Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company Newark Paint Plant


Here we find ourselves, reminiscing about the now abandoned factory walls that once pulsed with vibrant colors. The irony is delightful and surreal. A property that once contributed world-class paints for an array of applications from household to military-grade, now wears a patchwork of graffiti, as aerosol artists exploit its crumbling facade. Today, the site is cordoned off by a formidable galvanized steel gate, its adjacent grounds appropriated for tractor-trailer parking and storage, while the building itself remains in a state of disuse. Over the years, it has served as a temporary shelter for the homeless, a playground for mischievous teenagers, and a backdrop for adventurous photographers and explorers. Access to the property has now been barred, in stark contrast to a time when you could casually tread the train tracks onto the site.

Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company's Newark Operations

The property in question, situated at 29 Riverside Avenue in Newark, New Jersey, was home to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company's paint and varnish operations. The 7.6-acre site, a synthesis of residential and commercial/industrial, was utilized from 1902 to 1971 for manufacturing paint, resins, linseed oil, and varnish. It was the Patton Paint Company, which was assimilated into the Paint and Varnish Division of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in 1920, that solidified the location's value as a successful paint manufacturer. The acquisition allowed PPG to flourish in the paint industry, prompting further acquisitions to support the glass and paint enterprises. PPG's entrance into the paint industry was timely, as it came to a point where standardization and reliability were desperately needed in the field.

During the industrial revolution, demand for protective coatings burgeoned, transforming the paint industry. At the time, most paint companies were local enterprises; PPG stood apart, offering a nationally recognized brand and consistent product quality. To cater to this burgeoning industry, metal pigments, including lead, were brought onsite for paint production. From 1971 to the present day, the site has been divided into fifteen lots, housing diverse businesses ranging from chemical packaging to cosmetic manufacturing, while sections of the property lie abandoned and have been seized by the City of Newark.

The site has not been without its share of environmental controversies. In 2009, an oily spill in the Passaic River was traced back to a pipe on the property. The Environmental Protection Agency's ensuing investigation uncovered improperly stored chemicals, posing immediate threats to human health and the environment. Over the years, necessary actions were taken to address these hazards, including the removal of storage tanks and contaminated soil. Current soil, groundwater, and storage tank samples have confirmed contamination from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), metals, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These compounds present a myriad of health risks to humans and animals alike.

The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, created by Captain John B. Ford and John Pitcairn in 1883, was the first financially successful U.S. plate glass manufacturer. Recognizing the need for domestic competition against European imports, they developed a superior technique to manufacture plate glass, and by 1895, the company had grown and relocated its headquarters to Pittsburgh. PPG devised a system of producing efficient and cheap amounts of plate glass while cutting out the middleman, becoming the nation's largest plate glass manufacturer by 1900.

In 1968, Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company transformed into PPG Industries, becoming a globally diversified titan supplying specialty materials, chemicals, coatings, optical products, paints, glass, and fiberglass. With a footprint in over 60 countries and over 140 manufacturing facilities and equity affiliates, PPG Industries stands as a testament to American industrial success.

Flooded elevator shaft.

Newark Paint Operations

For seven decades, PPG Industries was synonymous with the production of paint, varnish, linseed oil, and resins at their Newark installation. This impressive manufacturing lineage began with the establishment of the plant in 1902 and utilized a range of raw materials that included natural gums, resins, flax seed, non-chlorinated solvents, and pigments. The chemical makeup of these ingredients evolved over time, integrating toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene, and methyl ethyl ketone as necessary elements in the fabrication of paints and varnishes.

Metallic chemicals, represented by compounds of cadmium, chromium, lead, titanium, and zinc, were imported to the site and employed as pigments in paint production. White lead, in the form of basic lead carbonate, was among these pigments, and mercury was likely used as a preservative in select paints. The plant's varnish and lacquer production incorporated small quantities of flake naphthalene and copper oxide, respectively.

At the heart of this manufacturing hub, resins, solvents, and pigments were amalgamated to produce paints, while varnishes were derived from a fusion of resins, oils, and solvents. The facility also had an operation dedicated to linseed oil production, utilizing flax seed as the primary raw material from 1923 until 1947. The riverside dock played a crucial role in the factory's operation during the first half of the century, facilitating the unloading of flax seed and coal for use in production, as well as shipping final products. The dock ceased operations after 1946.

In addition, the cleaning of equipment between production batches was a vital part of the manufacturing process, involving either organic solvents or a caustic water solution as the cleaning agent. When the solvent was too soiled for continued use, it was recuperated through a solvent still, with distillation residues being disposed of offsite.

The site witnessed a severe fire in 1969, which resulted in the destruction of Building 17, the Resin Plant. According to an employee account, a vapor cloud released from one of the resin reactors ignited, causing a massive explosion and an uncontrolled resin fire. Several storage tanks and processing units were also compromised during the incident, spilling their contents. Firefighters from Newark City used water from the river to contain the fire.

In addition to the above, allegations have surfaced that PPG employees may have been involved in the dumping of unknown substances into the Passaic River. These allegations hinge on the presence of sewer pipes, measuring 4 to 6 inches, originating from every building and leading directly into the river, along with floor drains where residue, product spills, and raw materials were reportedly swept away.

Chemical Compounds Inc

Alberto Celleri, a chemical engineer with considerable expertise in the synthesis and manufacturing of hair dyes, in 1981 established his own firm, Chemical Compounds, alongside a partner. As one of the world's few hair dye manufacturing companies, the operation started humbly from a small home office with second-hand equipment purchased with Mr. Celleri's personal savings. Limited financial resources meant utilizing refurbished equipment and harnessing his extensive knowledge and experience coupled with his unyielding entrepreneurial spirit.

Mr. Celleri's perseverance and professional prowess paid dividends in the niche hair dye market, leading to a partnership with Jos. H. Lowenstein & Sons, Inc. Together, they crafted a strategy whereby Chemical Compounds manufactured and supplied a variety of semi-permanent and direct hair dyes to Lowenstein, who subsequently marketed them. Buoyed by this partnership, Mr. Celleri acquired a plant in Newark, NJ in 1986. Following a productive partnership with Lowenstein, Chemical Compounds embarked on a mission to expand its global footprint and diversify in 2000. Today, the company is backed by over 30 years of experience in manufacturing hair dye intermediates and employs a diverse team of professionals each contributing unique expertise to this highly specialized industry. Among their esteemed global clientele are names such as L'Oreal, Schwarzkopf Henkel, Unilever, and Combe.

The property hosting this manufacturing prowess has a colorful history. Sold by the Freeholders of Essex County to Triton Boat Club of Newark in 1888, it changed hands in 1902, being acquired by Patton Paint Company, a manufacturer of paint and varnishes. Later, Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co, another paint and varnish manufacturer, assumed ownership of the property, identified as Block 614, Lot 1, constructing the current facility - Building # 17 - as a chemical resin manufacturing plant. In 1971, after several ownership changes, the site was sold to a developer, Riverside Ave. Properties, Inc., and subsequently leased.

In 1979, the property was sold to Industrial Development Corporation and quickly transferred to Industrial Development Associates, headed by Anthony V. Pugliese, III. It was then leased to S.B.S. Chemicals, Inc. and Desachem Co., Inc, manufacturers of chemicals and detergents, who occupied Building # 17 until the expiration of their lease agreement in 1985.

Building #17 at 29-75 Riverside Avenue has been the home of Chemical Compounds, Inc. (CCI) since 1990. The company manufactured hair dyes such as red #3, HC-blue, and other various colors and pigments for hair products. Despite its productive activities, Chemical Compounds was found in violation of Federal Regulation 40 CFR 414 and Section 313.1 of the PVSC Rules and Regulations, surpassing its monthly permittable waste discharges of cyanide, zinc, toluene, lead, ethylbenzene, and 2-nitrophenol. The company also faced issues concerning wastewater treatment and discharge, environmental spills, and fires that led to undetermined contamination inside the building, its surroundings, and the adjacent Passaic River.

Elevator room.

Status: Currently still unoccupied and vacant.


1. Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, Glassian

2. PPG History, PPG

3. PPG Industries, Inc. - Company Profile, Information, Business, Description, History, Background

Information on PPG Industries, Inc, Reference for Business

4. Riverside Industrial Park Newark, NJ, EPA Superfund Site

5.  A new breed of Alchemist creates 'gold' in NJ: Chemical Compounds provides solutions for hair color marketers. (Industry News).. (n.d.) >The Free Library. (2014). Retrieved May 30 2023 from The Free Library


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