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28 Walnut Street
Madison, NJ 07940 (map)
LOOKING BACK COLUMN
Col. Stephen Hunting opened the Madison House in 1819 on the corner of Main Street and Waverly Place. After his death in 1880, the site and his adjacent home were taken over by Charles E. Cook who was in the coal, lumber and carpentry business. The Hunting residence was torn down and replaced by a three-story building. The first floor contained three stores, the second floor had offices and apartments, and the third floor had a hall that was said to be one of the largest in this area, able to seat 400 to 600 people. Public meetings, political gatherings and concerts were held there, and road shows of the day utilized the hall before moving picture palaces became popular.
Charles Cook later sold the building to a Newark man named Henry Davis. John Fagan, who operated a shoe store on the corner of Kings Road and Green Avenue, was made the manager and the building became known as "Fagan's Hall."
The Madison Rose Growers held their first flower show in Fagan's Hall in November of 1894. A reporter from the Madison Eagle reported: "It is a well-known fact that the prettiest roses in the world grow in Madison, but, without a doubt, they take second place to Madison's young ladies."
John Fagan moved away in 1894 and the building was purchased by M.W. Mettler who remodeled it and used it for harness and carriage storage. In 1901 the building underwent extensive interior renovations and became known as Madison Opera House, presenting "vaudeville, farce comedies and repertoire" entertainment.
Simon Flanagan was the owner of the building on April 29, 1914 when a fire broke out in Rillo's Tailoring Shop on the first floor. Then fire raged for hours, threatening to destroy the entire block, but was finally extinguished in the late afternoon after the first and second floors had been destroyed. Damage was so extensive that the building had to be razed.
The building site passed to Charles Benjamin in 1923 and in 1928, the Trust Company acquired the property. A new building was erected at the cost of $100,000. It was an impressive building with gray stone exterior, a handsome front entrance with columns and a bronze-in-plate glass door. In 1957 the building was sold to Frank Valgenti, Jr. for his law offices. It also was the headquarters of Rudy Esposito, realtor. The beautiful replacement of "Fagan's Hall" still graces 20 Waverly Place and is the home to retail stores and a restaurant.
Researched and written by staff member Helene Corlett