|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 Frank McGlynn
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||February 13, 1984|
I am speaking with Mr. Frank McGlynn who is a neighbor of mine on Princeton Road in the West Englewood section of Teaneck. Frank, before we go any further, I must ask your permission to use this tape in training sessions for interviewers.
(N) You have my permission to do so.
(I) The first question I wanted to ask you, Frank, was about how Teaneck looked when you first came here in 1936.
(N) When one looks back forty some odd years, you have to be careful not to let your picture be tinged with nostalgia, which is a habit with people as, they get older. But in any event, when we arrived on Princeton Road in 1936, it was a quiet, small, single block street with a great deal of vacant land still undeveloped. The old West Englewood Hill, at that time, and at the time I purchased my house, it was referred to as Mortgage Hill, the development and the building of houses had been at its height in the year the market crash, 1929. And with the crash, of course, all building stopped dead. However, it was a lovely street and I was one of the people who bought a foreclosed property and while there was, as I said before, plenty of vacant land, it was very pleasant and very quiet and in all, a charming lovely town.
(I) Tell me the trees couldn’t possible have been as big as they are now.
(N) No. The town at the time was still interested in having people place trees on the ribbons and of course none of the trees at that time had reached their present heights.
(I) Now I wanted to ask you about, you’ve already answered part of it, what Teaneck was like during the Depression when you came.
(N) Well first of all, one must remember that Teaneck when we arrived was definitely a bedroom for New York City workers. 90% of the male population got on the West Shore either at the West Englewood or Teaneck Station and went either to midtown or downtown area of New York for their work. People, however, were quite neighborly. I feel much more so than they are now. They were mostly professional people with either the big insurance companies or the big banks in New York or associated in some professional capacity in the city but they enjoyed one another and were quite neighborly and quite friendly and found a common interest in their gardens, their children, the local schools, etc.
(I) How did you get to New York?
(N) Getting to New York was truly a joy, something that has completely disappeared. The people at our end of town simply walked down West Englewood Avenue and at the foot of West Englewood Avenue, the West Shore Railroad provided ample and frequent transportation at the commuting hours in the morning and also for the return in the evening. In the morning, you rode down on the West Shore to Weehawken and from Weehawken you took a ferry directly across to 42nd Street or on downtown to Chambers Street and then walked up to Wall Street area. You had five minutes from home a very pleasant walk then forty minutes on the train and I went downtown. Twenty minutes on the ferry which was simply a delightful ride. At the time, they finally abandoned the passenger traffic on the West Shore; it was a great disappointment to hundreds of people in Teaneck.
(I) Tell me, had the trains been very well used up until that time?
(N) The trains were completely used up until that time but it was a bad era for all railroads in this country. My first opinion was that they were badly managed, that most of the passenger service in the suburban areas, both in New York State and in New Jersey, could have been saved with a little intelligent management but that failed and the railroad of course were hard hit by the Depression. But as far as the passenger traffic on the commuter lines was concerned, they seemed to well patronize.
(I) What did you have to do after they closed down the railroad?
(N) Well when the railroad closed down, that became quite a problem in transportation. A great many people had to resort to bus traffic into New York most of that was across the George Washing Bridge and then one had to take the subway downtown. Or a great many people formed car pools and drove to Weehawken and took the ferries from there.
(I) And then the ferry shut down eventually.
(N) Eventually the ferry shut down and of course the only choice then was to take the car pool to Hoboken and go across on the Path Trains. But it changed the whole commuting life from a very lovely commute that only took an hour or less to a horrendous operation that generally involved parking or an hour and a half to two hours frequently.
(I) What about the roads. Route 4 was here when you first came.
(N) When we first came in 1936, the Route 4 artery was in because the George Washington Bridge had been completed and of course Route 4 was the great traffic lane. However, it became so popular as a route from both New England and New York and with the completion of the Turnpike extension shortly thereafter, the traffic problem was such that on Route 4, one tried best to avoid it at the commuting hours if one could find some other method of transportation or some other route to take. Particularly on weekends it was a great Sunday exodus for people living in the City.
(I) When you first came here, the City Manager form of government was already in place.
(N) The city management form of government was already in place and were all extremely proud of it at the time. Teaneck was enjoying a really a national form of reputation in the United States because of its very successful management form of government. It sprang of course from the truly non-partisan politics that existed at the time with friends and neighbors. When township problems arose or political discussions arose, one never dreamed of discussing local politics in the framework of being a Republican or being a Democrat or a conservative or a liberal; one dealt completely with what the existing Town Council had accomplished or should have accomplished during its existing regime and debated solely upon the qualifications of the candidates as to what they were going to do for Teaneck and how they were going to continue this very excellent Township Government they had at the time.
(I) Do you remember any of the problems that you discussed at the time?
(N) Well the problems were still basically the same. There was the matter of the roads, there was the matter of transportation, there was the matter of the railroad and its furnishing of commuter service to town, there was the matter of the schools and the cost of the schools and of course as the town went in a growing position, the necessity for new schools. Sort of a complete reverse of what we have now. But I have a feeling that there was far less politics in the government of the town and in the operation of the school board. My feeling was that we were a very vital, very interested community and at least in my opinion in some way we seem to have lost that.
(I) I think we will go on to the schools then because your children went to the Teaneck Public Schools.
(N) My children went to the Teaneck local school, Whitter School and to the high school and in both cases, we were delighted with not their particular performance but performance of the whole school. We were always active members of the P.T.A. and I can remember distinctly the P.T.A. in the Whitter School debating very, very seriously whether there would be any gain for us to join the State and the National Organization of the P.T.A. We were so proud of the performance of the school and our performance that we felt that we needed no national interference. Eventually however we succumbed to not necessarily pressure but through well perhaps it would be best to join the State and the National Organization of the P.T.A.
(I) I think I have just enough time to ask you what you did for recreation. You and your children.
(N) Recreation for the children was basically not a town-sponsored affair. It was a family sponsored affair. None of the families at that time expected or enjoyed any specific assistance from the town in the matter of the swim clubs or any organization such as that. Those were entirely provided by the parents and of course there was ample provision in the county for those purposes. There were parks and the children utilized the parks. It seems to me far more than they do now in that they, after they skated which they enjoyed very much in the wintertime.
(I) That you very much Frank. I am to stop this after twenty minutes.
(End of Tape 1)
(Begin Tape 2)
(I) Frank, one of the first questions I wanted to ask you was where were you born?
(N) I was born in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
(I) And you lived in New York before you came to Teaneck.
(N) For eight years prior to coming to Teaneck, I lived in New York City.
(I) And you moved to Teaneck in 1936.
(N) That’s correct.
(I) We were talking last time about what Teaneck was like at that time and I would like to go on with the story about the changes.
(N) Of course Helen. You recall last time when I spoke about the changes. Of people looking backwards and often becoming nostalgic. That tends to cloud the picture. One really must remember and that it what I’ve endeavored to do these conversations. When I arrived in Teaneck, it was very definitely a white Protestant community. And however it was not the chic place in Bergen County. Saddle River and Ridgewood and Tenafly were considered by my particular ethnic group (white and protestant) as being the desirable locations. However, there was a basic difference, which I sensed particularly in my conversation both with neighbors and with fellow commuters on the train. There was definitely a consciousness in Teaneck. It expressed itself most openly in the politics of the time. I would wish for Teaneck that somewhat along wells outline of history, the basic elements could be run down separately from its origin to the present and I really believe that you would find that we have a distinctive town in a number of respects. With the inroad of the black population in the 40s, there was quite a bit of local disturbance in the sense that certain people decided that they would run and others would stay but the mere fact that a great majority of them did stay, spoke well for the attitude of Teaneck’s white population in the matter of civil rights. Most of them were definitely sympathetic with the importance of Civil Rights Legislation and the advancement and equal opportunity for blacks. However, there was also the excesses on both sides of the screen which caused some minor disturbances but none of any significant character as occurred in many other localities.
(I) Frank, you once mentioned something about activities among the real estate people in Teaneck.
(N) Oh there was no question about that. The real estate people both in Teaneck and in the surrounding towns definitely promoted panic sales and blockbusting and it took some considerable effort which finally had to reach the state levels before legislation and proper policing action was achieved in order to put a stop to this practice. Although I think there are some traces of it right down to the present day.
(I) Do you remember when this started, the year?
(N) Well I would say following the World War and the national agitation for civil rights and the advent of the Kennedys and Johnsons in the White House gave rise to similar action here. And many of the people who spearheaded it, the fight for civil rights and equal opportunity in Teaneck, were white people.
(I) Frank, were the churches involved in this at all?
(N) Not aggressively. I believe from my personal observation that most of the cleric governors of the various religious denominations in Teaneck tended to take a passive or middle of the road attitudes. There was no outstanding ministers or priests that I can recall who were on the bullworks from improvement in this area.
(I) Do you remember any particulars about the fight? Did it go to the Council first against the real estate people?
(N) Insofar as the real estate debacle at the time, there was a great deal of furor which did reach the Council meetings but I can recall no definitive action on the part of the Council to put a stop to the practice. Whether they were inhibited by lack of legislation or needing legislation to take prompt action, after all it was a very difficult charge to sustain in a court action or in a critical campaign to try to put a stop to it. The action was solely a sort of a (subrose) arrangement between the parties, the realtor and the buyer and the seller of course unless one could prove that this action was being taken, it would be difficult to sustain.
(I) Tell me, how did it get to the state?
(N) Well it got to the state because of the uproar in communities all over the state for the same reason and certain legislators decried the action, particularly that of blockbusting and using scare tactics in a town and did enact certain legislation the nature of which I cannot exactly recall to try and prevent such action but again I refer to the difficulty of the enforcement of any laws of this kind.
(I) Which still exist, don’t they?
(I) Tell me, I would like to go back for a while to the schools because your children went to the schools and I remember once you said that you remembered certain very fine teachers in the schools.
(N) Yes indeed. I believe that one of the outstanding features of Teaneck as compared to other communities was the excellent school system both at the high school level and at the lower grade level. My experience was that of meeting and greeting at very active PTA meetings the excellent teachers we did have. Unfortunately I’ve always been lazy about remember names so that accolades which are due a number of them, I can’t definitely give but I recall a Mrs. Hill in the high school who was an outstanding educator and an outstanding influence upon the children in the community.
(I) These were between the years of, say, when did your children start school?
(N) Well my children started school in from about 1943, 42 or 43 until twelve years would be 1955.
(I) So that they were in school during the big explosion of the school population.
(N) They were part of the explosion in the schools population, yes.
(I) And there was a necessity for new schools.
(N) There was at the time unquestionably a necessity of building new schools, which the taxpayers supported at the time because the justification was evident.
(I) That’s when they had schools going to the sixth grade and then two junior high schools and the high school.
(N) That’s right.
(I) And that time of course was the beginning of the controversy I guess over integration of the schools, over busing, is that?
(N) Yes. The town was sharply divided in that respect. The people of that is most of the people that I spoke to, felt that the town had been a forerunner in the matters of integration. At the time it was a very serious national problem. Teaneck was held up as the sort of an example of how a town should be run. It was felt, however, that as the town was properly integrated and as the blacks were accepted members of the community and moving into public life both in business and in civil servants in the town, that the matter of busing children at an enormous expense all over town such as creating a special sixth grade school was an unnecessary and an unwarranted expense and that they felt that the children could go to the schools adjacent to their communities without any difficulty. However, the controversy has really never yet been settled. Let’s move along.
(I) Let me finish this thought. So that finally when your children were still in school, we had the lower grades and then we had two junior highs schools and we had the high school and there was busing to all of these schools to keep the town integrated. Is that right?
(N) That’s right.
(I) How did this get involved with our local government? Do you remember anything about that?
(N) Well the matter of local government, I would like to start back in the beginning with my arrival in Teaneck and give you my impression as to what has occurred since. When I first arrived in Teaneck, and one of the reasons why Teaneck was really on the national map at the time as a governed community was the general attitude of the Council at the time, the excellent Town Manager, but primarily I felt it sprang from the intent and the desire of the voting community. As I recall insofar as local government was concerned, there was no national political influence of any kind. People voted for their local candidates for the Council purely on the basis of what they wanted the Council to do to merit their vote. There was no even implication of a person being a Democrat or Republican or Conservation or a Liberal. He was simply a person who fellow citizens felt could for the Town of Teaneck would do his absolute level best to serve the community and community affairs. The township meetings were lively and controversial at times but there was not a superior attitude that has since developed in which one has the feeling that the open meetings are to placate the mob as witness the sojourn to Cape Cod in order to have a meeting out of the way of the hoipolloi. Then everyone who was a participant in government at that time and for some reason or another, we drifted away from that in Teaneck. Candidates became associated with political parties not necessarily or precisely insofar as the election was concerned in Teaneck, but the feeling pervaded that he was either a Liberal or a Conservative, a Democrat or a Republican, he had influence with the county freeholders or he didn’t have influence. So that the matter willy-nilly became political and destroyed the attitude that existed at the time which I feel is to the detriment of the town. With some frequency, I think executive meetings are held entirely without reason but in order to achieve something in secret before it is sprung on the public.
(I) When do you date these changes from?
(N) Well the changes were gradual. I think part of it had to do with the difficulties in the 40s and 50s in connection with civil rights when people tended to decide one way or another on a purely national situation and thus became associated with national and political groups insofar as their thinking and actions were concerned.
(I) Frank, do you remember any of the controversies of the Council that you referred to?
(N) Well I believe the most serious one that I recall is comparatively recent but it was and it is still going on for the matter but the unbelievable situation that developed insofar as the School Board was concerned. At the time when any simple study or examination of the population of the town would clearly shows that there would be a sharp decline in the school population, there was that group in the School Board who were determined to create a third junior high school and a senior high school and build a new million dollar senior high school.
(I) When did this happen? Do you remember the year of this?
(N) No I don’t recall the exact year but it is all comparatively recent and the people of the town, many people of the town, were flabbergasted that with the school population shrinking and all about us in other towns were closing schools, we were talking about building still another school. However, the idea whether, I don’t know whether it actually was put on paper but it was discussed by the then School Board and some people were quite adamant about it.
(Tape 2 – Side 2)
(N) The popularity of Teaneck among a great many people of the equal persuasion did cause some turmoil in the town. It was not particularly overt or pronounced but it did exist. You will recall that in previous conversations with you, the overall topic of Teaneck I had spoken about my arrival here and the fact that it was a white protestant community. We also covered to some extent the difficulties, which incurred as a result of the influx of blacks into the community and the attendant difficulties as a result of the National Civil Rights Movement. So it was inevitable that insofar as the old guard was concerned, that considerable influx of Jewish people in our community touched off some of the bigotry that exists with people. Most of the early Jewish movement into Teaneck as I recall it was that of reformed Jews.
(I) Do you remember the dates when they started? Just so we get that down.
(N) Well it is difficult for me to face on dates because my memory is. There have been so many changes in town. But I would say that it was a matter of at least twenty-five years that they began to be a significant discernible element of the population. As I said, the first Jewish people to move in town were of the reformed section of Jewry and were quite ambitious, successful people. Many of them were from, not many of them; practically all of them at that time were in business in New York City. Some owners of shops, others in the garment industry and many of them in highly placed educational jobs in the various schools throughout New York City. But all of them were commuters and they were well groomed and well dressed and, as a rule, quite friendly people. And they were absorbed, well not exactly absorbed, but soon fitted into the community and soon gave evidence of their interest in the town. They had their influence on the schools, which I would like to talk about a little later, but then the second group of Jewish people to move in the town were those of the Orthodox persuasion. They were totally different in my opinion, of course. They were quiet and well groomed and they appeared to me to be or to occupy in the commercial world positions or lesser importance than the first group and, of course, are unique in their pursuit of their particular type of Orthodoxy, that is the religion of their group. They in a number of places around town to a great extent purchased individual homes or properties which became their synagogue and observed the Sabbath with a great deal more emphasis or, it is hard for me to explain actually, but they were totally different and much more obvious. Personally, I define that as the time passed. Now remember these people, these were not – what is the pronunciation of the word – Hassidic Jews so that there was no abnormality in manner or dress that made them particularly obvious but the, I felt that the Orthodox were more self-contained and less interested in a general way in the town than the reformed Jews that had preceded them. That is the former group were quite aggressive politically and quite aggressive in bringing about many changes in the schools which were registered by the older population. However, I have no grasp on the mathematics or the percentages that now exist but I feel that the Jewish population rather than, in Teaneck, rather than being a minority group or a minority section, now represents a very significant section of the population which can no longer be looked upon and classed in a minority sense and that our dominance in politics of the town.
(I) We wanted to get back to what your children’s childhood was like. What was it like to be a child in Teaneck?
(N) The question of the children and the question of my own children growing up in Teaneck gives me some concern. I recall most vividly the relationship between the child and the school in those days and the relationship of the parent to the child and the school. Primarily the schools as I recall them and I was quite active in the PTA were oriented to the three R’s – reading, writing, and arithmetic. That was the basic formula taught with thoroughness accompanied by appropriate discipline. It never occurred to me as a parent or it never occurred to any of my neighbors as parents that if the child showed some special talent of some kind that the common wheel was supposed to provide it. If a child showed unusual talent for music, of course he had some music in school but he was not expected to receive his musical education there. The parents went out and hired a piano teacher or other instrumental teachers and the child went on from there insofar as this special talent was concerned. If a girl showed a particular proficiency for dance, she went to dancing school and so on. I recall quite distinctly to try and get across this point that the parent as a whole did not feel the obligator that the schools should provide all sorts of special curriculum and special programs to meet the needs of a few talented children. Parents of talented children provided that themselves. I recall quite distinctly, and this is absolutely first-hand information out of my personal experience, I had two children in school and at the age of twelve, the boy was the older one, he, we discovered rather that he had, which frequently happens to boys of his age, had developed a reading block and of course in the matter of sibling situation with the girl one year younger, it was a great deal of difficulty between the two children because of that fact. She was a year behind him in school. Yet her reading was far more advanced than his. A very difficult situation. So how did we pursue the situation? We did it as all other parents. We sought help, not from the school system because we didn’t expect the public schools to provide special help for special situations.
My son at the age of twelve years of age every Saturday got on a bus in Teaneck, rode to New York City, got on the subway, rode down to New York University on 12thStreet and attended a special school at New York University designed precisely for children having such reading blocks. And by way of mention, 95% of them were boys. And at considerable cost overcome the problem in a matter of two years time. Now he then was in high school and once again, while he had overcome his serious reading block, we soon became aware of the fact that through no fault of the schools, that our son needed more individual attention. So while we left the girl in high school, in Teaneck High School, where she graduated with honors, we moved the boy to the Englewood School for boys where the tuition, then as now, is very substantial and where he was subject to a program which provided one teacher for every ten children. Plus he was obliged to perform every day. Now, as I have said to may people around me, the whole attitude of the parent towards the school system was just as my own was at that time. If a child had a problem or if a child had a talent, no one expected the school system to take care of that talent or take care of that problem because they rely that put undue expense on taxpayers for something, which was your own problem or blessing. As a result of the departure from the original Three R Program, the school curriculum became highly complex and very expensive. I would wish that there would become a time in Teaneck in which the problems or talents of children were not considered a matter of the public school system but were a problem specifically to be taken care of by the parents. In closing for this session, I would hope that I could leave this thought with you. That the obligation of that child’s parents. Not the school system, not the little league, not the playground programs and I think unfortunately we have gone a little far a field in Teaneck in this area.
(I) Thank you very much Frank. I’ve really en (End of tape)