History of Riviera Hotel in Newark, NJ

The Divine Riviera Hotel was built in 1922 and became a Newark residence for businessmen and legal figures doing business with the county and city. In the 1920s, the Riviera Hotel and its environs were so fine that Phillip Roth's parents chose it for their "honeymoon."

The notorious Gangster from Newark, Abner (Longy) Zwillman made Riviera Hotel his residence:

The Riviera never recovered from the Great Depression. In 1949 it was sold to George Baker - aka "Father Divine," - who added the "Divine" to the name. Father Divine bought the 250 room hotel for cash! It took 14 bank tellers three and a half hours to count all the $1s, $5s, $10s, and $20s.

For the next few years the Divine Hotel Riviera was run as one of Father Divine's "Heavens." There was no alcohol sold and men and women had to be lodged separately.

Peace Mission of Father Divine:

Newark once boasted a vibrant community of 80,000 Jews, immigrants from Eastern Europe. They started out destitute and within a generation had achieved a prosperity that fueled a second mass migration, to the suburbs of Essex County and beyond. Newark's demise as a center of Jewish life, and death – at one time there were nearly 100 cemeteries – has been traced to the riots and looting of 1967. The riots wiped out much of the merchant class when stores were pillaged in a burst of rage. Actually, Jews began to leave earlier, lured by the charms of suburbia, the alternative to cramped urban living. The postwar building boom, generous loans to returning GIs, and the affordable automobile sent Jews out of Newark and to Livingston, Millburn, and the Oranges. Philip Roth, immortalized the Weequahic section of Newark where he grew up in several novels, particularly Portnoy's Complaint and The Plot Against America. Weequahic, on the south side of Newark, was a destination place for recently arrived Jews who lived in cold-water flats and then moved up to the middle class. That neighborhood faded away, along with the Riviera, a fancy hotel where Roth's mother and father spent their wedding night. It is now the Divine Hotel Riviera, named after Father Divine, a religious leader who founded a sect in the early part of the 20th century.

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