|All interviews were taped and documented. They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.|
Audio recording of the interview with Julia Downs
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||March 12, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (10/24/1984)|
(N) Julia, How long have you lived in Teaneck?
(I) Seventh six years. The first of April I'll be seventy six years in Teaneck.
(N) I didn't even think you were seventy six years old.
(I) I was seventy seven last Sunday. The 4th of March I was 77. I was one year old when I came to Teaneck.
(N) So can you think back
(I) And I lived on this street I was raised at 55 and now I live at 45.
(N) How long are you living in 45?
(I) It will be forth six year next November. Forty five last November.
(N) Now can you think back of how Teaneck was as clearly as you can remember it, different from today.
(N) Well when I was young, the only section of Teaneck was this section here which they call Prospect Heights and the Robertson Street area which they can Manhattan Heights and then the other area was the Glenwood Park area in lower Teaneck. When I was young, there was no houses in West Englewood at all in the West Englewood section of Teaneck. And in your section of Teaneck, that was where the Italian population. Teaneck, in those days, you talk about segregation
(I) What do you mean by my section of Teaneck?
(N) Where Irvington Road is and Washington Place and Shepard Avenue.
(I) You mean past State Street?
(N) Yeah. There was no State Street then. That area up there was all the Italian people lived in that area and this area here, there were all the Irish and then the Germans and the Polish people lived in Glenwood Park. Glenwood Park was down where the housing is now. Near Glenwood area and Fyke Lane and Lindburgh. That was the section called Glenwood Park. They had a park down where it was exactly. When we were young, you know my father was Democratic Municipal Chairman for thirty years in Teaneck and they used to have dances down in there and, of course, we were young. We were teenagers. Buy we had to go to those dances, you know, for political reasons to keep those people there. I don't know whether you remember Johnny Madden. He was the fire captain here for many years. he just died recently and his wife was raised in that area and they lived there until the day both of them died. Down in that Glenwood Park area.
(I) So you say there was very few streets compared to what we got now. What was in this area then?
(N) This was all houses. They were all dirt streets. These streets were only paved in 1927. In this area. Teaneck Road was paved, Forest Avenue was paved and Robertson Street. The other side of Forest Avenue wasn't developed or Selvage Avenue. There was two houses in that area and they are still in there.
(I) You mean the other side of Teaneck Road?
(N) On the right had side where Selvage Avenue is. That area. there was two houses. That house that Della Bello lives in it now and there's another house up on Julia Street where the chief of police lived, Murphy, and at that time, it was a way up in the middle of the apple orchard.
(I) You mean the chief of police at that time?
(N) At that time, yeah. His name was Murphy. That was back in 1913/14.
(I) So a lot of what is now Teaneck, in other words, was not developed.
(N) No, it was not developed.
(I) What was it? Just woods?
(N) All woods. When I went to grammar school, there was only two schools. What is now the Town House was #2 school and the school that is Longfellow school now was #1 school.
(I) And how far did they go to that school? from what area did they come.
(N) Any place.
(I) Was the northwest area of Teaneck, for example, developed?
(N) They would come from up in where you live now, they walked down, there was no buses. And there was no snow days, let me tell you.
(I) Snow or not, they came.
(N) Snow or not, they came. When the snow was deep, my mother used to put us on her back and take us up to Teaneck Road and we would go to school.
(I) How about the development of the town on the west side of the town?
(N) West Englewood, that started, let me see, I am trying to think when it started. I might have been in fourth or fifth grade then. Nelson Ayers developed that area of Teaneck.
(I) You mean when you are speaking of your early days, Teaneck was just where Teaneck Road is?
(N) And this area east of Teaneck Road and all of, then just down as far as Robertson Street. And then there was houses all the way down on Teaneck Road. The elite lived down on Teaneck Road where Route 4 is now but Route 4 took those houses.
(I) What about River Road, Was there anything there?
(N) No. When World War I was over, River Road and Queen Anne Road were dirt cowpaths.
(I) Were there cows there?
(N) Well Clauson had that big farm down there. I think the Christian Science Church owns that house that was Clauson's house and he had the farm on both sides of the street. Then the sons went in the moving business. Now I think the only one of them that is living is Sylvester. I meet him at that NOTH. He must have been a letter carrier or something because I meet him at that. He told me one time, I asked him, Henny Clauson is dead. I know that. that's the one that went to school with me. And I asked him if Charlie Clauson was living and he said no, that he died.
(I) What form of government did they have then?
(N) Well, they had township committee up until 1930. This form of government came in in 1930 and I'll tell you what brought this form of government. The Nelson Ayers that developed West Englewood, he got in with the politicians and they put in State Street for him and he built that big apartment and he was going to develop the rest of that into the thing and in the process, he went broke and the people got up in arms and they decided to get rid of the politicians and that's why they formed this form of government and then they bought Volker in as the, he was the first Town Manager.
(I) and you had the commission form of government and you had a mayor.
(N) Not yet. President of the Township Committee. There was no mayor. They called it Township Committee and the president of the Township Committee.
(I) Did they have an administrator or just a committee?
(N) No it was just a committee. They called it the Township Committee and the reason I remember it so well, I would have gotten a 100 in my civic exam but I didn't know who the president of the Township Committee was. His name was Fred Griffith. And when I came home, I said something to my father and he said, well you ought to know who he is. He comes to the house all the time and I didn't. And so I always remember that he was the president of the Township Committee. That was on of the questions they asked on the civics exam. And I only got 97 because I couldn't answer that.
(I) You mean we have this form of government now for about fifty years.
(N) Yeah, 1930 and they had one recall.
(I) They did have a recall. What was the recall about?
(N) Well I don't know. The politicians wanted to get rid of it.
(I) Oh, they wanted to change it.
(N) Yeah, they wanted to go back to politics, you know, to republican and democrats.
(I) Well that would be partisan form of government. But you can have this form of government either with or without partisan
(N) No, you can't have this form of government with partisanship. There is two different kinds. Now the one, Fair Lawn had a recall and they originally had, when I first went for the board of elections, a long time ago, Fair Lawn had the May elections like us and they had some kind of a recall up there and their form of government changed and they went back, that Jack Ballin that is floating around now, he' the one that instigated that. and they went back to partisan government. But it's not the same
(I) Buy they changed back
(N) They changed back, They had a re-election. Oh, they are back now again?
(I) Yes, but without changing the form of government. They still have the same, similar form of government to us I understand but just non-partisan instead of partisan.
(N) Well, I know that the one we have, they couldn't have, there is some change in it. They would have to make to have it partisan. You can't run on a ticket with the form of government that we have now. I mean that don't mean that they are parties. Some of them are all party anyway.
(I) So you went to the school that is now
(N) Where the Town House is, yes.
(I) How come they don't use that for a school anymore, what happened?
(N) Well, that was politics again. They had this architect, Cady his name was, and he said the school wasn't safe. And it was going to fall down and whatnot. And they had an election. Let me see, my children didn't go to the public school here. They were in school when that went on so they are in their 40s now so it must have been about forth years ago. You would have to look at the cornerstone on that other school, that Washing Irving that will give you the year.
(I) In other words, this was a school that was ready to fall down forth years ago?
(N) Oh yeah. And then what got me was they took the retarded children and put them in that school after they built the new Washington Irving.
(I) As soon as they built the new Washington Irving?
(N) Year. They put what they call the special, in those days they didn't call them, now they call them the special children but then they used to call then the retarded children. And they put them in in that thing.
(I) And they kept that school going? The Town House.
(N) Yeah, they kept the building going and they had that and the Board of Education went in there themselves.
((I) And the Recreation Department too. When did the Recreation Department go in there , do you remember?
(N) Let's see. They had that when my children were small. How Long did they say Rodda was here?
(I) About 30, 35 years.
(N) Well, that's when it started.
(I) It started with him.
(N) Yeah, he's the one. He was the first head of the Recreation. Just like Paul Volker was the first. We didn't have too many town managers. We only had Volker, then we had Welsh. Welsh had to get out of town over that land swap business.
(I) Oh yeah? How long was Welsh in?
(N) Welsh, he was in quite a while. I don't really know how many years he was in but he got mixed up in that land swap. Him and Millahan and John Deany and Welsh took off out of town and John Deany dropped dead and I understand Millahan, because he was on the fire department but he was a building, and he moved
(I) What's this land swap deal? Do you know anything about it?
(N) Well yes, I know what it was because I got that lot next door for $200 from Canavan. They had the town property and they were selling it cheap to Millahan who was a builder and I don't know what Welsh was getting out of it but Deany was the lawyer and Millahan was the builder and then they were selling it and then the man that lived next door to me, he was Jewish, Hertzback, he had a friend over in and he heard that this 40' lot next door here was going for land swap. And you can imagine, they would have been on my kitchen window and they'd have been on his so he said to me, because I had my kids in private high school at that time and no money, so he said, well how about we go half on it. So we went down
(I) Who's the we?
(N) Mr. Hertzback and I. We went down to the Town Hall and so anyway Clara Christianson was the town clerk at that time and she was Welsh's secretary. So she gave me a hard time. so you know, no one gives me a hard time. So I said, listen Clara, maybe you don't know who I am but I know who you are and I said you wouldn't be sitting in that chair now if my father didn't save your job when that township municipal form of government came in. I said your mother came down on our front porch crying because she had no other money and he asked Mayor Van Wagner to leave you in there. And she got right up because I am saying it in front of three or four other people so she went in and Welsh . So we said that we heard that lot was up for sale and we have all the numbers, you know. We wanted to bid on it. It he said, well you know it has to be advertised. I said I know. Here's the check. Mr. Hertzback pays $10 and I pay $10, that's $20 for the ad. So he said all right. So he took the ad. So he told us how many days before we could come down. So we were down there nine o'clock int he morning and she said, wel the ad said then so we'd have to wait till ten o'clock to bid on the lot. So we sat there until ten and, of course, nobody showed up so we bid $400, $200 apiece and they took it. Anyway, when Mr. Louton died, you know Florence Louton, she belongs to AARP, she comes allthe time, well her husband was Henry Louton and her father in law didn't like her and he left everything to the granddaughter who was Florence Louton's daughter and her husband was living and he saw a house going on the lot they owned. So Sewens was their lawyer because the old Mr. Louton was made him trustee or something for the kid, she was only a kid see and so Henny called Sewens up and Sewen said, don't say a word. When that house is 3/4 built, call me. So Sewens went down to the town, they were in such a hurry to get me off their back, they put the wrong lot number on the other piece of property to give the gut they were going to give this property to and I don't even know who he was. And so anyway Sewens went in the they had to give $10,000 in those days to that kid because she was a minor. Sure. The would would have been theirs. The house would have belonged tot he kid. So that was Welsh. This was all the mixing and that was how he got out of town. And Schmidt was his assistant so he got the job.
(I) And Schmidt has been there since.
(N) He's been there ever since, yeah. He said something the day I called him about the snow and he made disparaging remark about the county and I said, listen, I want to tell you something, Mr. Schmidt. If they didn't have crooked business in Teaneck, you wouldn't even be sitting in that chair. And he said, oh I'm sorry Mrs. Downs. They don't like it when you know too much in this town.
(I) Oh you don't think so.
(N) You know it.
(I) Now you were here before they build Route 4. What effect did they building of Route 4 have on the town?
(N) Well, I don't think it had too much, it took a lot of homes.
(I) I am not speaking so much of Route 4, I am speaking of Route 4 and the bridge. When they built the George Washington Bridge.
(N) Well, of course. Then the town started to build up after that. All those house over there where Dick Norman and Gloria Bretterman lived, they were all built. They were all built after then because where Route 4 is, on that side of the street the Samples owned a big estate. And then on the right hand side, the O'Hare's ere there and Shilling that owned the bank. He was where that restaurant was that just burned down, that's were he was.
(I) You mean the one on the hill there.
(N) No, the restaurant just by Route 4 there. They just ripped it down. I forgot the name of it again. Well, that was Shilling's house.
(I) The restaurant was Shilling's house. Big house, hah?
(N) that was Shillings' house and he sold out when Route 4 came in because they took his front yard and they took all the O'Hara property and these were the people with the money in those days. Mrs. O'Hare, her mother was the one that owned all this property in here. The O'Hare's and Mrs. Selvage, their mother owned all this property in here and their mother built St Anastasia's church. Her name was Anastasia Kelly.
(I) And that's how it got the name St. Anastasia's?
(I) She put up all the money for it?
(N) Yeah, well it was the old church. It isn't the one that is there now. It's the one where the Youth Hall is. And it wasn't every that size. They put that other addition on it in later years. And the Presbyterian Church is the oldest church in Teaneck. That was always here.
(I) The one on Teaneck Road and Church Street.
(N) That's the oldest. St. Paul's was built when I was in my teens.
(I) That was quite some time ago too.
(N) Christ Church was built, when they developed West Englewood, Christ Church was built. It is moved now. There is a synagogue where the original Christ Church was and I think the other one is down further on. I was in there at an ecumenical service but I don't remember exactly where it is. It is down near where that other synagogue is in West Englewood. You know toward River Road that way.
(I) Let me ask you a different question. You said this area was Irish, and further North was Italian. Were there any Jews then?
(N) Not to amount to anything. I don't remember any Jewish. We had black children in school with us. They lived over around Englewood Avenue there. There name was Lombardi.
(I) Then black had been living here a long time in Teaneck?
(N) Yeah, there was black children that lived over there near the Englewood border.
(I) What happened, from what you know, when the Jews started moving into town?
(N) Well the Jews came in here mostly during the Depression because a lot of those houses people lost them during the depression and I guess the Jewish people had the money to buy them up at that time.
(I) There were a lot of Jewish people in New York that didn't have any money whatsoever.
(N) No, no. But the ones that bought up those houses in West Englewood and down on Queen Anne Road were all boarded up. I know people that had to pay for a house they didn't even live in. You know, there were second mortgages and they got sued.
(I) And the second mortgage took it over.
(N) No. But I mean they had to pay off the second mortgage if they had a job of any kind. The second mortgage could sue them when the first mortgage didn't have enough in it.
(I) When the Jews started moving in, were there any problems?
(N) No. As far as I know, no. There never was any problem as far as the people or anything like that. Of course, I was grown up at that time so I didn't, but the ones I know, I knew from politics. You know, I was always going to the Teaneck Democratic Club. I remember one time we were having an affair in the Women's club, I remember it was going to be a buffet and they said they may have something and I said - we are not having any ham and we are not having any pork and Teddy Ricker was Jewish and he said, 'why' and I said well I would be insulted if somebody have me some meat on Friday. At that time, we couldn't eat meat on Friday, so I'm not insulting another religion so I would not serve the ham or the pork.
(I) That must be the same Teddy Ricker that lived in my back yard.
(N) He lived up there, yes, and then he moved down to Cavanaugh's Court. He's dead now.
(I) Yes, that's right. That's the same Teddy Ricker.
(N) They were my backyard neighbors for a little while.
(I) Well, I will tell you the story. His daughter married a Catholic and she got married, I was to the wedding, in Our Lady's Chapel in St. Patrick's Cathedral and Rabbi Washer said something to him and he said, well I gave you $4,000 to make a Jew out of her and if you couldn't do it for $4,000, what did you want me to do? But that's the kind he was. Teddy was the kind you could, lord have mercy on his soul, he was really a good chap. His wife is still living. She lives in Fort Lee. I still get a Christmas card from her. And the daughter is still, there was two buys, I don't know where they are now but she told me that the girl, the son-in-law was a professor in Loyola University down in Louisiana and the daughter is still living in Louisiana.
(I) How was transportation then?
(N) Oh, no transportation. We were talking about that yesterday. We were up to the Old Hook Inn and we came down and around through Englewood and I was coming to, well they used to call it Dean Street, is it still Dean Street when you come along there
(I) Yes, it's Dean Street.
(N) On the other side of the railroad track, and I said, where Livingston's is on the corner, anyway we were coming down there and we came to Forest Avenue and I said to Tom, I said this is where the trolley used to run. And I said, when I used to come from Holy Angels on Friday, see it was a boarding school, I said, I used to get off the trolley right here on Forest Avenue and Dean Street and walk up to here and I said I want to tell you something. That neighborhood was black and you weren't a bit afraid to walk up there and I said it used to be in the fall and in the winder, it would start to get dark at five o'clock.
(I) You had a good walk from Dean Street to here.
(N) Yeah, from Dean Street and Forest Avenue. Well there was no other transportation.