From: The Record, Friday, November 21, 1975

Teaneck Armory: Relic of Yesteryear

By Bill Hendrickson, Staff Writer 

Teaneck ArmoryJohn F. Kennedy once visited there. So did Barry Goldwater. Richard Nixon tried, but he wasn't allowed in.

Lions and Bengal tigers once roared in its halls at night. The Bergenfield and Teaneck youths who drag their cars in its parking lot call it "The Brickpile."

But James Horton, 20, his wife, Terri, 19, and their 15-month-old son, Jason, call the Teaneck Armory home. Horton is the caretaker of the building which is on a 13-acre site at Teaneck and Liberty Roads in Teaneck.

"When people ask me where I live, I say in a castle," Horton says.

Actually, he lives in a seven-room apartment on the armory's second floor. His friends know where to find him: They drive to the north parking lot and honk their horns three times.

Lonely nights

Nights at the armory are lonely, even a little spooky, Horton says. The steam pipes rattle, the halls echo with the sound of his footsteps along corridors lighted by solitary hanging bulbs.

The armory was built in 1938 to house the 104th Engineers of the National Guard, but for 30 years the place was filled with crowds witnessing tennis, roller derby, wrestling, the New Jersey Americans -- now the New York Nets -- presidential candidates, and evangelists.

Promoters called it Bergen County's Madison Square Garden.

It is the night of Oct. 7, 1964, and Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater is in Teaneck. One hour before his speech, the streets leading to the armory are hopelessly jammed.

When Golduwater steps on stage, the 10,000 people in the armory burst into an emotional explosion. There are cheers when Goldwater raises his hands, cheers when he lowers them. He is mobbed as his speech ends.

Horton is a caretaker of such memories. There have been no public events since 1968, when Teaneck condemned it as a firetrap.

Pushing aside a broom in the armory's basement - a storehouse for jeeps, armored personnel carriers, and 2 1/2-ton Army trucks used during National Guard drill weekends - Horton walks one flight up to the drill floor, 242 feet long and 150 feet wide.

"This is essentially a garage. It used to be as shimmering as a dance floor," he says.

Huge steel girders lock the building's barrel roof in place. Fifty feet above the floor's center, the ringside lings hang, where once they illuminated the wrestling matches below and singers such as Chubby Checker and bands such as Mitch Miller's.

Horton, a Teaneck High School graduate, started as a maintenance worker at the armory. The pay was low, and he was ready to quit. Then the caretaker retired and he was offered the job.  He says he's paid $150 a week, and there's the apartment. It's not everyone who can say he lives in a castle.

The state says it can't afford the estimated $100,000 needed to build new exits or install a fire-detection system required by Teaneck to reopen the armory to public events.

President Nixon was refused permission to speak in 1969 because of the fire violations.

Teaneck doesn't want it open. "Can you imagine a Madison Square Garden in a residential neighborhood?" asks Teaneck Police Chief Robert Fitzpatrick.

The building can hold more people than any similar facility in Bergen - 5,000 for basketball and 12,000 for speeches. But its fate is to sit idle, except for National Guard drills on weekends and for 30 children who play basketball Wednesdays under a Guard-sponsored program.

Vandalism is a problem, mostly broken windows. In 1972, vandals broke in and rammed the 2 1/2-ton trucks into each other in a giant demolition derby, causing $75,000 in damage.

"Good thing they didn't start a tank," one policeman said. "They might not have been able to stop it, and it would've gone through the building, across the street; and into the [Foster Village] apartments."

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