Today, the Ironbound is known for being a Portuguese neighborhood. Portuguese roots in the area run deep, with the first immigrants having arrived in the 1910s. By 1921 there was a large enough Portuguese population to found Sport Club Portuguese, the first of over twenty Portuguese social clubs that would call the Ironbound home. Every year, people flock to the annual Portuguese Festival, known as Portugal Day, "Dia de Portugal" (typically held the first or second weekend in June), an enormous celebration of Portuguese culture which attracts nearly half a million people, and within the past few years reaching even higher. To put this into perspective, fewer than 300,000 people live in all of Newark.
Galician Spanish immigrants also settled in the Ironbound. In the 1930s Spanish Catholics built elaborated catacombs underneath the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The catacombs are indeed underground, but instead of being real burial places, they are the depositories of lifelike wax effigies of saints and martyrs. The walls, ceilings, and floors of the catacombs are decorated with mosaics and murals. The church itself that is above the catacombs was built in the 1850s for a German Baptist congregation, an example of ethnic succession.
Many houses and apartments in the Ironbound are embellished with elaborate tilework. One common icon is Our Lady of Fatima, seen here.The great influx of Portuguese came in the latter part of the 1950s. Today, immigration from Portugal is practically nonexistent, but the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) population is stable thanks largely to immigration from Brazil and several Lusophone countries in Africa, especially Cape Verde. There is the Portugal Day festival every June and a Brazilian festival in September. Brazilians and Portuguese are joined by immigrants from Ecuador and Mexico and a growing non-immigrant community working in New York City or Downtown Newark. The Brazilians have brought churrascaria restaurants, and schools for capoeira and samba music, to the neighborhood. The first capoeira academy in Newark, New Jersey Capoeira Arts Center, was founded by Mestre Cigano of Grupo Liberdade de Capoeira in 1996.
The Portuguese-language newspapers 24horas Portuguese Daily Newspaper, Brazilian Voice, Brazilian Press and Luso-Americano are published here.
The Ironbound avoided the economic decline of most of the rest of Newark for several reasons. First, the Ironbound was spared highway construction. Rather than going through the neighborhood, highways, such as Interstate 78 and the New Jersey Turnpike, went around it. The Ironbound was also spared construction of the massive public housing high-rises. The Ironbound did see some public housing construction, but it was low-rise and consistent with the fabric of the neighborhood.
Finally, the qualities of immigrant merchants, such as the Portuguese, should be given credit for the Ironbound's preservation. Many Portuguese-owned businesses— restaurants, cafes, bakeries, jewelers, sports clubs, grocery stores, and more— line or surround Ferry Street. In particular, the neighborhood is often visited by both Portuguese and non-Portuguese for its many well-known Portuguese, Spanish, and Brazilian restaurants. Additionally, the Ironbound has a vivacious night life and an increasing variety of bars and cocktail lounges.
The Ironbound is one of Newark's most vibrant neighborhoods. There are almost no vacant stores along Ferry Street, its commercial heart. The neighborhood has a mix of different home styles, from apartments in multifamily dwellings to single-family houses on small lots to two family homes. Many old industrial sites have been converted to modern detached townhouses.