|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.|
|NARRATOR:||Alfred F. Muscari|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||April 25, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (1/2/1985)|
Mr. Muscari, I am so happy that we have finally gotten together and that we have met each other. I know you haven't been feeling that well and so I do appreciate your granting us this interview for our Oral History project. I wonder if we could start with your telling me something about your early life, where you were born and something interesting in that connection.
(N) Well I was born in Naples, Italy on July 17 although I said the 21st on my application because that was when I was christened. July 17, 1903. And my father was a ship doctor at that time and he traveled back and forth. I lived in Argentina for five years, in Buenos Aires, when I was only a child and at the age of five, we went back to Italy and we were there until about the age of seven and then we came to the United States. From the United States, we were here two years and went back to Italy again. We did this four times until I reached the age of twelve. In fact, at that tine, I could not go to public schools, they would not accept me because at the age of twelve I already spoke three languages - French, Italian and Spanish.
(I) That's wonderful.
(N) So I was not allowed, and I had to go with the French nuns in Washington Square at NYU.
(I) That's very interesting.
(N) And that's about what happened in the early part of my life. Later on, naturally, I went to school and I got an engineering degree and from that I went to work at Bell Laboratories. They took me as one of their men out of school and I went to Bell Labs and I worked in the Bell Labs.
(I) When did you became a citizen?
(N) I became a citizen in 1925. I became an American citizen. Well, figure out, in 1925 I was what - 20 years old, something like that. And then from there I went to work with Bell Labs and after a few years with the Labs, I said, gee, I don't want to do this. It is not creative enough. I am going to go back to art school because at the age of five, I was in the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples so I went back to art school and I went to Cooper Union where I completed a three year course in six months. Then I went to Pratt Institute and I got my Masters degree at Pratt in Fine Arts. And I also was a substitute teacher in (inaudible)
(I) That's interesting. Then did you pursue the art field?
(N) Then when I graduated, I went back to, I quit the company, and I went out looking for a job in the advertising business. Well it turned out to be the New York Telephone Company. And it was at the period of time, I was the only man there actually, I built the department up from a one man department, it became a forty person department and I became art director for the Bell System and I retired as an art director for the Bell System after fifty years service.
(I) So you really spent your entire working life with just the Bell System.
(N) I also have a few patents in the company such as the illuminated dial, the new coin box telephones which have no coin box. They have a stainless steel panel with slots and that. And the all glass booth.
(I) Those were your inventions.
(N) Then during the war, I also designed the telephone centers for the Armed Forces throughout the United States and I was loaned, from time to time, to the various services such as the Army, Navy, the Air Corps and so on and so forth. And I would design things for them on a loan basis.
(I) So your early training in engineering and art combined
(N) helped me a lot, yeah.
(I) They really are, in same ways, similar, those two fields.
(N) And I worked on the World's Fair for example.
(I) The 1939 World's Fair?
(N) The' 30 Fair. I was on the committee with Robert Moses.
(I) Well, Mr. Muscari, when did you come to Teaneck?
(N) I came to Teaneck in 1934 is when we spoke with Al Sommers and it was a peculiar way the way we got to work with Al Sommers. We drove through Route 4 in that period of time, we would go up to Sullivan County for a couple of weeks vacation. And when we passed through Teaneck, I said to my wife, I said that looks like an interesting town. Let's take a look at it on the way back. And we did. And the next thing we know, we were with Al Sommers, we were signing papers, buying the lot and getting ready to build a house and in September in 1934, we moved into our house.
(I) So really, you've lived here fifty years. In the same house?
(N) Exactly fifty years, yes.
(I) Well you've seen a great many changes take place.
(N) Oh yes. Would you want me to say something because I got some things here. Well for an example, my daughter, she was at the age to go to school, there was no kindergarten at Whittier School and that was one of the reasons we had built the house on West Englewood Avenue because the school was only a few blocks away. So she had to go to Lowell School. But because Whittier School was too small, later an extension was built to accommodate more students. And the first grade was down in the basement believe it or not. Then there was one of my daughter's instructors, teachers, Mrs. Paul, who became very friendly with our family, was a good friend of an Indian princess, Princess Neoma. Her brother was Chief Red Wing. And Chief Red Wing of the Lenape Indians and he lived in a red brick home on the Hackensack River off Cedar Lane where now there is a car wash.
(I) Is that so? I know where that is.
(N) So that gives you an idea of that. Now my children used to go sleigh riding down West Englewood Avenue and you saw right across River Road into the Andre estate, no traffic, no nothing to worry about. They used to ski in our backyard because Ogden Avenue only stopped, only went as far as Hudson Road, and from there on, it was nothing but a path. And my children named it, with other children, Timmy's Path after their dog. And from our back window, where my studio window is, I could look out I could see Farrell's from the farming there and you could look out all the way to Bergenfield - there was nothing.
(I) No buildings whatsoever.
(I) And, of course, not even a paved road.
(N) No, there was nothing. Just dirt. There were only two buses, transportation, there were only two buses a day on West Englewood Avenue. The bus name was the Flying Eagle. There was one in the morning, one at night.
(I) And that was between where and where?
(N) Between Teaneck, between Hackensack and the bridge.
(I) Was the bridge completed at that time?
(N) Oh yes. But it was owned by one of the men who owned the house across the street from us Moe Katzman. He owned the bus line which was called the Flying Eagle. And he also owned the tavern on Main Street, Hackensack, and he was a former Celtic basketball player. Now, later on, the West Shore Railroad got more into action and I used to walk from the house down the foot of the hill and make the 8:10 every morning which took me directly to downtown New York, to Courtland Street until the new bus lines came in. They have now the Public Service and so on and so forth that changed everything again.
(I) The train went into Hoboken or into
(N) Yeah. They went into Hoboken Terminal and there we took a ferry that brought us downtown. As a matter of fact, at Christmas time, on the ferry, they used to have a Christmas party. Music, coffee, cake, you name it, they had it, on the ferry.
(I) For all the commuters.
(N) My daughter also asked me to say something about this. Between Jefferson and River Road, on West Englewood Avenue, the whole section was covered with wild flowers, daisies, black-eyed susans and wild strawberries and plenty of blueberries. Two sides going down there were nothing but fields. There were no hares. And the kids used to love that. She remembered that, you see. She said, Pop, why don't you say something about that. Occasionally, we saw deer in our backyard. Now you say that sounds like a fairytale but it's not. During the bad winter, the deer would come up from the river, from down on River Road and come up for food and they would chew on our shrubs and lots of pheasants all over the backyard. Pheasants, we used to get plenty of them. Then looking down across from the window, the bedroom window looking down towards River Road, where there was nothing, particularly on a snowy morning, you could look right across and you could see the Hackensack River, the Ramapo Mountains covered with snow, you could see all this. Unobstructed view. It was beautiful. Now that's one of the paintings that I made for my daughter because she happens to be an art director for Prentice Hall. She's an artist. And I was an Emeritus President of the Bergen Artists Guild. And I was President Emeritus of Pratt Institute.
(I) Well now, how many people lived in Teaneck during the 30s?
(N) At that time, I think it was somewhere around either 28,000 or something like that. At that time, I think they were talking about 30,000 people. That was the goal that they were going for. But my experience was that there was a mixture of all type of people, of all nationalities, and all
(I) Even in those days
(N) Even in those days. There were Germans, Italians, French, my neighbor across the street, for example, who was a lawyer, Fridel, he was executive, executor to the estate of Moses Taylor the millionaire owner of railroads in the United States. He was the executor to that estate. And we were very good friends.
(I) So there was, even in those days, quite a mixture of people.
(N) Oh yes, there were for example, the Davis' on Hudson Road, Fred Davis, his father was police captain, I think, in Teaneck. And some of his brothers were in the Fire Department and so forth and so on.
(I) Was it totally volunteer at that time?
(N) Oh no. He was not a volunteer. He was police captain. Captain up here of the police force. The same way with the Fire Department. They were in as firemen.
(I) In other words, Teaneck had a paid police and fire department even in those days.
(N) Oh yes. They had a police and fire department. Sure. Now that gives you a rough idea. During the war, I was on volunteer service. I was a volunteer fireman and warden. You know. We would go through all the training, everything, like a real fireman. We did that sort of a thing.
(I) Because so many of the men were off to war.
(N) Now. let's see if I've got something else. Oh yes. This is something that might be of interest. When we have tremendous rainstorm, torrential rainstorm, I being the only house on the hill, not quite the top of the hill, maybe 200 feet from the top of the hill, and there was nothing from me until the school and the only other house after the school was Mrs. Ferry, Judge Ferry's mother lived there. The water used to come from the street down the side onto this road, Ogden Avenue, which did not exist at that time and came right down the hill, back down into my driveway, down into my basement. And it was so bad that Volcker who used to be the town manager used to come to my house every time there was a rainstorm to be sure that everything was all right and if it wasn't, he would have the Public Works Department come over and dig trenches, lazy widows as they call them, to drain the water so I wouldn't get too much water down in my basement.
(I) Now he was the first township manager, wasn't he?
(N) Now his son is Volcker who is now in Washington in financial section.
(I) Head of the Federal Reserve, yes. That's very interesting. Now you said you worked for the Fire Department as a volunteer during the war. What other town jobs have you held?
(N) Oh, for the past five years, I've been on the town Architectural Review board. I am now still an operating member. I go to all the meetings unless I am ill. We had a lot to do with Glenpointe, the development of Glenpointe. We worked on the approval, disapproval of certain things with the architects and the engineers and so forth and so on. I worked on the Holy Name Hospital when they rebuilt and made all new buildings at Holy Name. We worked on that. We approved and disapproved things.
(I) So you really oversee the entire town?
(N) I try to keep active as much as I can.
(I) Wouldn't you say that Teaneck has done very well with its public buildings?
(N) I think so. I think they're doing a good job.
(I) They've maintained the character of the town.
(N) They are trying to keep and maintain a feeling of the, how would you say, the Pennsylvania Dutch feeling, you know, like some of the homes and the English Tudor. They tried to combine those two items together and, for example, the Town Hall. You might call it a miniature replica of the Town Hall in Philadelphia. You know what I mean.
(I) Yes, the early American feeling. Like Williamsburg.
(N) Your library is that way. Some of your schools are all built that way. They were not built with the modern technique of today. They were built with that feeling.
(I) Mr. Muscari, what changes have you seen in the town from the social, socially?
(N) Well, I don't know, somehow or another, it is hard to say because who am I to judge anybody and say, oh I think he is not on my level and so forth and so on. I wouldn't do that because it is a funny thing to say. Now my next door neighbor for example, Wallace Price, is a colored man. He is one of the finest persons I met. He is now in Washington. He is a retired colonel. He came from Washington and bought this home next to me. He has one boy who is a graduate of West Point. The youngest girl is now going to Syracuse University for architectural. So he is now living in Washington but he comes here every weekend because he remarried. He lost his wife and he remarried and remarried a younger woman that he knew in Washington. She has a home and she has children so he spends four days a week there, a weekend in Teaneck. He goes back and forth.
(I) You feel then that Teaneck has integrated well. Would you feel that we have welcomed the newcomers well?
(N) I think so. I think it did a good job. One of my neighbors across the street George Cole, very well known music arranger. He arranges music for all of the TV shows, radio shows and what not. He was very well known in the music business. In fact, he has had quite a few concerts of his own when he was alive in the park here.
(I) At Votee Park.
(N) At Votee Park. So he has had quite a few. So he might be, his name is known. George Cole. And he composed special things, special musical things like that.
(I) Well I think the town has been enriched by so many of the people that have come
(N) I think so. Sure.
(I) In various fields.
(N) I think so. I think the town is tremendous. And integration, if you want to call it that, I think it is wonderful. A wonderful thing they did. As I said, right next door to me and he is one of the finest guys you've ever met in your life. And on this other side of me, I have a lawyer. Leonard Stone. Who has an office, a building as a matter of fact, on Cedar lane. And years ago when my kids were small, directly across the street from us, the only houses that were there, there was a large brick home and it was owned by a Mrs. King. Her husband was an instructor, captain instructor, at West Point. And he was a West Point captain. And she had five daughters. And they were our neighbors. So it gives you an idea of the type of people.
(I) Teaneck has been very fortunate in the kind of people that have chosen to make their homes here.
(N) Even later on, years later, when the homes were starting to be built, down at Jefferson or in Jefferson and West Englewood Avenue, a chap by the name of George Frye who was vice president of ABC and also New Jersey State champ, golf champ.
(I) That's interesting. I guess I
(N) That gives you an idea of
(I) Our nearness to New York has been a factor, hasn't it?
(N) Yes I think a tremendous factor. For example, to me it was only an hour to get to work in the morning. I walked down the hill, get the 8:10. I'd be in Weehawken. Fran Weehawken took the ferry boat and 10 minutes to 9 I was on Courtland street and my business was just two blocks away on Courtland Street, off Courtland Street and West Street. The headquarters of the New York Telephone Company. 140 West Street. So it was a cinch for me to get to work, back and forth.
(I) So in less than an hour you left practically a rural community in the early 30s and were in a metropolis in less than an hour.
(N) As a matter of fact to me I felt rather sad when the railroads were not in use anymore and the buses were more largely in use. Because you had to go on the subway and this and that. Pushing around whether you like it or not.
(I) That happened in 1959 when the West Shore discontinued and I thought it was a sad
(N) But I'll give you an example. On the train in the morning there were groups, little clicks, friends, they would sit down and play cards. The Bridge players would play Bridge and the other card players would play whatever and other people like myself were just talking. I made sketches of a lot of the people and I used to do things like that. So this gives you an idea which you could not do by going by buses and by subways.
(I) There was something leisurely about the train.
(N) There was something nice about it really.
(I) Now do you feel that Teaneck has changed a great deal in the fifty years. I think the spirit has stayed very much the same. Don't you?
(N) The spirit of the town is there but I don't think that some of the new people who are coming in to town, where they are from the town, or they are from other towns, that filter Teaneck and create some of the problems that we have - police problems such as robberies and things like that. But my feeling is that they are not from Teaneck. My feeling is that they are from other towns or they may come in from New York, just over the bridge. Or things like that. This is my feeling. Maybe I'm wrong.
(I) I think it is true of the whole society today, not just in Teaneck.
(N) No. It is all over. This is all over.
(I) I was thinking specifically of Teaneck, the changes that you've seen. I was speaking more of just Teaneck itself.
(N) You mean constructional appearance or what?
(I) In any way.
(N) Oh, I think Teaneck is still a beautiful town. My feeling is that. Still a beautiful town. The only thing that has changed is the people. You know, different people now. In other words, most of my friends and neighbors don't exist anymore.
(I) Well if you are eighty years old and you've seen many of your friends
(N) For instance, a friend of mine who still lives down there was vice president of Citibank of New York. McGlynn, Fred McGlynn.
(I) So many of your friends have
(N) We used to meet every morning or whatever and we used to go
(I) Well are you pleased with the government, the governing body. Are you pleased with the way the town is being managed?
(N) I think so. I think everything is running good, smooth. I don't see any
(I) And the town is being maintained well. Your area is being maintained well.
(N) Oh sure. Your parks are good. We still have fireworks and things of that sort.
(I) I agree. I think it is being well managed.
(N) Oh yeah. There is no question about it.
(I) Taxes, of course, are high. But you have to pay for the kind of service that you want.
(N) For example, here's a good contrast. Of course, you got to remember times change. When I first moved to Teaneck, my first tax bill was $150. Now it is $2,400, $2,500, $2,600 or something like that.
(I) But of course everything has accelerated.
(N) I only heard this morning that the mail carriers are going to go as high as $21,000 a year. Now I was retired art director of the Bell System and when I retired in 1968, I was considered to have a big job and I was getting $25,000 a year. But the men who worked for me were only getting $150 or $200 a week. So I mean that gives you an idea. Now those men are earning $24,000, $25,000 a year. So there's your difference.
(I) There is no doubt about it. Everything is
(N) Look at how much my tax bill has gone up. So has everything else. The Police Department has gone up. They got to get more money. They got to keep up with times. You know everybody has got to keep up with times.
(I) And our Public Works Department
(N) You want to buy a tie at one time. $1.50 you got a tie. Now it costs you $7, $8 for a good tie. And if you get Princess Machibelli or whatever you call them, it costs you $15.
(I) Exactly. They have the initials on there. In other words, you are still, you are living alone now.
(N) I live alone.
(I) In your big house but you are happy.
(N) I wouldn't want to move out of that house. I built that house. I would rather be in there alone. My kids come and see me, my daughter sees me practically every night. And my son is with me right now. My other son is in show business. He was in ballroom, one of the stars of ballroom. He was the star of Look Back in Anger and also he was on The Price of Glory, The Price of Genius rather and he was with Anthony Quinn in another show. Now he is in the new show on Broadway Glen Gary (tape ends. . .)