Ridgewood has an interesting story behind its name. Resident, teacher, and Greeter Lori Lustig explained that during the Ice Age, glaciers caused a ridge in Long Island and Queens – thus, the name.
In 1637, Dutch-but- German-speaking Peter Wycoff was the area’s first settler and his descendants were “as numerous as the stars.”* The Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1850, the subway in 1913. Both were responsible for a tremendous influx of residents, mostly German. Today’s residents are descended from Germany (10%), other European countries (35%), and Hispanic nations (50%).
Once Ridgewood was settled, it resembled a German town, with farms, private parks, dance halls, and breweries. By 1914, Ridgewood had five big breweries within a radius of five blocks.
Lori showed us many highlights. The landmarked Ridgewood Theatre was home to such early 20th century glitterati as Shirley Temple and The Three Stooges. After the subway opened, a large number of three-story railroad apartments were built. They were basically tenements, steamy in temperature, cramped in space.
A poignant memorial at Clemens Triangle listed the names of German-Americans who fought against the Germans in World War l. A Rite-Aid drugstore is in a landmarked building that was once a magnificent bank. It has large clocks at the entrance and exit, elegant windows and detailed moldings.
Historic Row lived up to its name. The last remaining pork store has a window sign in German saying: “Table, set thyself.” Most impressive of all was the landmarked Matthews Model Flats, many with front gardens meticulously maintained by their owners, in a triangle defined by Grand and Calamus Avenues and 79th Street.
Built between 1900 and 1925, this dignified, affordable housing from developer Gustave X. Matthews was more spacious, clean and comfortable than the congested railroad homes. Each street was made of specially baked light and dark yellow bricks, and affectionately known as “the yellow brick roads.” The Flats were considered some of the city’s most innovative housing.
Today, parts of Ridgewood still reflect its German heritage. It is also where many immigrants from around the world make their first American home. From a farming community, to a working class neighborhood, and now to a gentrified district, the American Dream is alive and well in Ridgewood, Queens.
*George Schubel, editor of the Ridgewood Times