Our neighborhood as it was – QNS.com

Alexander Graham Bell, who was born in Scotland, invented the telephone in 1876. The US government issued patents to him in 1876 and 1877. As we will see, however, Mr. Bell’s invention soon had an impact on jobs in Ridgewood, Middle Village. and Bushwick.

In 1877, the Bell Telephone Company was founded and later reorganized into two entities: American Bell and New England Telephone.

The first telephones were of the “crank” type which involved the magneto system, with a small generator contained inside the wooden box of the telephone. When in use, the telephone made a call to a central switchboard which facilitated connection to another telephone.

The first commercial telephone exchange opened in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1878. It had 21 customers and operated as a franchise, under license from Bell Telephone. Interestingly, the first phone-ranked director also appeared in New Haven.

Neighborhood connections

In 1879 the telephone company opened its central office in Brooklyn, and in 1880 the Williamsburg Exchange from which the first telephone lines to Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth and Middle Village were installed. Cord Meyer and Company in Maspeth was among the first subscribers to telephone service.

In 1882, the American Bell Telephone Company acquired a controlling interest in the Western Electric Company.

The American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) was later formed as a subsidiary of American Bell to establish and operate a network of long-distance telephone lines. The company was established in New York State – the starting point of the long distance network – in 1885 and the Western Electric Company served as the manufacturing unit.

By 1900, AT&T had become the parent company of the Bell Companies.

Bushwick relieves

Locally, the first central telephone office building in the Ridgewood/Bushwick area opened in 1894 on Greene Avenue near Broadway in Bushwick. This office relieved the Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant offices of some telephone traffic.

In early 1903, a new, larger Bushwick Central Desk replaced the old magneto manual desk. It had 20 operators and a service capacity of 1,600 customers, five times the capacity of the old office.

As homebuilders bought up farmland and built rows of brick houses in Ridgewood, the Bushwick central office grew, and eventually it had 66 operators serving 7,800 lines.

call exchange

An example of the 1920s candlestick telephone (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

On January 5, 1918, a new telephone center was established at 680 Fairview Ave. in Ridgewood, with “Evergreen” as the central. In 1922, the “Juniper” exchange was established at Fresh Pond, Maspeth and part of Middle Village which had previously been served by the Newtown central office.

In 1925, the new “Hegeman” telephone exchange came into use, which made it possible to dial the call rather than having the operator place it for you. In 1936, the “Evergreen 2”, “Hegeman 3”, and “Juniper 5” offices served approximately 17,800 telephones in the Ridgewood area, handling approximately 47,500 calls per day.

During this period, the candlestick type telephone was in vogue. This upright mode was popular in the 1900s before giving way to the “cradle”, a type of Depression-era desk phone that introduced a one-piece handset.

Ridgewood Times Archive

The Western Electric advertisement featured in this story originally appeared in a 1923 magazine. Note the “candlestick” telephone pictured in the ad.

In 1959, the Fairview Avenue building in Ridgewood, with 10 dialing offices, served 56,000 telephones and handled approximately 250,000 calls per day. The telephone company decided to expand the building in 1959 by adding a fourth floor to the three-story structure. The “Empire 6” exchange was added in December of the same year.

The Ridgewood office was one of the first to support direct dialing. By 1959, the following exchanges had been added to local telephone service: “Evergreen 1”, “Evergreen 2”, “Evergreen 6”, “Glenmore 6”, “Hyacinth 1”, “Hyacinth 7”, “Twining 4″ and ” Vandyke 1.” Thirty-three operators handled “operator-assisted” calls.

Eventually, the telephone company removed the names on the exchanges and replaced the numbers. The “Twining 4” exchange still exists as “894”.

Today, the telephone company building on Fairview Avenue at the corner of Gates Avenue exists as a Verizon facility.

Manufacturer Middle Village

In 1920, the French company CB, a manufacturer of telephone booths, was located in Middle Village, south of Metropolitan Avenue, on a Long Island Rail Road siding between what is now M Station and the 65th track. It had moved there from its previous location on the banks of Newtown Creek.

The Turner-Armour company, which also manufactured telephone booths, then acquired the French company CB. They continued to operate the Middle Village plant.

On November 22, 1929, the Ridgewood Times ran an article with the headline “Western Electric Takes Back Middle Village Land.” The story follows:

The Western Electric Company purchased a large factory and additional land in Middle Village. The factory is that of the Turner-Armor Company, and the sale included a facade on Metropolitan Avenue worth more than $700,000.

An immediate expansion of the Turner-Armour plant from production of 1,000 telephone booths to 2,000 per month is planned, with an increase in the number of employees by 400. The acquisition of Turner-Armour was previously known but land purchases have just been finalized.

Western Electric purchased the Middle Village plant and leased the other plant at 1201 Flushing Ave. in Brooklyn for several years. The sale included all Middle Village property, buildings and machinery, all pending patents and developments, and factory inventory.

The factory will be known as the Queensboro Works of the Western Electric Company and will continue to manufacture a new and improved type of telephone box.

In the 1930s, there was a baseball diamond on the property, with a backstop but no grandstands. On a deep ball to right field, the outfielder had to return to the Long Island Rail Road tracks, keeping an eye out for steam locomotives.

We don’t know when Western Electric Company closed the Middle Village plant, but we believe it was around 1965.

Enter Robert Hall

The exterior of Rentar Plaza in Middle Village, as shown in January 2019 (Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS)

Subsequently, United Merchants and Manufacturers Inc., a large textile mill with several factories in the south, acquired the property for its subsidiary Robert Hall Clothes. They operated a chain of clothing stores, their main advertising theme being that they sold at low prices directly from the pipe racks of their stores.

We are sure that many of our readers who are part of the “baby boomer” generation remember all too well how much they dreaded hearing Robert Hall’s “Back to School” jingle signaling that the end of the holidays summer was approaching. Among the chain’s locations were stores on Myrtle Avenue in Ridgewood and Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.

From 1972 to 1974, an imposing three-story building was erected on the Middle Village site with a total of 1.5 million square feet (500,000 square feet per floor). Robert Hall occupied the ground floor. The second floor was leased to Macy’s department stores for a warehouse, and the third floor was leased to the city’s Department of Corrections for a training facility. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has rented space for its mail-order operation.

After several years of operating the Middle Village facility, United Merchants and Manufacturers Inc. ran into financial difficulty and, along with its subsidiary Robert Hall, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Eventually, ownership of Middle Village was sold and the new owners created Rentar Plaza.

The Robert Hall store gave way to Times Square Stores (TSS) and the Waldbaum Supermarket, both of which occupied the ground floor along Metropolitan Avenue in the 1980s. The TSS was replaced by Caldor, a large discount store that lasted until the late 1990s before being transformed into Kmart.

The Waldbaum supermarket moved to the lower level of Rentar Plaza in the late 1980s with the opening of the Metro Mall, which also included a Pergament home improvement store.

The entrance to the Middle Village Kmart before it closed in October 2018 (Photo by Melanie Pozarycki)

Sales remained constant at Rentar Plaza and Metro Mall in the years that followed. Toys “R” Us replaced the Waldbaum’s supermarket on the main level until the national toy chain filed for bankruptcy and closed all of its locations in early 2018. A few months later, the Middle Village Kmart entered the retail history, as the department store chain consolidated. in the midst of his own financial difficulties. The ground floor remains empty for the moment.

On the ground floor of the Metro Mall, Waldbaum’s and Pergament stores would eventually close to make way for BJ’s Wholesale Club, which remains the busiest shopping attraction in the complex.

This story originally appeared in the August 2, 2007, issue of The Ridgewood Times, with updated information added.

* * *

If you have any memories or old photographs of “Our Neighborhood: The Way It Was” that you would like to share with our readers, please write to the Old Timer, c/o Ridgewood Times, 38-15 Bell Blvd., Bayside , NY 11361, or email [email protected] All printed photographs sent to us by post will be carefully returned to you upon request.

Comments are closed.