Teaneck History preserved on postcards

By Howard Prosnitz, Staff Writer

Teaneck Suburbanite, June 9, 2011, p. 3

Alice and Bill BerdanBefore there was Facebook, there were postcards.

Although their popularity has receded, postcards in their heyday were sold by the thousands in local stores in almost every town and city in the U.S.

"They were an informal means of communication and were cheaper than postage stamps," said Bill Berdan, of South Forest Avenue, who, with his sister, Alice, has been collecting postcards for most of his life, specializing in Bergen County towns, including Hackensack, Englewood, Oradell, River Edge and, of course, Teaneck.

Lifelong Teaneck residents, the Berdans recently loaned their collection of Teaneck postcards to the Teaneck Public Library, where they were scanned and added to the library’s Virtual Village website.

"The Berdan postcard collection is the most extensive one I’ve seen," said Teaneck Library reference librarian Lucille Bertram, herself a post card collector. "The breadth of coverage of so many aspects of Teaneck life is invaluable. So much local history material is being lost or discarded because its value to the community as a whole is not known or appreciated."

Firehouse and old Public SchoolBertram said that hopes that the Berdan collection will encourage other residents to donate or loan materials to the library for scanning.

The Berdan postcards capture glimpses of Teaneck’s past, including long gone restaurants, such as the Casa Manna on Cedar Lane and Old Plantation on Teaneck Road. Other cards depict the old Town House, which once housed Washington Irving School, the Cedar Lane-Anderson Street Bridge in the late 19th century, the Phelps Mansion, where Holy Name Medical Center now stands, and the ruins of the original Phelps mansion, which was destroyed by fire in 1888. The ruins remained until the municipal building was built at the site in 1927, Bill Berdan said.

Although most of the Berdan postcards show authentic Teaneck sites, some are generic nature scenes, inscribed with a banner saying "Welcome to Teaneck." Bill Berdan notes that this was a common practice among postcard manufacturers.

Teaneck postcards are less common than those from other Bergen County, he said.

"Postcards were usually sold in local stores, but Teaneck was built around the Phelps estate and there was not as much development in the center of the town, as there was in a town like Hackensack," he explained, noting that he and his sister have Hackensack postcards that show almost every street and house.

Weiss Service StationA retired banker, Bill Berdan is a 1965 graduate of Teaneck High School. Alice Berdan graduated from Benedictine High School in Paterson and is a retired financial analyst.

The Berdan’s keep their collection in a series of photo album binders, which have a number of blank spaces.

"Our hope is to fill them," Alice Berdan said. "We know that there are a number of postcards that we don’t have. Every so often you find one from a commercial establishment that you never thought had a card."

The Berdans acquire many of their postcards at postcard shows. The major shows in New Jersey are conducted by the Garden State Post Card Club located in Parsippany. But the Berdans recently attended shows in Belmar and Port Jervis, New York.

Garden StreetPostcards are still sent today, many as a form of advertisement, Alice Berdan said. Real estate postcards, showing houses for sale or recently sold, are separate category.

"When you visit a place, postcards were an inexpensive souvenir and people collected them," she said.