A Date With The Angels At The Mediterranean Towers
Fort Lee's Mediterranean Towers are "surrounded" by history.
Often our most popular archives pieces relate to images of Fort Lee then and now. Well this article should open the eyes of a certain number of residents who reside in the Mediterranean Towers, both North and South, on Linwood Avenue and Main Street.
If only walls could speak.
The wall around the Mediterranean Towers is part of the original walls that surrounded the Academy of the Holy Angels built and opened in Fort Lee in 1879. This Catholic girls school operated through 1965 at the Fort Lee location before moving to Demarest, where it continues its role as an educator of young women.
The Holy Angels website lists the history as follows:
The Academy of the Holy Angels, the oldest private school in Bergen County, was founded in 1879 in Fort Lee, NJ by Sister Mary Nonna Dunphy, a School Sister of Notre Dame, as a "twelve year" boarding and day school for girls that educated students from Kindergarten to 12th Grade. Originally known as Holy Angels' Collegiate Institute for Young Ladies and Preparatory School for Little Girls, the Institute attracted students from all over the world who came to study language, the arts and Christian Doctrine. The Academy's campus relocated from Fort Lee to Demarest, NJ in 1965.
The campus was sold, and the two Mediterranean Towers were built and continue to serve as the residence of many of the borough's citizens. But there is more to this story, as always, in Fort Lee – one element of our history connects another part of our history.
In this case, it is a rare triple play – we can connect the dots from the Academy of the Holy Angels to Fox Studio and back to the Mediterranean Towers. How so? The tale revolves first around the studio founded by film pioneer William Fox in Fort Lee in 1915 on the corner of Linwood Avenue and Main Street directly across the street from Holy Angels.
According to the history of 20th Century Fox:
The company's first film studios were set up in Fort Lee, New Jersey where it and many other early film studios in America’s first motion picture industry were based at the beginning of the 20th century.
Here is where history collided one fine day as a young Holy Angels student crossed Linwood Avenue and climbed the wall of Fox Studio to become a star.
Born Mary Dooley in New York City in 1894, she was named for her great aunt, Mary Nonna Dunphy, who founded the Academy of the Holy Angels in Fort Lee, which young Mary attended. Legend has it that young Mary snuck out of class to climb over the Fox Studio wall. She later became a star in the John Barrymore film, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) and was dubbed the female Valentino. Of course she changed her name and was known by the exotic nom de plume of Nita Naldi.
The story does not end here even though Fox Studio left Fort Lee by 1919. Fox Studio merged with 20th Century Pictures to become 20th Century Fox in 1935, based, of course, in Hollywood.
In 1947, the 20th Century Fox film crew arrived back to their studio's birthplace in Fort Lee on Linwood Avenue as their movie trucks unloaded between Holy Angels and their first studio site. They shot key scenes of the classic film noir, Kiss of Death (1947) at the entrance and inside Holy Angels.
There the film star Victor Mature shot scenes with two child actresses who portrayed his daughters and were supposed to be in an orphanage. This film is available on DVD and can be seen from time to time on TCM. Next time you see it catch this wonderful scene.
You can also view the exterior walls of Holy Angels, the walls that surround the Meds today, in such silent films as Roscoe Arbuckle’s A Reckless Romeo (1916), which is available on DVD and which the Fort Lee Film Commission will screen with a live band outside the Fort Lee Community Center on Aug. 18 as part of the annual Movies & Music Under the Stars.
So as you view the photos that accompany this article, enjoy the historic images and realize that the streets of Fort Lee lead from one era to another, and this history is connected to our present more than we may think.