All interviews were taped and documented.  They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library.  The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.

NARRATOR: Frank Burr
INTERVIEWER: Richard Rodda
DATE OF INTERVIEW:   
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney 

As the former mayor of town, as a part of the Oral History Program of Teaneck, Frank, do we have your permission to use this tape, whatever comes out on it, as a part of the official Oral History Program of the township?

(N) Certainly. I'd be glad to.

(I) When did you come to Teaneck, Frank? 

(N) 1944.

(I) And what attracted you to Teaneck?

(N) We were renting, I was reasonably young at the time, but we were renting a house and had for several years during our early marriage. But the last house that we were in, the owner wanted to use it himself and we had a hard time finding something we could afford and finally, through a New York acquaintance, I found a place in Teaneck so what I was searching for was not a town but a home.

(I) And when you were renting, that was not in Teaneck then? It was in another community.

(N) No, we were renting in Hasbrouck Heights and we were renting when we came here.

(I) What were the characteristics that you noticed particularly about the township and I know that you became very involved in Teaneck, you and the family actually over the years.

(N) Well, to telescope that to an extent, I was also commuting to New York every day and having a family and so that in the early stages, it was the rather normal conditions of any young guy trying to establish a home and get along, even acquire enough money to try and buy a place which was a long way off at the time so essentially my experience with the town and my knowledge of it was quite limited except that we'd always had a lot of admiration for the town because of its reputation particularly with schools and we knew the name of the principal here and that sort of thing. And my wife had been a teacher in Hackensack and the teachers admired the reputation of Teaneck. So we thought that it was the kind of town that we'd be glad to stay with and we had no problem from that day on.

(I) Did the reputation of the community hold up when you became a part of the community?

(N) I would say yes because in my estimation it improved and this was all before my time so this is not talking about myself but it improved in the sense that there was a group, as I learned five or six years after I'd been here, that wanted to manage the town on its own and it was pretty much of a closed group. I forget what the name was. You might remember it Dick.

(I) Was that the Taxpayers League?

(N) The Taxpayers League. And so very early on, I remember when, one of the first things I remember is about Menkes apparently losing an election. But he demanded a recount and it turned around that he won by one vote so that they were very encouraged as a group and that was the beginning of my interest in that area.

(I) Well that brings up another question then. In terms of how you viewed the political life of the community at that time when you were becoming involved and what changes if any that you see, or developments that have been made since that time?

(N) Well I would say that actually I was just playing games at that point. I think the town, even in that period, was quite well managed. So that it was just a matter of broadening the base as far as I was concerned in the development of the political characteristics. I believe that the organization of the town was a town manager and not political party even at that time. Am I correct in that?

(I) Yes.

(N) So that struck me as quite favorable because it said to me that if you are in that system and it works and you do have what you call somewhat independent management, you could have much more of an outreach to the community for service and interest. Instead of just one group, or one party, battling another group of another party and I still feel that same way today. I still think that we have an independent manager to the extent that it is possible and I hope it continues because it is a favorable environment in my opinion. So I admired that. And this showed up so much in the streets and the schools and it was a town that was moving in good directions.

(I) Do you think that that movement has been relatively constant? Is that fair?

(N) Yes I do. I think that the earliest that Might have had particular, not intervention, not participating, was when people like Mrs. Hendrickson, Orville Sather and the real estate fellow from New York, that the Board of Education and the Council seemed to have very good people and the whole management and the rest of it was coordinated, effective - and it showed. And more and more, I think the township was respected by outside communities.

(I) But you became involved directly, as I recall, in the education process by becoming actively affiliated with the Board of Education.

(N) Well this was a strange thing. Our children, I think in those days, (Marie would know better than I) but I think we were on half sessions for quite a long while and we thought this was a very awkward difficult thing to get an education.

(I) Is that when the junior high schools were being built? 

(N) No.

(I) This was prior to that?

(N) This was all prior to that. I think some of the kids were going half time, though sometime later, after we built the Ben Franklin, they had half sessions down there and certainly half sessions in the high school. This is vague and I don't think it is going to be a factual determination of time in relation to me but the thing that I remember distinctly was the meeting that was called by (name inaudible) who still lives in town, he and his wife. And their children were in school too. And they had quite a group of people at their house. What was the name of the man who used to write for The Record ... well anyway, he was there and I think the president or the former president of the Women's Club, Mrs. (her husband was in the barber shop all during that period) Mrs. Childs Boltee, an attorney who was in town, but there must have been 25 people spread around the living room of the (Maycall) house and their objective was to try to develop some power so that we could build some schools. And whether this is the first thing or the second or the third, I am not sure but in any event, I enjoyed it and as a matter of fact participated eagerly. And the end result of it was that we formed a committee to move into the election areas and those kind of fights went on from then on. But I was the first, I was the chairman to get this school thing approved and I believe it was successful the first time around. And then sometime later, someone suggested that I run for the Board and Orville Sather was on it and friends of mine were on it and I accepted that and so that was the first managerial or inside of the community management that I was in. That was the start of what you might call a strange sequence during the six years that I spent on the School Board. We just went through the ceiling with building.

(I) What buildings were built during that period?

(N) Eugene Field, Thomas Jefferson and I think some of the stages of Ben Franklin because I remember being on the Board, I can't remember if I was chairman, but there was a strike and Ben Franklin was being built. That's a rare thing for our town. And going down there in the cold weather and you just had to keep some sort of heat going through the building, talking to the strikers and all the rest of it, that scared us pretty much. But that came through and then with TJ, that came through not too much later. Somewhere along the line, the gymnasium, the addition to the gymnasium was built.

(I) That's at the high school.

(N) At the high school. We had a big effort to develop the Eugene Field school and we were going to put that where the present Acme was and the people in back street fought and succeeded in defeating us and we had to go on eventually and build it where it was which we did not, and I probably still feel that there was not quite as adequate space. On the other hand, they were, the people in the back were happy to get trucks for groceries for meat and cookies for the children. So that we were involved for the six years in what I would say was tremendous building because the growth of the school system was going through the ceiling. To think that today that when I left the school, we had 8,300 students in the high school and that was a three year high school. Am I right on that?

(I) 2,300.

(N) 2,300? In the high school? OK. And what is it, half of that now? So that we had studies made and we said that is this boom continues, we are going to have 10 or 12 or 3 or 4,000 or whatever it is in this high school here, let along the elementary schools. So that it was an exciting period. But six years was enough. And two years I was the chairman, president.

(I) That was George Larson and Tony DeGennaro?

(N) That's right. And Ted Ley. And our little engineer. 

(I) John Jansen.

(N) John Jansen. Diddle.

(I) Ruth Hendrickson, was she on at that point?

(N) Yes, she was on. Most of the time. Terry Dayharsh. That's pretty much it. I think Seymour Herr came on at that time too. It was quite an exciting board adventure.

(I) And a lot of building then. The population growth then must have been marked during those years of the town.

(N) It was and just about stabilized. Which we didn't know. Orville, who is very mechanically trained, developed a study that was quite professional but it collapsed because of things that have taken place since then. Reduced families and pills and things like that which began to substitute for how many children should a man have. So I'd say that my being on the Board and quitting would be the period roughly from 1955 to 1961.

(I) Was that a period when, who was the superintendent of schools? Was Harvey involved, was Scribner involved at that point?

(N) Not at that point. 

(I) He came later?

(N) That's right. Lester Newland, we had him for the most part. 

(I) He was an exceptional man.

(N) And then during that period, he retired and I remember being master of ceremonies at his retirement party which was a big one and his reputation had been very good and still was, still is. But then we did the interviewing of other people, Anderson and others came in. Unfortunately, we went through a couple anyway which is a difficult process. Either they didn't like us or we didn't like them. But these were changing days. But then of course, I don't know how long I was out, but I would say probably not more than a year. Then maybe around the late part of 62 or 61 and into 62, the Council and I'd say principally Feldman asked me if I'd be chairman of the Community Relations Committee.

And that was touched off and developed because he'd been working pretty hard (inaudible) but the panic situation was on and the blacks came into the community and they were pushed into one corner and so that the (inaudible) was rolling in the community. The case of what do we do in a community like this with a situation like this. And so that the idea of being on that Board was a challenge and so I accepted it. And so I guess I did start in that late part of 61. And the Board pretty much was cleared out at that point. Marion Cerf and two of the other excellent people, Marion had been the chairman, and she had two or three or four excellent people left on it but we required a restructured one and then perhaps the redevelopment of our concerns in this cause. And so this became the deciding point because it needed much more vigor as an organization in the community to be of any effect at all.

And there is no question that even in those days or particularly because it was those early days for me, the whole question of too many Jewish people coming into the community, you'd hear a lot of that, and too many blacks coming into town and you'd hear a lot of that. And even this gives a town a certain instability that doesn't bode well so that the creation of an effective Community Relations Board was tricky because of people. And you came on to that Board because you couldn't do much unless you had a standard or series of specific objectives in order to make any kind of effect. So that we were involved with the relationships between the old time Teaneck and the influx of Jewish people and the effect, the obvious resistance of both of those even to the blacks. And so this, there was five or six years again, this was an exciting period and I liked it because findings really brought us into a rather substantial bit of power, of strength I should say instead of power because the strength relied upon what we thought was the right thing for the community but without the condition of being in a position to - we had no authority so again it is ideal and some of the thought of my period on the Committee was to use periodic reports and questions and chastisements that the some members of the Councilor the Council itself might have on our Committee and they would enjoy going in and battling with Bartoletta and some of the others who were old timers and set in their ways and critical of what we were trying to do. The end result however being to my satisfaction something like Orville Sather and I maybe not the first Jews but in a long time anyway we put Jews on the Committee, Board of Education and that was good. And then later on, several of us were influential in having the first black on the Council, on the School Board and then on the Council so that all of these things were great. I remember just on this Community Relations Board asking LaMar Jones if he would go to other communities with me, probably into church groups or civic groups to explain to folks the wonderful things we were doing in Teaneck and so LaMar said sure so he and I went to Chatham, we went to Fair Lawn, we went to Westwood. I don't know how many times we did it but to explain to them that we were doing great things for humanity. And I must say we got home untouched but there were fascinating, frightening reactions to the project and then, of course, during this time we were favorably disposed in intention that the community should be open and this is the toughest part. And so we'd have meetings, we called in a bunch of the brokers several times. We said, Listen you guys

(I) You mean the real estate people.

(N) Real estate people in town. Listen you guys, you are spoiling things. They said we don't dare go on your street because the, people wouldn't do business with us. And they were all the nice guys who are in town still, many of them. And they didn't think it was their job to battle with the community itself which in its own way had to make sense. Why should they chuck their business just to try to teach the town? They are not here to try to teach. But still in some ways I think ... and when we began to move through the Council, then when I wasn't on the Council to begin to accept the concept of opening the town and I guess partially with Matty and somewhat more with Costa, he was very supportive. I don't know that he would have done what we were doing or instituted it himself but he was certainly cooperative and had enough of the Council with him to permit us to do things. We invited the mayors and councils, one from each of the towns around, to come on in and talk over these things and I remember my wife talking to the mayor of Hasbrouck Heights who we've known since he was a kid. Are you coming to that meeting that Frank's having this week? His answer was, Listen, Marie, this is Teaneck's problem. You are not going to get me anywhere near it. I'll go home and have a shot of liquor with my wife and read the paper and so I guess it was pretty much the reaction of the communities around. Which of course is another series of ... someone would ask why did you do it this way? And we did it this way because from the beginning my feeling towards other people is that there are some that I like and they are fine and some that I think are punks and this could be whether they are white, black, or Jewish or whatever. It isn't where they come from of what they look like. It is how I thought they were as people. So that I had a good time in the sense that if I met, which I did many times with groups of blacks, I would make some statement like - Now you people. I did that one night and the leader of the group jumped up and said, Do not refer to us as you people. And we battled our way through. But the idea that we were working and as far as I was concerned particularly with respect to the blacks, yes open teamwork. But if Teaneck simply opens and then is kept closed by everybody around them, Teaneck will ultimately be another what you'd call ghetto. Or mostly inhabited by black people. Because they are being inhibited, they are being refused space elsewhere and the thing we are working on we think is correct. And we will proceed to do it. But we have to think in terms of the whole scene. So these visits to other towns and councils and real estate people to this day have not really succeeded. I don't think to any great extent. Because the battle goes on in some of these communities, I might say even to my old friendly community of Hasbrouck Heights, where once my father was the mayor, to accepting a black. And I've heard specific, I don't know what their methods are, ways but they had systems where they had the people leave town and this goes on around us and it is sad and we still see it. But I am happy with what we have because when Harvey Scribner came in, we were in the process of trying to move these people, the blacks, out of the northeast, if they were coming in, into the town or from where they were as far as the school system was concerned. And Scribner wanted to do this. We wanted to give the whites and blacks the experience of working together, seeing and knowing each other. So I attended most of his meetings and then continued with what we were doing and you may be assured we were not always the most popular people but it was a good experience. And when the time came that we were trying to get the, there was somebody battling this very much on the school, integration of the schools. I forget that guys name, he left town. But the big battle came on this community relations problem when a tough group of antis came and wanted to take over the Board and Orville Sather had been on it and he was tired and quit and people were unhappy for that and we just could not get people; that we needed. But in any event, Orville Sather, I remember one Sunday morning, we went to the same church, I said to him, you are going to have to go back on again Orville because you've got two boys and their good but they are not experienced and you would clinch the ticket. And so Orville said, you are not going to ask me to do that. I said, I insist. This team, this great team, took it on their backs and they were beautiful and our Board was always part of us because this is now into one of the elements of what we were supposed to do. But our position was that we were not trying to force our attitudes but to sympathetically let them know what our position was and what our objectives were. So the characteristic therefore of the Community Relations Board was - this is what we believe is right but we understand that everybody else doesn't feel the same way. So it was a persuasive thing rather than a battle. So these were wonderful days and we were delighted with the confusion. And so Teaneck was the first one to, in a sense, have it out - we want to integrate as a community. And at that time, it was a real shock. I still get a kick out of the fact that this fellow wrote a book about Teaneck in this period. He did a very effective job of explaining how this thing came about. And there is no hero in this. It is a matter of being partisan and not being a hero. And so we have very good people. We've had bad ones; we've had good ones. We've had egos and we've had people that didn't have enough. But through it all, there is no one climbed out of these happy years, these wonderful years of Teaneck a hero. My job on the Board was six years. I might mention parenthetically, I tried to get the School Board to put up a fight for the merit system in teaching and I had several of the Board members here and had a big battle. My wife and my sister were upstairs, or my mother and my daughter, and told me how brutal I was and insulting trying to convince my brothers to go along with me. There was Weinberger and Bolton. They said nothing doing. So I get a kick out of seeing this same thing coming along now. But each one of these experiences I've had in the six years there on the Community Relations Board and then after another year, the Council unanimously invited me by phone, the six remaining members, to come in for an unexpired term, and on the Board then was Dougherty and Haas and some people who later hated me but I got a unanimous invitation and I said I don't want to go into politics but they pressed me and I said, OK, I'll do it. And so then I became a Councilman.

(END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)

So I had to run again in the fall of 68 to get a full term starting in 1969 and by that time Mr. Haas had put one of his buddies up to run against me because he was already disillusioned about my capacity and character so that cost me money and so I became a permanent member in February I guess it was of 1979. So that was part of a year, almost a year. Then another year as a Councilman. And Costa said that he didn't want to go on beyond that. But during that period, he had permitted me to form a committee, OK'd a committee, to look into what I thought was a potential asset to Teaneck, as a matter of fact two, one of them being down in the Meadowlands here - the confluence of Route 80 and 95 - and the other being, believe it or not, the possibility of a large building at the crossing of the railroad tracks where the lumberyard existed and where Pathmark is now trying to get and this is only fair to say because here I was in those days looking to that as a project of something major and now I am violently against it but so may it be. In any event, one of the Lathberg (?) boys said that he'd sit with us and go through it. A fellow from (inaudible) was with us. I think it was Robbins. And then the man from Somers, I wish I could think of his name, brought us the then mayor of Trenton who had done such a good job in Trenton and apparently he was educated in this kind of thing. But we had several meetings of pretty good people reviewing the aspects and the potentials and probabilities. And there was unanimous interest in the question of the, where the two highways were going to meet. And the man from Trenton, absolutely convinced that it was of potential benefit, so here it was 1969 and Matty finally agreed in the next election not to run and the makeup of the Council, to some extent, was changing. And I don't remember now how come. But in any event, I was pleased to be made mayor because of course there were old timers on there, some of them I've mentioned already, who really ached for that job. But in any event, it did take place. And so this, oddly enough, began the first of our next six year sessions of trying to be a good citizen of Teaneck. As I said, behind all that, getting a kick out of doing it too so don't give me too much credit. And at this point, I was able to persuade the Council to investigate these things we were talking about. And to spend some money on having some experts coming in. And let that story lie as it is. But for the whole remaining four years, I was mayor and we discarded any concept of the Water Street project as not practical and concentrated our attention to the redevelopment of the Meadowlands of Teaneck. And I am not going to work too hard on that or talk too much about that because it was a strain, it was a difficult period. It became unfortunately very political. It certainly wasn't a very happy prospect for the people who lived in the area. But in any event, we did do a thorough job. We had high class people who advised us. And I would still say this day that this project - how about if I add something right before this for reference maybe - the first real project developed ultimately became the best product but what I for a moment left out of my talking was the quality of the redevelopment agency that we were required to create. One representative of that agency was the state representative. Other members had to have qualifications. We needed a very good leader for it. And we wanted to pick people who, once again, had non partisan, wonderful non partisan situation who we thought were qualified. And so we let the town know that we were looking for a committee to look into this project and work with it. We must have had twenty five or thirty applicants and the whole Council were interviewers and the end result, I say to this day, with maybe one exception or one and a half, quality people who did tremendous piece of work. Men like George Hefler and (can't remember their names) Hefler was the outstanding person. And his own man. Willpower was excellent. And then to our great fortune, he came to me one day and said, Is there any chance of his getting a job at this place? And we still hadn't picked the guy and neither had the group itself and I knew this fellow off and on in different ways and lived fairly near him and I liked him. And so I didn't make any comment because I wasn't the appointer but I went to the team, Kaminsky and Hefler, and I said, I think I've got your man. And so they interviewed him and that man was Jim Moore. And as far as I am concerned, to this day, including the credits that are deserved on many other people and particularly the redevelopment Board, Jim Moore was the conquering hero and that's about the only hero I would nominate from the whole project. So we know, all of us know today, what he achieved. And I am even sorry that he is gone now because the error they made in erasing the first arrangement that we wanted the town to vote on, and then four years wasted until finally one good builder was willing to try it and that's the present builder. So time was lost and through it all, Moore stood by. And the only problem with that place today is the ten story apartment buildings were taken from the plan and they started to build quality homes, they are quality homes, but they are too expensive and seemingly the market doesn't like the area. I mean I don't know what the reason is. But they are not selling. And I think they are just too expensive. But the rest of that project is being completed. The hotel is entirely successful. And so in this particular aspect of my discussion here, I look upon it as the most important thing we did but on the other hand, I must say, a rough and tumble experience. I was quite pleased when I found out, I was surprised that there was some talk in the Council about naming a street after me and I am pleased that they did. But it is not the kind of thing that we were looking for. Our experiences as young career men in our own businesses, in my case the three six year periods of excitement, are enough. Now if you've got any questions.

(I) NO, I think you've touched on some of the things that I had in mind. That is the impact of the multi-racial, multi-ethnic community. You've done extremely well in your observations as mayor.

(END OF TAPE)

 

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