In 1915, The Victor Talking Machine Co. purchased the land that is now known as Johnson Park from the estate of Alexander Cooper - one of the largest landowners in New Jersey. The property contained the Cooper Mansion which had acted in its final years as a library for the public. Eldridge Johnson, whose company had built and surrounded the older mansion and park had an office on floor 7 of Victor Building #2 (The Executive Offices Of The Victor Talking Machine Co. located just across the street from what is now Johnson Park). The Victor Talking Machine Co. planned to build additional facilities on the land and purchased the sight for $35,000 from The Cooper Estate in 1915 and immediately changed direction on the development of the land. The older mansion had fallen into disrepair, and new income tax laws made it necessary for the wealthy industrialists of the world (of which Johnson had become a high ranking member) to rid themselves of excess cash reserves - lest they be taxed excessively. Eldridge Johnson and The Victor Co. determined to clear the land and build a grand library for the Victor Talking Machine Co. Campus. Construction began on the ‘Cooper Library’,and the building and park were donated to the city of Camden two years later. Constructed with the highest quality materials, the roman architecture inspired library included a lavish mosaic frieze depicting “America” personified and receiving gifts of knowledge and culture from the rest of the world. The mosaic frieze was designed by D’Ascenzo Studios of Philadelphia in 1916 - the same firm that had designed the famous ‘Nipper’ windows of Victor Talking Machine Co. Building 17.

Later in 1920, the park was expanded replacing the lillypond with a wading pool after Johnson saw children from his office window unable to swim in the pond during the hot summers. Johnson personally oversaw the redesign of the park in 1918 and catered it towards the children of the area by theming the park after classic storybooks. The ornate bronze statues were designed by British sculptor Sir George Frampton and Philadelphia sculptor Albert Laessle and are still present today.

The city of Camden was so grateful to Mr. Johnson that the name of the park was changed from Cooper Park to Eldridge R. Johnson Square (and later Park) in 1920. Through the 1960s, the city of Camden allowed the park to fall into disrepair and RCA/Victor was forced to maintain the property until the 1980s. During this time, the RCA/Victor Company did little to prevent the crumbling of the building other than to maintain the park itself. The statues and wading pool fell into further disrepair through the 1980s - and GE (following its takeover of RCA/Victor in 1986) ceased any maintenance of the property (returning this duty to the city of Camden). Through the 1990s, the Victor plant sat gradually more abandoned and derelict while the rest of Camden struggled with globalization and deindustrialization that occurred over the previous 30 years. Meanwhile, the Johnson Park Library became a performing arts center for the community; The Walt Whitman Poetry Center. The center hosted poetry readings and performances from artists like Patti Smyth, The Turtles, and prominent authors.

In the 2000s the building use changed as the City of Camden granted the space to Rutger's University whom has maintained the property and utilized the space as a spillover classroom facility.

Johnson Park & Library (2014)

Johnson Park & Library (2014)

 

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