow, cleaning after events, and later working as a pin boy in the bowling alley, which was installed by the YMCA before Rhode was born. “It was nice because you got to know the people here, and, you know, everybody was a part of it,” he says. “If a person had problems you could talk about it, or if something really great was going on, you could talk about that. So you felt that you belonged.”
The bowling alley will soon again be open to the public. Back before WWII, “Teachers would come after school,” says Rhode. “The women mostly threw gutter balls,” he jokes, but admits he wasn’t perfect at his job either. “One time I didn’t set the ball right and it flew to the other lane and hit a woman in the head! She was okay though,” he assures.
The Mansion’s stage in the big back room on the main floor served for theater performances that Rhode participated in. “There used to be a back staircase to the basement where we got ready for the plays that has since been demolished,” he says. During certain seasons such as Lent, The Barrow Mansion would host a coffee hour after church services in the same room. “People would bring cakes and pastries and mingle, which was nice because everybody got to know each other better.”
During WWII, the church had a raffle at Barrow for food items, such as “a piece of roast or goods donated from specialty shops because it was too expensive for us to buy quality items.” Then, the ladies would put on a play and there was dessert in the center room.
On Saturdays, the kitchen area downstairs would sometimes have dinners. “We would all get together and raise money for the church. There were better stoves at that time,” Rhode says, never missing a beat. And for the youth group, the Mansion held dances. Rhode recalls, “The small dorm in back room off the hallway was called ‘the jail,’ because if the adult chaperones thought you were ‘fooling around’ on the dance floor, they threw you in there. And you had to have somebody pay to bail you out with real money!” Rhode laughs and says, “My sister Pearl is still mad to this day that her future husband Warren never bailed her out.”
After doing time in the service in Alaska and Hawaii during WWII, Rhode returned to his Jersey City home and began working for Ford on the waterfront. He continued his involvement when the church, started a “rummage sale” after Sunday services that still exists to this day, though under new leadership.
A few years ago, Rhode experienced a bad fall. The EMT who came to rescue him paid a visit a month later and asked if he could buy Rhode’s house. “I said that’s very generous offer, but I gave him the same answer I give to every person that asks this question: ‘The only way I come out of this house is feet first.’”•
Candice Osborne is a household name for any given passionate Jersey City resident, as she has played a powerful force in the community. Her breakout role was in a 2010 Board of Education election, where she started Campaign Connect, which helps volunteers make the most of voter data to make informed decisions. In 2013, Candice was elected to serve as the Ward E Councilwoman and is a staple at Jersey City fundraisers and events as an activist for positive neighborhood initiatives.
Off the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Candice was sitting on the front steps of City Hall with several volunteers wondering how to help out. “What was really special to me during this time was how, in this moment of feeling helpless, Gerry Bakirtjy showed up and said ‘We should get you guys at Barrow Mansion.’”
After Candice and her volunteer crew walked over to Barrow, she was impressed by the speed at which the operation expedited. Patrons of St. Matthew’s Church, which is closely tied to Barrow, went knocking on residents’ doors to find out what they needed, especially senior citizens that they knew were house-bound.
The volunteer group took over every room in the Barrow Mansion. “We had created an Amazon ‘wish list,’ and packages of donations began arriving every day. The ground floor was for toiletrees. The top floor became the clothing center, with separate rooms for women, kids and men’s clothes organized by size,” she says. Volunteers helped neighbors clean basements, cart debris, and also collected donations for those who had been impacted.
The group even created a Facebook forum for local Sandy victims so they could identify and travel to those in need of assistance. “A lady posted on our site that her mother lived here but she couldn’t reach her. We found her mother, who was stuck on the 14th floor of her apartment building, and we were able to rescue her,” says Candice, who was recognized for her Jersey City Sandy Recovery efforts by Glamour Magazine and honored as one of the Women of the Year at their 2012 awards ceremony.
Candice also holds a special place in her heart for Barrow Mansion because of its dedication to the arts. “I remember when Con Vivo [an orchestral ensemble] was looking for a performance venue and they were trying to find locations. Barrow is close to public transportation and has lots of space. There is nothing like it downtown,” says Candice. “I told them to reach out to Gerry,” she says, a partnership that helped Con Vivo’s audience grow while bringing people to the historic home.
“The Barrow Mansion is an amazing place,” Candice enthuses, “and by supporting the mansion, you are supporting the arts community, which is how we foster the overall community." •
Nathan Tweti, an HVAC technician and avid photographer, was born and raised in NYC’s Upper West Side and has been a resident of Jersey City’s Historic Downtown District for over 25 years. But only 10 years ago did he hear about the Barrow Mansion’s community-oriented group meetings.
“The Barrow is something that people know exists, but they don’t really know what goes on in there. When I first visited, I had no idea what the Barrow did,” says Nathan. “Places that offer group meetings are fewer and farther between; even churches go out of business.”
Over the years, Nathan has volunteered at the Barrow Mansion for the Jersey City Artists Studio Tour, potluck lunches and dinners, and has helped organize bands for events. During Sandy, “the neighborhood was pretty devastated and out of electricity for 15 days” says Nathan of historic downtown Jersey City. Gerry Bakirtjy, his neighbor, stopped by after the storm and asked if Nathan needed anything. They walked to the mansion, and “there were all these volunteers and it was just brilliant. I was like ‘I have to get involved with this.’
Nathan was able to supply generators from his warehouse the day after Sandy hit---the last two that they had. “You’d be amazed by the power in the building,” he said of the two generators that helped fuel the mansion. The help and organization of volunteers’ efforts was immediate to citizens, and it helped alleviate their anxiety.
“Gerry welcomed everyone with a smiling face and he was just like a gift from heaven. Andy Rhode’s relatives came up from North Carolina to help. It was truly amazing,” says Nathan. “People could get what they needed. It was really powerful,” he says.
There are “less and less places that communities can get together for free or inexpensive events. It’s hard to get resources for the community spaces that are affordable,” says Nathan. “People want that warm vibe that goes into a community and makes people want to come, and the Barrow Mansion has that.” The availability that the mansion offers to arts and theater groups is key says Nathan. “If you have to bend over backwards to make arts affordable in Jersey City, you have to do so.” He relates Jersey City to SoHo and Alphabet City, communities that flourish when artists flourish.
“The Barrow supports many different people from many different backgrounds,” and on a personal note he adds, “The Mansion saved my life.” •
Hollander Ames wanted her hometown of Jersey City to have a bigger chamber music presence, so she founded Con Vivo Music right here in 2007. Con Vivo’s mission is “to make world-class chamber music available to anyone, regardless of class or income,” says Zach Herchen, who started managing the group in 2013.
Recently after becoming a non-profit organization in 2010, Con Vivo got involved with the Barrow Mansion for performance events and fundraising. (They are now funded by county grants and Jersey City as a whole.)
Con Vivo’s performers hail from some of the most well-known music establishments such as the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, as well as places as far away as Berlin and Japan. “To have all of these brilliant musicians gather in Jersey City at the Barrow Mansion—it’s unreal,” says Zach.
He also emphasizes that Con Vivo Music is able to function largely because of Barrow Mansion. For instance, in 2012, the mansion held a fundraiser that helped Con Vivo afford an upright piano. “We use it a lot for rehearsals and it’s available for other groups in recognition of the mansion’s generosity for letting us come in,” says Zach.
“Our collaboration with the Barrow Mansion is something I feel is really unique for a big city,” says Zach. “It doesn’t feel like we’re renting just any space.”
But his admiration doesn’t stop there: “What’s even more special about Barrow Mansion is that every time I’m there, I see other organizations doing real things and changing lives,” illustrative of Barrow Mansion’s mission to serve the community.
Jersey City Children’s Theater
One day two women were strolling along Wayne Street and passed the Barrow Mansion. “It was love at first sight,” says co-founding member and interim director of Jersey City Children’s Theater, Cordis Heard. “Kathy and I were looking at the Jersey City community saying, ‘Wow, we have a wealth of young talent here.’” The ladies wanted to create a children’s theater program but needed a space to implement it.
“We started up JCCT because Kathy Hendrickson (the original founder and director) had just finished school with the best improvisational theater company in the country, The New Actors Workshop in New York City,” says Cordis, who herself worked with Paul Sills, the creator of Saturday Night Live, after graduating Northwestern University and before moving to the area to teach acting at P.S. 9 on the Upper West Side.
“The Barrow Mansion is the perfect combination of the front room and the theater and the offices. What a wonderful location. Having a theater space right there—it’s just dreamy.” JCCT has held residence in the Barrow Mansion for five years.
The JCCT holds improvisation and imagination classes that inspire children to be social and creative in age groups 3-5 and 6-9 years old (including dual language classes) at the Barrow Mansion and seven schools in the area. “Barrow has been completely generous in working with us during our transition,” says Cordis. “They are wonderfully cooperative and helpful. They take care of everything. The space is well-cared for and inviting, and there is a variety of activity there,” she says.
“The sense of continuity, of coming and going, gives a locus to Jersey City that I don’t think it otherwise has,” says Cordis. “This area is growing in leaps and bounds—but residents don’t necessarily know each other or know that they can use the mansion’s space as an adult or a child in theater.” Additionally, Cordis notes that part of the Barrow Mansion’s mission is to be an outreach center and support issues within the community, and says, “I don’t think The Barrow Mansion would ever say ‘no’ to something that is good for the community.”
Segunda Quimbamba, a Jersey-City based percussion and dance ensemble that performs authentic Bomba and Plena (the drum music of Puerto Rico), has worked at The Barrow Mansion since 2014. “Initially we approached The Barrow Mansion because there was limited space in the downtown area for what we were trying to accomplish,” says director Nanette Hernandez. The Barrow Mansion, on the other hand, she notes, houses a large area for performance with many facets that create opportunities to innovate.
“The support and acknowledgement by the Barrow Mansion to come on board with us was amazing,” says Nanette, when the two organizations combined e orts for Segunda Quimbamba’s first “A Summer Night Concert” in 2014. Over 200 people attended. The event was so excellent, the troupe went back to Barrow for multiple events in 2015, including a dance performance and two concert nights. “The mansion allowed us to do di erent things with their space—which is a right we never had in other locations,” says Nanette.
Additionally, Nanette gushes that the Barrow Mansion sta is dedicated to bringing their hosted events to life in the historic space. “They’ve managed to cater to our interests and deliver what we’re looking for. We are both growing organizations and have helped each other.”
But, Nanette laments, small organizations such as hers cannot always absorb increased prices combined with changes in insurance and permit requirements. Therefore, she urges the Jersey City community to get involved with e orts of keeping the Barrow Mansion up and running. “We like the space and the ability to create unique experiences there, and we know others do too.”