by Howard Prosnitz, Staff Writer, Teaneck Suburbanite, November 15, 2006, p. 2
Teaneck's colonial heritage seems encapsulated in two stone buildings near the foot of Cedar Lane at River Road. The buildings, which appear to have been standing since the 18th century, front a cluster of other seemingly old Dutch houses on Beverly and Sunset roads and Catalpa Avenue. But their antiquite is an illusion. All the houses were built in the 20th century.
The stone houses, which are mingled with those of wood and brick, comprise the Warner district, a development conceived by Teaneck resident Fred Warner and built from 1926-1938.
A Cornell educated architect, Warner also owned a shipbuilding company during World War I. He was one of the nine original members of Teaneck's planning board that was formed in 1941. According to Mark Alan Hewitt in A Guilde to the Historic Landmarks of Teaneck, published in 1996 by the Teaneck Historical Preservation Commission, the board was charged with producing a master plan for the township.
"Warner's goal was to recreate Dutch colonial architecture, and he did that very well," said township historian Larry Robertson. "He had a good grasp of what a building from that period should look like, and he decided to reestablish the look."
Although replicas rather than actual of historic buildings, the Warner district represents what Teaneck might have looked like had the town been developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, said Robertson.
The Warner district was one of the first planned communities in the United States. Although built on a smaller scale than Radburn, developed in 1926 by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright in what today is Fair Lawn, the Warner district attempts to achieve the same goals: a mixture of residential housing, separation of pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic and greenbelts woven through the housing tracts.
"On a less Utopian scale ( than Redburn), Teaneck's developers sought to win the hearts of prospective homeowners by offering trim, confortable dwellings at a modest cost in a community linked by ready transportation to the urban hub of New York City," wrote Hewitt.
Part of the district was built on cattle watering ponds, which also covered the area where the municipal parking on Beverly Road is located today, said Robertson.
Warner purchased the land from the estate of William Phelps, and began building just before the crash of the stock market. "When the Depression threatened his venture, the Phelps estate beneficently bought back the land and leased it to Warner until he could right himself financially," wrote Hewitt.
A Guide to the Historic Landmarks of Teaneck describes the Warner district as "a kind of diminutive recollection of Teaneck's architectural history" containing Dutch sandstone buildings, clapboard courtyard apartments and tiny cottages in a variety of Colonial styles.
"The Warner District is unique for its irregularly shaped lots and for its overall rural character. Sunset Road, a narrow winding lane that lacks sidewalks, street lamps and a smooth pavement, is especially rustic in character," states a 1983 survey of historic sites in Teaneck, part of a county-wide review of historic sites.
In a 1938 article, Architectural Forum calls the type of houses Warner built "maisonettes."
"The maisonette is a product of Teaneck's rapid expansion and of a local builders experience with rental houses," the article states.
The Teaneck population of approximately 23,000 at that time had more than quadrupled since 1920, according to the article. "Teaneck has been busy progressing from a town of one-family houses to an apartment city. Its current transitional state, however, is still remote from the apartment building extremity."
Warner's decision to develop a district that included imitation historic stone houses was not entirely based on aesthetics. According to Hewitt, Warner had originally purchased the stone for a commissions to build a large clubhouse in Teaneck. When those plans fell through, he was left with a $35,000 pile of stone in his backyard. The stone became part of his new venture.
The Warner district represents several building types, including single family dwellings, duplex houses, garden apartments and commercial buildings.
The total construction and landscaping of the district cost $40,000 according to Architectural Forum. Unit costs were $3,000 per apartment, $889 per room and 29 cents per cubic foot. All were exclusive to the $10,000 value of the land.
Rentals in multi-unit homes ran from $55 per month for three room suits, $60 for four room suits and $65 for four and a half room suits. To each rental, a monthly fee of $1.25 for water and 75 cents for garbage disposal was added.
From 1938 to 1988, when the Bergen County survey was completed, there have been few alterations to the buildings.
"The district stands apart from its surroundings by virtue of the high quality of its architecture and the forethought of its planning" the survey states.