My Memories of Teaneck
By Bob Davis
Our family moved to a new house at 617 Albin Street from Long Island in 1927. The house, built by a Mr. Walton, cost $17,000.
The remains of a two-story red barn sat on the northwest corner of Albin Street and Vandelinda Ave. I believe it had been part of the Phelps Estate. The Phelps house, stood, I guessed (because of the two old Red Beech trees in front), where the Holy Name Hospital is. In the barn we kids found a four-wheel wagon, some damaged copies of a book about Phelps, and various artifacts including a 12” magnifying glass, which probably had been the lens for a kerosene spotlight.
Our neighborhood showed reminders of the farm that preceded the suburban houses. The ground of the open lots (and there were many in our neighborhood), though covered with goldenrod, retained the furrows of a cornfield, and aged apple trees grew in back of our house and across the street.
Other hints of Teaneck’s country beginnings remained. A brook ran parallel to Grange Road, then south along Vandelinda, feeding into a small creek that ran along Teaneck Road. Another brook came down the hill a few hundred yards south of Griggs Avenue. We picked large blackberries in several different spots in season, and collected elderberries.
The Teaneck Library
I seem to remember my parents going to Bogota or Hackensack to get a library book. On the first day the Teaneck library opened, some friends and I stood in line to get our library cards. I received Card No. 15.
In the neighborhood of the library, across Teaneck Road, a two-story building housed The Palm Gardens (a dance hall) and a few offices (where Victor Blenkle, MD first set up practice). The Blue Bird Inn restaurant (later to become a funeral home), a rustic place with an open porch, occupied the southeast corner of Teaneck Road and Cedar Lane. Circuses and carnivals set up in the field on the southwest corner.
After the onset of the Great Depression, on the North side of Sherman Avenue between Mildred Street and Albin Street, a building contractor abandoned about seven excavations for new houses. They remained as ugly scars of red earth (although great to play in) all through the depression years, and one of them served as a place where we kids piled hundreds of discarded Xmas trees to make a huge bonfire. A nice-looking almost-finished apartment house stood empty for many years on West Englewood Avenue near Teaneck Road.
As a Boy Scout I delivered a food basket to a nice house on a street between Palmer and Palisades Avenues. An elderly couple sat huddled in a room sealed off with cardboard from the rest of the house to save on heating costs.
My mother shopped at the A & P on Queen Anne Road, a couple of blocks north of De Graw Avenue. Mr. Behnkin, proprietor, totaled our purchases on the side of a brown bag. I believe we were considered good customers, spending up to five dollars at a time for bags and bags of groceries. Near the front of the store perched a large wheel of orange store cheese, from which the clerk carved hefty hunks to order. Although Borden’s delivered (by horse wagon) to our house, other kids brought pails to the store to be filled by dipper from a big milk can. I can still see those boys swinging the filled pails, minus the lids, over their heads.
A trolley line ran from the 125th Street Ferry to Paterson. While too young to drive my friends and I sometimes took the trolley from De Graw Avenue and Queen Anne Road to Main Street in Hackensack. I believe we also took it to a swimming pool in Arcola, and to Palisades Amusement Part, where later I saw Julie Wintz’s band and Milton Berle perform in the rustic open-air pavilion.
As teenagers, my friends and I had special memberships in the Oritani Field Club, located behind the Oritani Theatre. We paid about five dollars for a special summer membership. Tennis, swimming in the pool, and dancing the Lindy, the Peabody, the Shag, and The Big Apple in the evenings filled our days.
Our neighbors moved to Teaneck from New York, Bogota, Ridgefield Park, Jersey City and other places to the south. Boyhood friends in the neighborhood included: Eddie Irving, Buddy Fuhro, Billy Kirchoff, Kingsley Snow, Kenny Fauquier, Ted Smith, Ernie Larson, Charlie Korte, Buddy Hoppe, Bob Keeler, Charlie Heinen, Bob Armstrong, “Shrimp” Habel (the latter two being of the Johnson Avenue gang), and Charlie Swett (Having moved to Teaneck from the south, many of these families moved farther north when they left Teaneck.)
Personalities of the thirties and forties: Miss Hill, who had a long career as teacher at Longfellow school, and high school vice principal and principal; Dr. Cherry, dentist, working in his office over the bank on the corner of Palisades Avenue and Cedar Lane; and the beloved Dr. Victor Blenkle, doctor to our family. Later, Paul Voelker moved to Teaneck to become the first city manager. The Voelker family lived a few houses from mine, on Johnson Avenue and Albin Street. I knew two of his daughters, but do not remember Paul Jr., who became Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Mr. Willett, of the Teaneck ME Church on De Graw Avenue, was my minister. George Bayer, his successor, married my wife and me there in 1941. Mr. Schoonmaker, a veteran of sailing ship days, was sexton, and his grandson Bill attended fourth grade with me. Howard ______ , who had a dry cleaning business, Howard Cleaners, taught my Sunday school class. For a few years I taught a Sunday school class that included the son of Ferde Grofe, the composer. Ossie Nelson lived for a time on Palmer Avenue.
By coincidence, in Mexico in the seventies, I had a friend and neighbor, the late Leon Janney. Leon spent a lifetime on stage, screen, radio, and television (the bad doctor in All My Children) and in retirement moved to Chapala, Jalisco, from Griggs Avenue in Teaneck.
I attended in about 1930 a ceremonial planting of an eight-foot Ginkgo tree in the lawn in front of the Municipal Building. What the occasion was I do not remember, but a bronze plaque marked the spot.
When I was about ten (1928), I dug up a three-foot Silver Maple near Cedar Lane and Grange Road and took it in a little wagon to our house. My father ruled against putting it in our yard, so I planted it in the empty lot in back. Decades later, I drove past the house and saw that the neighbors in back had designed their backyard around the tree. It may still be there, as well as the Oriental Plane trees planted in front of our house when we moved in.
On the south side of Norma Road, between Grange Road and Mildred Street, a line of large Osage-Orange trees stood. We boys called the coarse fruit “pomegranates” and threw them at each other.
Horse Chestnut trees and a Northern Magnolia grew near the Dahl house on Teaneck Road and Johnson Avenue. Tall Poplar trees, contrary to the street name, lined Oakdene Avenue. Giant Tulip trees bordered Queen Anne Road from Griggs Avenue south to Copley.
No memoir of Teaneck in the thirties and forties is complete without mention of the Teaneck Diner (I think the name was actually the Teaneck Grill, but everyone I knew called it the diner). It sat diagonally on the southeast corner of Palisades Avenue and Cedar Lane. An evening date, almost without exception, wound up at the diner, where one always met friends. When the diner closed for good, a full-page spread in the Bergen Record marked the event.
Though we ice skated at various spots in Arcola, Tenafly, and later Bear Mountain, my outstanding memory of winter in Teaneck is of boys throwing themselves on sleds and grabbing the bumpers of cars turning up Johnson Avenue from Teaneck Road. We hung on till the car reached Queen Anne Road, and then coasted down the hills to do it all over again. Sometimes a chain of six or more sleds formed. The boys closest to the car got slush inside their shirts and lungfuls of exhaust fumes.
My friends and I spent much of our leisure time at dances. We lived, after all, in the era of big band music. It seemed that one could almost always find a dance, many with live music, somewhere in the area, either afternoon or evening. (I met my wife [Julia Sixtus of Cresskill] at a dance in Bogota given by “The Swing Club.”) Before getting our driver’s licenses, my friends and I walked to and from dances, or rode with older friends. I recall walking home from a dance at the Hackensack YMCA with a group of boys and girls. A time or two I walked home from Cresskill after dates.
Born in New York City, I attended grade school in Long Island, and entered the fourth grade at Longfellow elementary school.
As might be deduced from the above, I got away with having too much fun in high school and graduated from Teaneck High a year late, in the class of 1936. (Later, I managed to get two college degrees.)
I started work in New York City, taking evening courses at Bergen Junior College. That school had recently moved to the Peter Henderson estate on River Road from the Hackensack YMCA. I commuted to work on a Public Service bus (No. 81, I believe) from the corner of Griggs Avenue and Queen Anne Road, to the other side of the George Washington Bridge, walked to the Eighth Avenue subway kiosk, rode the subway to 42nd Street, and walked to the office on Fifth Avenue, a commute that must exist today.
After World War II, my wife and daughter and I lived with my in-laws in Cresskill in 1946 and then in veterans temporary housing on West Englewood Avenue till the fall of 1948. In those years I worked at the United Hoisting Company in Leonia.
An Added Note
My younger brother Carroll contributed the following:
In the basement of Teaneck High, as member of the Rifle Club, I practiced target shooting. I carried a .22-caliber rifle and ammunition to school, where I kept it in my locker--and no one thought anything of it!
A young lady (last name Simpson), a sister of my friend and a former Miss New Jersey, lost both legs in an accident while trying to board a moving train at the West Shore RR station in Teaneck. She spent the WW II war years going to veteran's hospitals and talking to amputees.