The Cranford Trust Building
If you are a resident of Cranford, you probably pass it every day. The large, regal looking, building at the very heart of the town, housing a variety of businesses in the center of the shopping district. You probably refer to its digital clock, and remark at how the thermometer usually read about ten degrees higher from its rooftop setting than it feels on the sidewalks below.
The Cranford Trust Building is located on North Avenue, from Eastman Street to North Union Avenue, directly across from the north end of the Cranford train station. It is home to an ice cream shop, a jewelry store, a barber shop, a bank, and several other businesses. And no one who looks at the well-kept, bustling row of businesses would ever guess that beneath the shops, in the blackened walls of the basement, lies proof of what stood there before. Because the basement and foundation were the only things left of the Opera House Block that was destroyed in the great Cranford Fire of 1912.
The original building was designed by Frank Lent, the architect of several of the public buildings and mansions owned by Cranford ’s prominent residents. It was built in 1892 by J. Walter Thompson, and was owned by William Sperry, the founder of Sperry & Hutchinson Green Stamps. The building housed a large auditorium that was used for musical programs, operettas, political rallies, school commencements and public meetings . . . . hence the name of the “Opera House Block.” It also housed such businesses as the New York Haberdasher, Berry and Co. Clothing, Marien’s Pharmacy, Lusardi’s Ice Cream Parlor, J. Potts and Son Grocers, and Ferguson and Van Name Insurance and Real Estate.
The fire, which is believed to have been caused by a discarded cigarette, took out the entire block that February morning. It took firefighters from Cranford and many surrounding communities to ultimately get it under control. When they did, the building was levelled. With only the foundation and basement left, the current structure, the Cranford Trust Building, was erected upon that foundation later that year. Since that time, it has regained its status as the heart of the Cranford business district, and some might argue that it is the beating heart of the community.
So, the next time you are walking by, take a brief moment to look at the building, and remark on its past. The best old things have the greatest stories. And the stories of this building are just the number of floors it has.