|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 George Larson
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||November 28, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (12/1985)|
NO INTRODUCTION - TAPE JUST STARTS
... and I said Jim, let me talk to the Chairman of the Board. And it is a socio-economic undertaking but there is an undertone of politics, you know. It is there. They didn't like where the whole concept emanated from Burr, came out of Chase Manhattan as a vice president. And I think he was in real estate mortgage in Chase Manhattan so he had a visualization that this land down in that corner of town was worth some money to the town. That we needed ratables and so forth. And he had the visualization to see that something could be done. And with that things began to happen. As a mayor, the brought up the subject to the council and so forth and it was finally voted on that they would consider this redevelopment plan.
(I) Now about when was this?
(N) Well that would be prior to 1970, somewhere prior to 1970 while he was mayor. He and Frank Hall, he personally, but Frank Hall was sympathetic to the idea and was a contributing associate for his thinking at the time. He subsequently became mayor, you know, Hall.
(I) So now, how did you get involved?
(N) The township, it was necessary under state rules in order to create a redevelopment agency, and this was a controlling body really and five members were chosen by the council, the mayor and council, and I was selected by the commissioner of Community Affairs down in Trenton and I was recommended by my friends on the council, probably the mayor himself, because I am an architect by training. I am an architect. I attended Harvard Graduate School of Architecture. So they know that and they put my name up and I was accepted and that's the basis. I was the only one that was outside so to speak of the choice by the council. Now that happened in 1970. I kept some news clippings.
(I) Would it be possible for us to borrow this and Xerox it. They would like to make copies
(N) You can have any of these things that you want. I have a beautiful concept of, original concept. There it is.
(I) Wonderful. Before I leave, I'll make a list of these things
(N) I'll let you take them.
(I) The procedure is we make a list and we get them back to you after we make copies. Very good. You are a good historian.
(N) Now in 1970, I think it was August 28, 1970, we were sworn in by the mayor at the Town Hall and it wasn't until 1973, let's see if I can find that now
(I) Now that was the Redevelopment Commission?
(N) Redevelopment Agency. Teaneck Redevelopment Agency. August 24, 1970 I was selected by the State Commissioner on Community Affairs. On March 15, 1973, after interviewing more than a dozen candidates, the Redevelopment Agency hired James D. Moore, and industrial realtor, as its executive director. So there was a lapse of three years there where Mr. Heffler and the rest of us, he was the chairman, the rest of us operated on a sort of a carte blanch arrangement in the time in which we discussed possible builders, a professional planner and so forth and actually we had to think about choosing a lawyer to take care of the legal aspects of our discussions. And that's what happened. We were three years after.
(I) Now were there controversies going on. What was
(N) Not so much at that stage. It came later as we got started on so-called implementation of a formal plan of some kind. That's when the confrontation started because it was then a point of record that we had to take some of the houses down there and destroy them and so forth and that's when we got the reaction from the local people.
(I) Well talk a little bit about that, how it began and were you surprised, did you
(N) Well we knew it had to happen but we didn't know the repercussions that would develop. Some people were amenable and others were really vindictive that they should be chased away from homes that they had occupied for years just by the it isn't exactly a whim but because of a thing like this taking over and we had some very hectic sessions but it really didn't develop into voicing and so forth until we got into the choice of a planner and then a subsequent plan.
(I) So then there was a focus that they had to
(N) That's right. Now with the acquisition of Mr. Moore as our chairman and Mr. Heffler as the chairman of our, executive director Moore and Heffler was a lawyer and he was the chairman and we also had, I want to comment on the board. I thought it was great. The vice chairman was Stanley Gilinsky and he was the vice president of Gimbels department store; very capable gentleman. Both of them.
(I) What was his position on the board.
(N) He was vice chairman. Mr. Heffler was chairman. And John Dunican who subsequently became the chairperson or the chairman he is serving now, oh he has been on for years now, I'll get back to the other happening and he is sales engineer I guess, very capable gentleman.
(I) Do you know how to spell his name?
(N) Dunican, John Dunican. I'll give you all this stuff and you can pick it out. There was a local man, Henry Dolch, and he ran a body shop in I think Cliffside Park over there. Either Cliffside or Palisades Park. And then we had a Dr. Clifford Davis who was a manufacturing pharmacist, pharmaceutical man. He was heading up a pharmaceutical company, had international business, and he had some difficulty, personal difficulty, and he didn't last too long. He stepped down and then we took in a woman, a woman took his place. I've forgotten her name. But you can say a substitute for him. And then, here's the picture, six of us. Then we went through the process of finding a lawyer and we had many applicants and including one woman who is now a judge here in the county and we subsequently settled on a fellow by the name of Seymour, a lawyer out of Hackensack.
(I) Then you began to come up with a plan?
(N) Not that early. The first thing after Mr. Moore joined us, he went into the early stages of going to visit the property owners that had to be moved.
(I) Approximately how many people?
(N) About forty some odd houses were either taken, moved or what not in the process of getting this ready. Mr. Moore had to deliberate with them and trade, negotiate. Moore came out of real estate so he knew it and he had that job
(I) Actually going to their houses.
(N) Oh yes, he went down and he went Saturdays and Sundays and went through the neighborhood. The thing was so extensive that he was going back and back because people left him in limbo so to speak on decisions so it was a very slow process to get this done and in the meantime, we were trying to also arrive with his help at selecting a planning advisor and we struck upon a firm in Newark called Candeub Fleissig-Fleissig is a German word for diligent, hard work. Have you got that? Candeub Fleissig & Associates.
(I) And that was the firm you selected for planning.
(N) We actually contracted for them on June 4, 1971. That's a year after we were sworn in. You can read these over and you'll get a pretty complete concept of what the procedure was.
(I) Now what was being offered to the people who were asked to move?
(N) Well we gave them market value for their homes and a little bit more. I mean he made it as palatable as he possibly could but he checked for the so-called market value of the home they had and so forth; also the consideration if it was necessary to move and so forth, he paid for the moving and everything.
(I) And you helped them find a place?
(N) We tried to, yes. That was part of the effort to try to find a place for them.
(I) Where did most of those people wind up?
(N) I have no idea. They varied.
(I) Do you know if they stayed in Teaneck?
(N) Some of them did. I can't say all of them. I wish Mr. Moore was available but he's now gone, you know. He is up at Bridgeport. But some of them did. Some of them found relocation and so forth. A couple of houses were actually moved; people found the price agreeable and so forth and moved, just moved the houses, but it was only a couple. Now in the process of arriving at a plan and so forth, there was enough of opposition and so forth so that in April of 1972, the Teaneck Taxpayers League representing residents of the Glenwood Park area instituted a legal action for the purpose of blocking the redevelopment program. The following month, in May, the mayor and the agency chairman, George Hefler, conducted a series of informal meetings with residents of that area for an exchange of views on the redevelopment proposal.
(I) Had you expected, did your group anticipate there would be all this controversy?
(N) Well knowing human nature and the fact that there were, these were elderly people, a good many of them were elderly people, the ones that were in a more intermediate level of age, I think were more inclined to put up a real opposition than the older people. The older people had a sentimentality about having lived there all the years but they felt it was inevitable, the cards of fate so to speak. They accepted it. There were still a couple that were ... but the intermediates, the people that had the relatively newer homes in the area and were I would say below middle life, they were the strong opposition. There were some that were very
(I) How long did that go on about?
(N) I would think sometime within the course of a year or more.
(I) What kind of impact did that have on what your group was doing and on the eventual
(N) Well we faced it and knew that we had to resolve it. Either resolve it or give up the project. That was the alternative.
(I) Were there ever any moments when you came close to giving up the project?
(N) No. At one stage, this is out of the sequence of events, but at one stage we had a meeting with the council and so forth, the new council, after we'd arrived at a projected plan and so forth and new council members and one of the council people insisted on having kind of a corporate area, low buildings and corporate headquarters and she had no realization of what we faced in developing that plan because it was what they call "fallow" meaning sour, poor ground affected by the tidewaters. Actually the tidewaters came up in there. And the justification for the redevelopment and so forth was the fact that it was fallow ground and we were going to make something out of it. That's why it was declared available for redevelopment.
(I) Tell me a little bit about that. The factors that you took under consideration to decide how to, the specifics of the development, you said that the quality of the land because you couldn't do anything else. I mean was it
(N) Well the soil was really muck. Just swamp. That's really what it was. So that anything in the way of selective building and so forth that didn't involve enough human occupancy or however you want to put it that would justify the cost for foundations and everything was totally out of consideration.
(I) So it was going to be a very expensive proposition.
(N) Absolutely. And the reason that the high rise aspect of it came in was that the only way you could get the thing to be considered valid and so forth as an investment and so forth was to have high rise for the occupancy, volume, because the foundation costs would be so great that anything less than that would throw the cost of the building and the subsequent rental or whatever you want to call it into a higher bracket than anything around the county or anywhere. Just an exceptional condition.
(I) So it was almost necessary for it to take the shape that it took? There wasn't much in the way of an alternative.
(N) Exactly. Some people, I can't recall, but there were some on the council, it got to the point where they said, well if that's the case, maybe we just ought to leave or develop it into a nice park and forget it. They even said it after that.
(I) Could it have been a park? Is the land
(N) That would have been expensive but it could have been a park. Part of it was suggested by the initial builder, the one that submitted the favorable bid, to put a lake in and they did, they included it and they were going to pay for it out of their money and for the purchase of the land and everything, their proposition was to advance this money and then take care of all the site preparation, you know, the roads and all that plus a lake.
(I) Now you had, there was an initial builder and who was going to go ahead, who had a successful bit
(N) No, there was an offer that was the most favorable out of a series of, when we got to the stage where we were ready to consider a plan, we had to look around for prospective investors, entrepreneurs so to speak and we got a list of them and these are the bids, I kept a record of them,
(I) Boy, you got everything.
(N) And Hartz Mountain, you know the one that does all... they submitted a figure of $3,500,000 for the land and they came forward with a 10% check as kind of a down payment or good faith or whatever you call it. An escrow payment. And they were the ones that we were concerned about because and interested in because they said they would do the project that was subsequently designed by Candeub Fleissig, do it in phases; they wouldn't do it all at once; they'd do it in phases and they would guarantee that the project would be finished in six years. And they also said, and I'll quote you this, "we would purchase the site for the price of $3,500,000 payable in cash on title closure." This was on the proposition that they would be the, would be chosen. "We would expect to commence development for the site within six months of title acquisition" and so forth. "We anticipate the completion of the project" as I told you "in six years." Now the one thing about them that we liked was, "we feel that we can prosecute and complete this project in the manner which would be mutually satisfactory" and so forth. No, that isn't what I wanted. I wanted to tell you about them. "Our company is organized in such a way as to insure our ability to simultaneously plan, construct and finance a number of large diversified real estate projects" so they, we were pleased at their offering and so forth and they said they were able to operate on this basis "because of our very strong financial position having a net worth of several hundred million dollars". That's Hartz Mountain. They were very impressive. We had all these others that varied from their basic theme but nothing that was as optimistic or interesting to us as Hartz Mountain.
(I) Well maybe I am skipping ahead but then what happened to that, to them?
(N) Well, the project, at this stage we had a plan and this is an excellent model
(I) And this is about what year? Too bad they didn't date these things. Well just an approximate, this was around 73, 74?
(N) 74. Because it says here, the $60,000,000 construction project will require the import of skilled and semi-skilled construction workers for an entire development period of 1970 to 1980 so it would be in the 74 area. But there's the model and the location looking down on the plan. That was their proposal, Candeub Fleissig because they are developers and also have the architectural division in their company to develop drawings like that.
(I) And then Hartz Mountain was going to be the financier of this plan or how did that ...
(N) At this stage, it was, they were an interesting consideration as the entrepreneurs because we felt that with the projection of their finances and everything, that we had someone who could carry this thing to completion. No government money involved, they didn't want any subsidy by the town or anything. They said give us the opportunity to take this and we will have it ready in six years. We want to do this. And pay you in phases. They would do the office building and get that ready and so forth and not get into the housing until after some of the other stuff but they had it all phased and guaranteed us that the thing would be ready in six years. And the thing that they stressed us in our discussions and so forth was the fact that we didn't want this to be a harsh development. Just a cold, commercial development and forgetting the residential quality that surrounds them so that they made a great point of having that thing set in such a way with a buffer of trees and planting and so forth to keep it attractive and also the lake to add a nice quality to it, to have that lake.
(I) Now George, that's not the plan that got implemented, is it?
(N) Oh no.
(I) What happened?
(N) Well that was defeated because the element in the council that it was a combination of politics and I think personality. I think there were people on the council at that time that did not have very nice feelings towards Mayor Burr, he is a Republican, a staunch Republican and so forth and there was that whole segment in the majority that, other than Burr and Hall, that were Democratic in principle and so forth and they just didn't go along with it and the high rise was the thing they took advantage of. It was a psychological thing and at one point, just before reelection for the board, the town board, they got out a whole lot of publicity on it and one thing was startlingly unfair and that was a picture by some photographer, published in the paper, with this stigma of the high rise apartments coming to Teaneck. The photographer must have laid on his stomach over in Fort Lee and got a little bit of a, an inexpensive little cottage, low income type of cottage and then so forth and this thirty story apartment house behind it so it just was frightening and of course it was psychological deterrent to the whole idea and so in the final analysis, it was that scare tactic that defeated it. This scheme here was developed with the idea of having condominium apartments, like town houses, condominium apartments, and there were lots of people that were interested in that type of thing, that had all their family grown up and big homes in town and they wanted to get out. One of my dear friends that served on the Board of Education with me said, we had a cottage meeting here, members of the council were running, Mr. Burr and others, and this man spoke up and he said, George, when that place gets built, he said, save a place for me. He lives over on West Englewood. That's the type of feeling we had. But, to make a long story short, the apartment groups were conceived with parking for the residents below and that was at least two stories of parking and everything had the tendency to push the height and it gave them material to build on, you know. This anti-high rise.
(I) Well what was the proposed, what was the highest building when that original plan. It doesn't look that terribly high.
(N) Well that's the point. We figured at the time that the roof of the highest building and so forth would be no higher than the level of Queen Anne Road up above. In other words, if you drew a plan across from Queen Anne Road right across on a level, it would be, the highest building would be below that line.
(I) Well I want to stick with where we are in time but let me just jump forward for a minute. The, what is there now, is that, I mean there is a high rise there now.
(N) So to speak. The hotel is the high rise. That was conceded. They realized that in order to be successful and so forth, the hotel, 350 rooms and so forth
(END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)
... they realized that but they had this fixation I guess you could call it of thinking that the way to defeat this whole thing was to fight this high rise and that's what they set out to do and they did. They destroyed it. The voters came out and voted it down and voted Mr. Burr out. Frank Hall survived the whole thing. His associate survived. But the others all came in. Silverstein, Jordon who was a Rhodes scholar so to speak, an Episcopal. minister, Kramer and Keilizcek. They were all anti and Max Haase and Dougherty, they were all anti-high rise and against the project on that basis. That we were going to proliferate high rises in Teaneck. That was the argument. High rises were going to proliferate.
(I) How many would there have been on that site in that plan. Was it ...
(N) Multi-family housing, six to eight stories and it looks as though there were two major units and an intermediate one. Here you are, I'll show you here. These are the high rises and see down underneath there, see that was a terrace with planting to make it attractive but underneath there, there were two levels of parking for the tenants.
(I) Now do you think, in your estimation, would that have opened the door for high rises all over Teaneck?
(N) No. The lawyer, Mr. Hefler, established lawyer, head of a firm in Union City, headed up a big firm, and he absolutely reiterated the fact that in light of what had happened in Teaneck, there would be no proliferation of high rise apartments. He assured the community. And I have a letter here that we wrote, this was the final gas, we each invested money in it because it had to be published in a local paper, you know, and it was called AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CITIZENS OF TEANECK and it was composed by him and the lawyer. I'll see if I can find the right ... now I don't know whether you want me to, I'll take a couple of paragraphs here. This is an Open Letter to the Citizens of ... Legitimate concerns about the proposed redevelopment are understood. The redevelopment agency has tried to respond factually to these concerns and to supply all available information concerning the plan. Many of the statements of those who are campaigning and organizing opposition to the plan are seriously untrue concerning the procedures pursued in the publication of the plan, its formulation, consideration and adoption as well as its anticipated consequences. Now this is what this man has ...
(I) What's the date of that letter?
(N) It has no date on it. Doesn't have a date on it. It was just before the reelection which was in late 74, got to be late 74.
(I) Now when the new council was elected, was that when you were off the redevelopment agency?
(N) No. I stayed. My term was five years and I was still going. I was appointed in 70 and I had five years under the appointment. Prior to the adoption in August of the redevelopment plan, there was substantial press coverage of the plan and its proposal. Between April 13th, 73 and August 7th, 73, there were on eleven different dates stories describing the plan in THE RECORD, THE TEANECK NEWS and THE PRESS JOURNAL. During the same period, representatives of the (inaudible) attended meetings of various community groups including the League of Women Voters, The City Club, Kiwanis, St. Anastasia, Teaneck Political Assembly and meetings of citizens in the area most directly affected in which the details of the plan were outlined. We did. We did a lot. We went to the Presbyterian Church and used their rooms over there; we occupied the whole auditorium of Thomas Jefferson Junior High School at one stage; and we did a lot of traveling. I went out at night and we went to face directly the opposition and try to talk it out. Let me read this statement: The greatest opposition appears to concentrate on the so-called "high rise" apartment. Our studies showed and professional advise demonstrated that the project could easily support for the benefit of all and certainly without damage to environmental and social factors. Multi-family units of greater density and far in excess of ten stories. The (inaudible) limit of this density by cutting down from a realistic easily marketable potential development of 650 multi family units to 450 multi family units and by limiting the height of all buildings, office, motel and residential. That was the concession.
(I) And you were going to limit to ten stories.
(N) At that point, they were arguing here that the project could easily support multi family units, those residential units of greater density and far in excess of ten stories. And as I said earlier, the argument here was that as a building investment and so forth, with the type of money that had to be put into foundations and everything, it was almost essential that you have the height and so forth to get the volume, capacity and so forth to offset the cost of the foundation.
(I) Tell me, when this was defeated, how did you feel after all this work?
(N) Well it was demeaning for one thing because the mayor was kicked out. His associate was, the others were of course jubilant. They had beaten the deal and they were happy.
(I) So that must have been really a crushing blow?
(N) Oh yes, yes. So we started out again in a new direction and I don't remember the steps or procedures of reconsideration but we then went to thinking about getting a new concept and so forth and rather than go back to Candeub Fleissig. They had done their work, whatever we contracted for because things were done with a fixed price; the council paid the bill. They had done their work so we went to consider other architectural designers. As a group, we sat down and wondered about new directions and so forth and we had to come up with a concept that we hoped would meet the approval of the town people and the council and so forth so we sat down and considered other architectural firms.
(I) Let me ask you, how did you, how were you able to keep going? Didn't you feel like throwing in the towel at that point?
(N) No, it was surprising. We just felt that if the thing meant that much to Teaneck, we weren't going to just throw it overboard. The whole concept and the ultimate benefit to Teaneck was overshadowed whatever effort we were putting in to have it survive. We were cohesive. There was no question about that.
(I) Really? The whole group was together on that?
(N) That was the one thing of all. We've had a lot of compliments because, of course since my time, there have been people coming and going in the thing but John Dunican and I are the two survivors plus Jim Moore. We are the two survivors from the, John and I were picked in 1970 and Mr. Moore in 73 and now Mr. Moore is gone and John and I are the only two left of the original commissioners so to speak. Well to get back to the other now. We were going to consider a new approach to the project and so forth so because of my familiarity in architecture, I named these top firms to have them come in and one of them was John C. Warnecke Associates, a California firm. wait until I get the name for you. John Carl Warnecke and Associates. Now they were a fine firm on the west coast and so forth and I knew the work they'd done on college campuses and community construction. They'd done stuff out in Hawaii, a lovely government building. Kind of a pavillion type thing. Very smart looking. Something like Ed Stone had done in the Brussels Fair. But there was Warnecke and then Edward Durrell Stone, you remember that name? And then something, Owens & Merrill. I can't think of the first name.
(N) That's the girl. You are well versed on the architect. Skidmore, Owens & Merrill and I would say they were the three top ones but there were a couple of others. I can't remember now. They all came prepared to present a show and tell us their qualifications but Warnecke came and their presentation, they had two projectors, slide projectors with these beautiful color slides of projects they'd done and they just sold ... I had no surprise because I knew their reputation but they did a wonderful job and they sold themselves and we selected them for the, for a new plan and a fellow by the name of A. Eugene Kohn was the president and he came with his associates and they did a marvelous job. Now they developed a plan that was not radically different from the plan but they avoided the high rise. They tried to keep things more moderate scale so to speak and we had, again, repetition of these meetings and presentation of the council. A chance for the public to see and so forth and that went over a period of time and before the thing was consummated, I was let go from the ... and I was not a part of the thing when they, what do you call it, left, the actual procedure or planning of the next phase and I don't know what happened that they were dropped. I just don't recall. I don't remember any discussion. But I was out and so there was a temporary when I felt I was out of it and I didn't follow it.