Rutgers Oral History Archives

The # 15 Oral History Website in the World

New Brunswick Redevelopment

Voorhees, Ralph Interview Transcript

Interview with Ralph Voorhees

Listokin:         Okay. So – anything you want to say?

Berkhout:       Well let me – I guess I could just say that for a couple of years I guess I've thought about the fact that people like you and John and others have told these great stories about the redevelopment in New Brunswick, whether it was the Cultural Center or what J&J did, and I just felt, you know, it was important to get these down in some way. That those memories are going to be lost, and all we'll have is sort of a corporate . . .

Voorhees:       My memory is lost . . .

Berkhout:       As sort of a corporate description of what happened. So we actually put together a proposal. I got Listokin and some other faculty members involved, and we proposed to Rutgers, they have start-up money for projects, and they awarded us some funds. So, since then we've also received some funds from Devco, and from Chris Foglio, and from Michael Farewell, who is actually the architect of this building, but he worked with Chris, and we're also going to talk to J&J, their communications division. So people are interested in it, and we're both trying to get people's stories and do interviews so that we can take excerpts from that, but Listokin is also organizing some students to get a lot of the documentation together – because it exists in a whole lot of different places.

Listokin:         So we've been going to the New Brunswick library. They have a nice collection. The archives room in the records library. They have materials on New Brunswick Tomorrow and Devco, etc. We're also doing this in a network fashion. You know we speak to people, and we ask them who are the people we should talk to. You know, it just spreads that way. What we're asking everyone we speak to if they could just sign this form. It's just that . . .

Berkhout:       This is just that we're recording you, but we're only going to use it for . . . you need a pen – we're only going to use it for research purposes. It belongs to Rutgers, right.

Voorhees:       What is the date today?

Berkhout:        It is the 16th.

Voorhees:        The month?

Berkhout:        June.

Voorhees:        June. All right. God my memory is so bad. 200. . .

Berkhout:        9. That's fine. We just need you to do that . . .

Listokin:          We don't need more. Okay. That's it. Well again let me thank you for your time.

Voorhees:        Oh my pleasure.

Listokin:          We're going to have a nice conversation. What I gave you a few minutes ago is just general. Just to organize the discussion, but we're not doing a Q&A question and answer on that. So actually if I could start with the first item, the why. You know, clearly there were changes happening in New Brunswick over many decades, and then at some point the decision was made that we have to come forth and to try to revitalize the city. So if I can get some of your perceptions on that? In other words, what led to this motivation to form DEVCO, to form New Brunswick Tomorrow, and then after that general observation, you know, how did you become involved? So again, if we can just start with what were the forces that led to the creation of these entities to try to redevelop the city?

Voorhees:        Well I think the key development was Johnson & Johnson staying in New Brunswick. I think that was the key, and of course, John was the leader in that, and there was Jim Burke and some others, Dick Sellers was sort of before. Have you talked to Dick Sellers?

Berkhout:        We haven't. I'm hoping we can. He apparently hasn't been well.

Voorhees:       No, I know. And of course he's up in, around the Cape, but you should if you could.

Berkhout:        He lives in Massachusetts?

Voorhees:        Yes, I've gone up to see him once or twice in the summertime, but I haven't been recently.

Berkhout:        Okay.

Voorhees:        But he's in his nineties I think.

Berkhout:        Right. Do you know who – how we would find him . . .

Voorhees: John, I have his number at home, John could certainly give it to you. But if you can't get it through John, I think I have it at home.

Listokin:          Okay. And since we started talking about J&J, what do you think motivated . . . I can think of some of the reasons, but what do you think motivated them to stay? Especially as in that time many large corporations were leaving, you know, their urban headquarters.

Voorhees:        Oh, I just think they wanted to be part or really lead the revitalization. I don't, corporate reason, I don't think – I think that's it. Revitalization, and I think the fact that they did stay brought about the revitalization.

Listokin:          And maybe I should have started with this, but can you tell us a little bit about your background, and your connection to the city? I mean I know a bunch of it, but I think it would be good if we heard from you so maybe we should have started with it.

Voorhees:        You know, I have a memory problem, so – I think probably I was on the Board of not – I was on the board of the planning, what was it called?

Berkhout:        New Brunswick Tomorrow.

Voorhees:        New Brunswick Tomorrow, and I think that was important. I also think you know that J&J, as I mentioned before, J&J stayed in town, and I think probably my involvement with the museum was important. Named after my mother. The first gift to that was from my brother. And let's see if I can think of some others, but I think J&J, Rutgers . . .

Berkhout:        Seminary.

Voorhees:        Yeah well that, of course that's very much changed now the seminary. I was up there the other day, and they – they used to be a Reformed Church seminary, that's how Rutgers started, but now they have many students that come on Thursday and Saturday, and they have a great leader, and have you talked to them?

Listokin:          No. We've just started. You're number three interview.

Berkhout:        So were you on the Board of the Seminary back during the revitalization?

Voorhees:        Yeah, I was. And my son Alan will be going on the Board as soon as he gets . . . he's involved with his church, but he'll go on the Board. And I think this leader they have there, what's his name, Greg, is really a good person. I didn't vote for him . . .

Berkhout:        But he may not know much about the revitalization of New Brunswick. I don't remember who was the president during that time, but that would be another source I think to look at.

Voorhees:        Well Greg, I'm not sure. Greg would he would be the person to talk about that, and he's really – I didn't vote him. I can't remember who I voted for, but I was glad I was out voted because he's done a good job.

Berkhout:        Ralph, could you explain a little bit about the museum and how your work with the museum what part – what you saw as part of the importance to New Brunswick?

Voorhees:        Well, it's sort of on a corner, and when I was growing up that was the Rutgers gym that building. And I was able to get my brother involved, and he took an interest in it, and gave quite a bit of money, and then of course Horton Dodge has come along and given an awful lot of money – a lot of works – to the museum, and so, I think the museum has quite a reputation around the country.

Listokin:          And was the museum viewed as a specific action to help revitalize the city or was it more . . . it was good for Rutgers to have it? Or what . . .

Voorhees:        I think it was probably selfish on my part how Alan and I could honor our mother. My dad died when I was three, and she was just a wonderful person, and then she, about six or seven years later, married Dad Zimmerli, and that was just, I think, we wanted to honor her for being able to bring the family up and I was three, and – my memory is not too good so if I'm repeating myself . . .

Listokin:         We're getting a good sense of this.

Voorhees:        All right. And I just had a wonderful mother, and that's why we named the museum. He had the money at the time.

Berkhout:        Alan did.

Voorhees:        Alan.

Berkhout:        Right. The same Alan that our transportation center is named after.

Voorhees:        Right.

Listokin:          And how was Rutgers involved? And was J&J? I'm speaking about the museum now.

Voorhees:        No. Right. Well I don't know how much Rutgers . . . who was the director then?

Berkhout:        Dennis Cate.

Voorhees:        He was a – he was really very important at that time. And he was the one that . . . what they did they had Alan go see people at Douglass and what's the name of the building . . . the office building – the old dormitory . . .

Berkhout:        At Douglass?

Voorhees:        No at Rutgers, right next to Queens?

Berkhout:        Winants?

Voorhees:        Winants, yeah. And then he met Dennis. You see there were four, and Dennis was the fourth person he met, and he decided that there's he wanted to put the money.

Berkhout:        So that happened – I guess it used to be called the Rutgers Museum.

Voorhees:        Yeah, I think it was.

Berkhout:        And then in the 1970s . . .

Voorhees:        Somewhere around there.

Berkhout:        Somewhere in the 1970s or early 80s then it was named.

Voorhees:        And then of course we were so fortunate that Norton Dodge came in and had given us all this wonderful work. If this ever becomes really valuable, it's pretty valuable now, but it could be become in a period when Russia was going from the Communism to more freedom.

Listokin:          And what impact do you think the museum has had? You know, your thoughts on the museum.

Voorhees:        Oh, I don't know what impact my thoughts have had. Thea could answer that better than I could. I think it has been a good thing for the university. I don't have any question about that, but what the actual impact, there are classes there. And that's just a difficult question for me to answer. I think it has had an impact, but I don't know. I can't qualify that.

Berkhout:        And I would assume along with the redevelopment of New Brunswick, it certainly helped. Went in hand in hand to help bring in visitors from outside as well. Because if New Brunswick hadn't been redeveloped, there wouldn't have been as attractive a place to come.

Voorhees:        No that was sort of the – on the other side of town – this side. No, but it worked out very well.

Listokin:          Since you were someone who knew New Brunswick over many years, can you tell us some of your thoughts of how the city changed, has changed, you know from . . .?

Voorhees:        I can really when you look at below George Street, I can remember the Albany Theater down on the left, and all these sort of . . . what was that street right along the river going towards Johnson & Johnson, that was really sort of just a slummy area. And that was just all cleared out, and that made a tremendous difference. There was a lumber yard down there. Zamost – Zamost Lumber, and so, but that was – you can't realize how bad that area was.

Berkhout:        What about there was an area where Alan apparently owned land over in the Hiram District?

Voorhees:        Yeah, and . . .

Berkhout:        Do you remember anything in that . . .

Voorhees:        Yeah, and I'm trying to remember what happened to that. You see my memory is not . . .

Berkhout:        Well they took down those really old, some of the really old buildings, but retained the Frog and the Peach and those buildings the restaurants are in. But apparently, Alan – I mean I hear this from people, but I don't know how much of it he owned – apparently, at one point Alan bought up a bunch of property in that area.

Voorhees:        Oh he did. He bought, I think, one street. I can't remember the name of the street down there. Pretty much property going – on both sides of the street, and then he just turned it over to whoever was going to redevelop it.

Berkhout:        So he didn't own it for a long time. He just facilitated the . . .

RalphVoorhees:          I think he owned it long enough for tax reasons, you know, like a year or more. Yeah, and then he, as I remember, he just gave it to the city. Yeah. Alan was a very, I mean, too bad you can't talk with him, but – because he was just a generous guy. He never learned how to read. He – but he just was a very bright man and he went to Rensselaer . . .

Berkhout:        And MIT right?

Voorhees:        MIT right. And then he took another course at Penn State. So despite his academic limitations he was – he was very bright in his own way.

Berkhout:        He was dyslexic right?

Voorhees:        What?

Berkhout:        He had dyslexia?

Voorhees:        Right.

Berkhout:        But went through engineering programs.

Voorhees:        Well, he really never, never learned how to read. And he was left back in the first grade because of his delinquencies in reading.

Listokin:          Since we're talking about how the city was changing, your memories of how retail used to be in New Brunswick, and then where it was in the late sixties and early 1970s period.

Voorhees:        We used to have a Lawson store here on George Street. And I remember the State Theatre was always there. The George Street Playhouse. What was that first – it was a gym of some sort.

Berkhout:        Yeah, it was the YMCA.

Listokin:          The YMCA.

Voorhees:        YMCA right. And let's see, I was on the Board of New Brunswick Savings for a while, and then they were taken over. I don't know. I'm . . .

Berkhout:        I was going to say, you originally actually went to high school in New Brunswick? I'm trying . . .

Voorhees:        No, no.

Berkhout:        There wasn't a high school in Highland Park?

Voorhees         My sister was in the first graduating class of Highland Park. That was 1938. And my brother, stepbrother, Fred Zimmerli, they were in the class of 1941, and I was in the class of 1944.

Berkhout:        Oh okay. But before that people from Highland Park went to high school in New Brunswick.

Voorhees:        Went to New Brunswick. That's right. And took it over a three year period, the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth, but I say my sister was in the first class that graduated from Highland Park.

Berkhout:        Right. So then when you were in Highland Park, I remember you talked about having a paper route and all that sort of thing, did you come into New Brunswick frequently. I mean there was an Arnold Constable, and other stores?

Voorhees:        Yea. I would go to the State Theater some.

Listokin:          Which was the main movie theater in New Brunswick?

Voorhees:        Right. There were two other theaters, one was Albany, which was on the J&J property, and also the Rivoli, which was on George Street. It was right down here. I used to go there some. And there was also a small theater down along the river called the Strand.

Listokin:          This was a movie theater?

Voorhees:        Yes. That didn't do very well.

Berkhout:        So there were four movie theaters?

Voorhees:        Yeah.

Berkhout:        Wow.

Listokin:          And would people do most of their shopping in New Brunswick. I mean if you . . . like people living in Highland Park would they come, besides coming in to see the movie theaters, they would do their shopping here?

Voorhees:        No I did all my clothing shopping at a store Fichslers, Herb Fichsler, he was right down here on George Street. And I used to go to a dentist up here on Livingston Avenue, Dr. Brown. He was related to the Shigoan family. That's going back a long ways.

Berkhout: So then eventually people didn't come into New Brunswick to shop anymore, before the redevelopment?

Voorhees:        I'm not sure about that, not being in retail. My business was in Newark. And then Woodbridge. So I don't know much about the shopping habits of people.

Berkhout:        Okay.

Voorhees:        But obviously it was . . . I would say the key was that J&J stayed in town.

Listokin:          So if we could continue with that thought. You mentioned J&J staying was key. The efforts by the museum were helpful, you know in terms of bringing people into the city and giving a different sense of what New Brunswick was. Other actions that you think were important?

Voorhees:        Well, I think the key was, as I mentioned earlier, J&J staying in town. Rutgers, under – if I haven't said this, my memory is not too good -- Ed Bloustein was good, and who came after Ed?

Berkhout:        Fran Lawrence.

Voorhees:        I didn't think he was too good.

Listokin:          Can you speak to what you remember about Bloustein's involvement.

Voorhees:        He was just very much involved with them. He just – he – he was involved in things. And so – I have some memory problems, so don't . . .

Berkhout:        Ralph, another person whom Barbara worked for was John Lynch. So do you recall when he was mayor here, and what his involvement was?

Voorhees:        Oh, John was good. He was the mayor that was most involved in the redevelopment. He and John Heldrich had a very good relationship. And then of course, it's too bad what has happened to him now, but if you want to talk about the redevelopment of New Brunswick you have to talk about him and John Heldrich.

Berkhout:        Did Barbara work for him related to his mayoral work here in New Brunswick.

Voorhees:        No the Senate work. He was a Senator majority leader, and she was very, very fond of him, and I was always so happy that she wasn't around when all this came about.

Berkhout:        Right.

Voorhees:        He was a very, very bright man. Probably too bright for his own good.

Listokin:          I think Pat Sheehan was the mayor in New Brunswick. And how was . . . what are your recollections about her involvement in the redevelopment of the city?

Voorhees:        She was a wonderful mayor. A delightful person. And didn't she go ahead in politics a little bit after – didn't she run for the assembly or something like that? Yeah, she is lovely, and she's living down on the shore now I think.

Berkhout:        Oh really. And Betsy Garlatti is her daughter, correct?

Voorhees:        Yes, that is correct.

Berkhout:        Okay.

Listokin:          Your thoughts on how the Cultural Center contributed to – you spoke about the museum, but now you did mention George Street, how the Cultural Center contributed.

Voorhees:        I think they've been very important. Crossroads has been a disappointment. That started out very well, and now it's not doing well. They just have, you know, a few shows. I guess maybe I"m being a little too harsh, but at the beginning they were really very good. What was the guy's name?

Berkhout:        Ricardo Kahn?

Voorhees:        He's back doing some things with it now.

Berkhout:        But wasn't Eric Krebs one of the men?

Voorhees:        Eric Krebs, he was George Street.

Listokin:          George Street right.

Voorhees:        Eric was a dynamo.

Listokin:          So of course you had the State Theater, and George Street and Crossroads.

Voorhees:        And George Street has always been strong. Who was the first director there? Who is there now?

Berkhout:        David . . .

Voorhees:        David Saint. There you go. And they're still very good. My son Alan is on the Board there. Barbara was chairperson for a while of George Street. And – that's really, that probably is as strong a cultural unit as almost anything in the state.

Listokin:          And the role of the hospital? We spoke briefly before about the hospital? Your thoughts on . . .

Voorhees:        I think that the key was hooking up – I was chair when we decide to hook up with the medical school, and I think that made the difference. I think Middlesex would have not made it on its own.

Berkhout:        It was Middlesex Hospital.

Voorhees:        It was Middlesex General Hospital. Yeah.

Berkhout:        See you have a better memory than I do.

Voorhees:        Don't say that.

Berkhout:        So you were the chair of the Middlesex Hospital Board?

Voorhees:        I was the chair when we went from Middlesex to Robert Wood Johnson, yeah.

Berkhout:        Which I assume means that Robert with Johnson Foundation gave money for that.

Voorhees:        Yes. No question. They give money to . . .

Listokin:          And your recollections of that process? I mean, we had a local hospital, which was Middlesex Hospital, and then you mentioned the link up with UMDNJ. But clearly the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation becoming involved was very – your recollection about that? You know what was your thinking?

Voorhees:        Well they support both hospitals, but I think there is . . .

Listokin:          Both St. Peters and . . .

Voorhees:        Right. But I think there is a little more generous support to Robert Wood and there's always a member of the Robert Wood Foundation Board on the hospital board. And I can't tell you who that is right now. You can check with my son in-law. So . . .

Voorhees:        Who?

Berkhout:        Steve Jones.

Voorhees:        Yes. He started out, you know, the growth of that man has grown just tremendous. He started out, I never thought he would be anything, you know, but he just continued to grow.

Berkhout:        He teaches for us.

Voorhees:        What?

Berkhout:        He teaches in our undergraduate public health program.

Voorhees:        Oh good. I didn't know that. How's he doing there?

Berkhout:        Fine. He's been teaching for many years. And then Barbara was on the hospital board right? And was she instrumental in that new children's wing?

Voorhees:        Berkhout, I think she was. But I'm a little vague on that, I really am.

Listokin:          So what do you think were the major accomplishments of the re-development? You know, if you had to think of what were some of the milestones?

Voorhees:        Well I think the first and most important was that J&J stayed in town. And that would be to me, far, far, and away – if they had moved out, I think New Brunswick would have gone down hill. I think the hospitals have been important.

Listokin:          How about Route 18? I know that was . . .

Voorhees:        Well I think having a divided highway has developed. I don't know, it certainly . . . I mean that was 18, I don't know if you remember, Thea, 18, it was . . .

Listokin:          A lot of controversy.

Voorhees:        Oh yeah. It was just.

Berkhout:        I don't remember that.

Voorhees:        It was car backed in, you know, they were all congested, and so that certainly has helped people to get in and out of New Brunswick.

Listokin:          So I guess with the benefit of hindsight – you know, it's always easy -- can you think of things that should have been done differently? I realize that's an open-ended question, but . . .

Voorhees:        Oh boy, I'd have to think about that. I really . . .

Listokin:          Let me mention some things that some people have said or are in the literature. I guess some discussion, the neighborhood groups were not as involved as they could have been, you know, especially the minority communities, is that your perspective?

Voorhees:        No there is no question that was not the case. I don't know, there . . . there's a black man . . .

Listokin:          Well I know Roy Epps was involved.

Voorhees:        Right. Roy Epps was involved. But there was a Dave Harris. Now where is Dave now?

Berkhout:        He's still around in New Brunswick. I think he's still on the Board of Trustees.

Voorhees:        At Rutgers?

Berkhout:        Yeah. But I don't know what he's doing.

Voorhees:        No I don't know either.

Berkhout:        So he served on boards or he was consulted?

Voorhees:        I don't know. I don't know at this point. He might have been involved at St. Peter's. I don't think he was involved at Robert Wood.

Berkhout:        Okay. Did you know much about the housing issues when they were taking down buildings and moving people?

Voorhees:        No I didn't. Really didn't know much about that. I was aware of it, but I didn't know much about it. So . . .

Berkhout:        Kenneth Wheeler told us about his interest in preserveing some of the older buildings, and that DEVCO was planning on taking down a lot more, but for instance in the block where Kilmer Square is, he was able to get them to retain the building that Old Bay is in and some of those other – and I guess along, I don't know the name of the street, is it Hiram Street, where the Frog and the Peach is? Do you recall any of the controversy over that?

Voorhees:        No I really – no I don't.

Listokin:          How much of what happened here do you think is transferable to other urban areas?

Voorhees:        Oh I think it is, I think you need a corporate leader in most cases or a very strong, you know, a very strong person, but I really think probably it in most cases, well in Princeton for example, they're not – they're not corporate, but there is certainly wealth, and I don't think that ever really deteriorated, do you?

Berkhout:        No. I guess there was a whole section that was redeveloped, Palmer Square, and some people feel that they lost some things by doing that, but it has become a fairly popular place.

Voorhees:        Yeah, there was a black area in Princeton going towards Lawrenceville, and I don't know how what that is like today, I don't know.

Berkhout:        There's a lot of Latin Americans who live there. But that was the neighborhood that Paul Robson grew up in, which is a story. I mean Ralph's your grandfather was it who got you – who got Paul Robson in . . .

Voorhees:        Oh my father.

Berkhout:        Your father, yeah. That's an interesting story.

Voorhees:        My father and Paul Robson became very good friends, and in fact, we've had his son out to our church, and so I'm good friends with them, and they're all black guys have married white gals, and you know – Paul's son was a very good guy. He went to Cornell, and he was a good football player. I mean to be Paul Robeson's son is pretty tough, but he's a good guy. And he had been out, you know I told you, to our church to speak. And . . .

Berkhout: But your father, was he instrumental in getting Paul Robeson to come to Rutgers when he was not allowed into Princeton?

Voorhees:        I think so,Thea. In my memory seems like that. Knowing my dad was definitely involved in it. How much was he involved in it, I don't know.

Berkhout:        And Robson's father I believe was a minister at Princeton?

Voorhees:        Yes. No question about that.

Listokin:          So you started to talk about how transferable what happened here is to other places, and you mentioned Princeton, and of course Princeton is a very different type of community, so let's say to Perth Amboy, you know, to another urban area, do you think what happened here could be transferred to a place?

Voorhees:        I think there's certainly some transfer. A good friend I had was very much involved, his name was Ernie Hanson, and he was head of Perth Amboy Savings, and he was very, very good, and he and John Heldrich, I know, used to meet now and then to talk about . . . but if you're looking at the history of Perth Amboy at all, he is certainly a good person.

Listokin:          So I guess just reflecting on just some of your comments, the ingredients that could be exported, so to speak, would be — you need the corporate commitment.

Voorhees:        Yeah, I think you do. I think very few people have the amount of money. As I said, I can't, are you going to talk with some people in Perth Amboy?

Listokin:          Not directly. But it's just more your thoughts on what . . . I just used Perth Amboy as an example of another urban area.

Voorhees:        But to me, I don't know enough about, I can't remember who was the mayor of Perth Amboy at that time, but Ernie was certainly a very, very key guy in helping Perth Amboy at that time. I think probably, as I mentioned before, that you might want to talk to some people in Perth Amboy to see the differences between how they turned around and New Brunswick.

Listokin:          And again, reflecting some of your comments, the corporate commitment important. I guess the role of the hospital.

Voorhees:        Hospital, right, very important. You see, I don't know enough about St. Peter's to tell you about that. But . . .

Listokin: The cultural facilities. The museum, the Cultural Center.

Voorhees:        It's really been what I think what Albany Street used to look like, and how it looks today. The only building that is there . . .

Listokin:          Can we hear more about your thoughts about that sort of Albany Street the way it used to be?

Voorhees:        Albany Street you had the Albany Theater, and there were – as you came across from Highland Park there was this lumberyard, which I mentioned before. And that was just, I can't recall exactly what was the . . . but it was pretty junky, and then there was the Albany Theater, and there was also on the upper part of Albany Street a Sears and Robuck that was there. And. . . but I can't recall any other stores. And then you went – there was the Rivoli Theater. There was an eating place down here in New Brunswick that was – when I used to get off the train, I'd come down the rear steps and I would go to this place, and now it's down here

in . . .

Berkhout:       Tumulty's.

Voorhees:        Tumulty's, right.

Berkhout:        So do you think it looks better now?

Voorhees:        New Brunswick?

Berkhout:        Yeah.

Voorhees:        Oh yeah.

Listokin:          I remember Hockey's, it was a restaurant across from J&J, I think it was on Albany Street.

Voorhees:        Hockey's. I don't remember that. I mean I remember the name, but I don't remember . . .

Berkhout:        Now you actually lived in a building that's the result of the redevelopment? And . . .

Voorhees:        Where I live now

Berkhout:        Yeah.

Voorhees:        Yeah.

Berkhout:        Did you ever think 25 years ago that you would move to downtown New Brunswick?

Voorhees:        No I didn't. And I'm glad we did. And it's good. I got a great spot. I have one of the corners.

Listokin:          I can imagine what some of the attractions are, but can you talk a little bit about, again you said you're glad you did.

Voorhees:        Beg your pardon?

Listokin:          That you're glad you did. That you bought a unit. Could you just tell us some of your thoughts about what you like living here?

Voorhees:        Well it's convenient for me. In the summertime, or sometimes, I still walk to my church in Highland Park.

Berkhout:        Really? You walk all the way?

Voorhees:        Yeah. I don't do it all the time, but I do it. And I have my friend here, I have an exercise machine. I get off on Sunday, she gives me the day off on Sunday.

Berkhout:        But then you walk to church.

Voorhees:        No. It has been – but Sunday off.

Listokin:          And do you take advantage of the cultural activities across the street?

Voorhees:        Oh, yeah. I have season tickets to George Street. Crossroads, I don't know what's going to happen there, you know. They say they're going to be back, I hope they are, but – but then George Street and the State Theater. I go to all their symphonies and other things. It was very nice, a gal comes over, and she goes over the whole, not just the other day, she came over to check off the things that I'm going to next year.

Berkhout:        Oh good.

Voorhees:        What is her name?

Berkhout:        Linda.

Voorhees:        Linda. She's great. She's really.

Voorhees:        Oh, yeah, I go in there. I don't know. Whenever I feel like going.

Berkhout:        Board meetings of the Zimmerli?

Voice:              And he is also on some board at Douglass, as well. . .

Berkhout:        This is a terribly off the wall question, but what would happen if New Brunswick had a sports facility downtown? You always go to the basketball games, what if there were a downtown arena?

Voorhees:        Well, I think it would be successful. There was talk about that, and then I don't know what happened.

Berkhout:        The new athletic director is talking about it again.

Voorhees:        He is? Huh. I don't know.

Berkhout:        You could get to it by train. But I mean you could walk to it.

Voorhees:        I think it would be successful, but I don't, the new one is talking about it?

Berkhout:        It was mentioned among several possibilities.

Voorhees:        I just wonder why they would do that right now with what they have over on the other side.

Berkhout:        It might be way in the future I don't know.

Listokin:          Do you think that downtown needs a bigger and more modern supermarket?

Voorhees:        I don't do the shopping, so I'll escape that one. Well where do you shop? Do you go back to Highland Park?

(Voice):          Sometimes Highland Park, sometimes C Town.

Berkhout:        Well it's easy.

(Voice):          Easy, yeah.

Voorhees:        Which one did you say?

(Voice):          C-Town.

Berkhout:        C-Town.

(Voice):          On the other side of 7-11.

Voorhees:        Oh, okay.

Berkhout:        But you have served on boards almost every entity. With the Zimmerli, the hospital, the State Theater, New Brunswick Cultural Center.

(Voice):          Douglass.

Voorhees:        No I haven't been on George Street.

(Voice):          Alan is on the George Street board.

Voorhees:        Right and Barbara . . .

Berkhout:        Barbara was involved in that. And you've been on the Board of Trustees at Rutgers

Listokin:          Do you have papers or records that we could look at that might pertain to these different . . .

Voorhees:        I don't know. I'll look. Let me look. What kinds of papers?

Listokin:         Well . . .

Berkhout:        Board meetings.

Listokin:          Just documents that have some relationship to the redevelopment of the city.

Voorhees:        All right. You talked to John, haven't you?

Berkhout:        Yes.

Listokin:         Yes, yes.

Voorhees:        He's the one who really has the papers on that.

Listokin:         And we will pursue by looking at documents that he has, but . . .

Voorhees:        Well, you know, I'll look, let me put it that way.

Listokin:          I mentioned earlier that we're looking at documents in the New Brunswick Library and in the archives from the Rutgers Library. Any other places you would recommend that you think may have some documents relating to the redevelopment of the city?

Voorhees:        No I wouldn't think so.

Listokin:          And I know you mentioned a number of people that we should talk to, and I know Thea is good at keeping a list and we have it on the video, but any people who have not been mentioned that you think are – again, you mentioned quite a few people so some of them.

Voorhees:        Tell me, just tell me the ones I mentioned?

Berkhout:        Sellars, Richard Sellars.

Listokin:          Of course.

Voorhees:        Jim Burke?

Berkhout:        Jim Burke. I don't know if he is still – I guess he is still alive.

Voorhees:        Yes he is. He lives in New York.

Listokin:          John Lynch.

Voorhees:        John Lynch.

Berkhout:        Pat Sheehan.

Voorhees:        Pat Sheehan.

Berkhout:        Did you ever meet Leo Molinaro?

Voorhees:        I met him.

Berkhout:        He was the guy from American Cities, a planning firm?

Voorhees:        Right. I don't know him well. I met him, but I don't know him.

Berkhout:        Was Ginny Record involved?

Voorhees:        Some, but not tremendously.

Berkhout:        Bill Wright we're going to try to get to.

Voorhees:        Bill Wright, yeah.

Berkhout:        It was suggested we talk to Eric Krebs?

Voorhees:        Oh yeah, he's the guy, you know, he's a key person. If whatever is going on in the arts in New Brunswick, he's the guy that started it. No, he's a – you should talk with him. He still lives in Highland Park?

Berkhout:        Yep.   He is producing in New York.    Are there any original restaurant owners?

Voorhees:        I don't know.

Berkhout:        Somebody mentioned the person who owns the Frog and the Peach, but I don't . . .

Voorhees:        I don't, I really don't know.

Berkhout:        Tumulty's people . . .

Voorhees:        Beg your pardon?

Berkhout:        The people who have Tumulty's may be the same ones I don't know.

Voorhees:        That used to be up near the railroad.

Berkhout:        Where J&J is, right.

Voorhees:        I used to stop in there a lot, but now I don't do it very much. It's a good place though. Have you eaten there?

Berkhout:        Tumulty's? Yeah.   And you used to commute by train right when you were in Metro Park?

Voorhees:        And I also commuted to Newark. Yeah. Then we moved – when Newark was going through that crazy decline, we moved it out to Metro Park.

Berkhout:        It was Paine Weber, when it was still Paine Weber, before it became UBS.

Voorhees:        God. You're pretty good. Pretty sharp. Oh, boy I'll tell you. She remembers all that stuff.

Listokin:          You started speak some about growing up and your family, that's part of an . . .

Voorhees:        Well my dad died when I was three. So I have just a very vague recollection of him. Then my mother married Adolph Zimmerli who was a Swiss and so that was about – I think that was about six years between the death of my father and – my mother, you know – I was very upset with her when he married, but he was a good stepfather, and so . . .

Berkhout:        And you grew up in Highland Park, right?

Voorhees:        I was in Highland Park. Until I came over here. How long?

(Voice):          Maybe three years ago.

Voorhees:        I was on the council in Highland Park for a while, three to six years, and then I was democratic chairman for a while, and . . .

Listokin:          I'm not sure if we could just go back more to the beginning. Like you were educated to go into what profession? Or just tell us a little bit about that?

Voorhees:        Well I was going to be a teacher, and then after I went to business school at NYU, and after that I started out in the broker business – no, I'm sorry, I first worked at two prep schools. I worked at the Petty School, assistant business manager, and the same at Lawrenceville, and then I was so lucky that I got out of that, because I so disagree with that whole prep school stuff. I'm just so, that was really one of the worst mistakes of my life working at those two prep schools. Then I got into the broker business, which again may be serving wealthy people, but I've always been involved in local stuff, in my church, and on the Borough Council for a while, and involved with Rutgers. So . . .

Listokin:          All right.

Voorhees:        So you're going to send me home?

Berkhout:        Anything else you want to say about New Brunswick?

Listokin:          Any thoughts about anything you want to say.

Berkhout:        There was something else actually going back to your past. You and John Heldrich were very good friends when you were growing up right?

Voorhees:        Growing up, right. He was similar in that his father died when, I think, he was, have I said this before?

Berkhout:        About John, no.

Listokin:          Not about John.

Voorhees:        He was about six months old, and my father died when I was three years old, and the difference was that his mother didn't marry again, and my mom did. But we have been close friends for all these years. It has been a wonderful relationship.

Berkhout:        So did you go to school together?

Voorhees:        Yes. We were in the same class.

Berkhout:        Oh in elementary school.

Voorhees:        Elementary school and Highland Park High School. We graduated . . .

Berkhout:        I don't know if they had kindergarten then?

Voorhees:        Oh yeah, we had kindergarten then.

Voice:              They were teasing each other with girl friends.

Berkhout:        And then I think at one time you both had a paper route you talked about?

Voorhees:        Yeah, he had a paper route from Second Avenue going towards Edison, and I was Second Avenue down towards River Road.

Listokin:          Oh. You divided the town.

Voorhees:        Yeah. We divided the town.

Berkhout:        And John said he always had to give his money back to his mother.

Voorhees:        Oh yeah, John was very good, very good to his mother. And no, he's been very generous, a close friend, he's very, very generous, of course he made a little money too. But, you know, a lot of people who make a lot of money don't give as John has given.

Listokin:          Any other people you grew up with who were involved in New Brunswick's redevelopment?

Voorhees:        Let's see. I don't think so. Most of the people I grew up with, they're either out of town, live some place else, or have died. I can't think of anybody.

Berkhout:        John mentioned some bankers. Some of the people, when then banks . . .

Voorhees:        Yeah, there was a – at the People's Bank was a good guy. Oh boy . . . People's Bank, New Brunswick Trust Company was Lester Mott – that's right down here on George Street. Oh boy.

Listokin:         I think there were like five or six banks.

Voorhees:        What?

Listokin:          I think they mentioned there were like five or six New Brunswick banks.

Voorhees:        Yeah. People – it was Holmes Dennis was the head of the People's Bank.

Berkhout:        Do you know whether they're still alive, Lester Mott and Holmes Dennis?

Voorhees:        No. I think they're dead. They're dead.

Berkhout:        But the lived in New Brunswick not Highland Park?

Voorhees:        Holmes Dennis, no, they didn't live in Highland Park. Bill Kulthau I think lived in Milltown or that area. Oh, Ed Meyer, did I mention him?

Berkhout:        No.

Voorhees:        Oh well I should have mentioned him. I was on the Board of the Savings Bank, and he lived in Highland Park. He lived in that, you know, that sort of new area down off Lincoln Avenue off to the right, I forget the name of that street. In fact, he was the one that first put me on a board.

Berkhout:        Okay. And he was with People's Savings?

Voorhees:        No, no. New Brunswick Savings.

Berkhout:        Oh, New Brunswick Savings. What about Norman Reitman was he . . .

Voorhees:        He was at the hospital, and he was – he was at both hospitals, but he spent more time at Robert Wood, and he's amazing. Have you met him? No, but you're going to talk with him aren't you?

Berkhout:        He's in his nineties. Well we should I guess? Norman Reitman.

Voorhees:        He's 96 or 97 something like that?

Berkhout:        He still gets around with a cane right?

Voorhees:        We were with him the other day at Rutgers at a meeting.

Berkhout:        So he was a physician at – he had his own practice?

Voorhees:        He had his own practice, and he had it on River Road. And we were with him at a Rutgers meeting the other night. So he's 96 or 97. You really should talk to him because he is just a phenomenal individual. I wish I had his memory.

Voorhees:        Yeah, he lived in Highland Park.

Voorhees:        That I don't know, that I don't know. But he lived on Harrison Avenue right on the border of Edison, but in Highland Park.

Berkhout:        Right.

Listokin:          So people growing up in Highland Park at the time viewed New Brunswick like as the city, and they were just a suburb of New Brunswick? Is that a fair statement?

Voorhees:        Yeah, we were certainly much smaller.

Voorhees:        A lot of us were. And you know, but we all went to our, like John still goes to St. Paul's Church. I go to the Dutch Reformed where Thea used to go. She left us. And we have this young couple who are just amazing. They say that this is the way it's going to be in the protestant churches. That it is going to be husband and wife. It really makes sense, you know, you don't have to preach every week.

Listokin:          Did the churches ever think of moving out of New Brunswick as their Vo              Voorhees:        Now the Episcopal church. Now we've taken that over. I don't know what we're going to do with it.

Berkhout:        Which Episcopal church?

Voorhees:        The Episcopal church on the south side on . . .

Berkhout:        Oh, in Highland Park.

Voorhees:        Right. There's a Methodist church, I don't know how they're doing.

Berkhout:        But the churches in New Brunswick pretty much stayed in New Brunswick . . .

Voorhees:        Second Reformed, the First Reformed was down here and Second Reformed is up on College Avenue. I don't know how they're doing. I don't think that well, but I think they both have good endowments. And Christ Church has the best endowment, because General Johnson left them a lot of money.

Berkhout:        General – oh, really?

Voorhees:        Yep.

Berkhout:        I didn't know that.

Listokin:          But what I'm hearing is that the churches that were in New Brunswick pretty much stayed in New Brunswick. It's not like they move out. So in part, people living in Highland Park who belonged to the New Brunswick churches it was yet another tie.

Voorhees:        Give me that again?

Listokin:          It was another connection to New Brunswick. They not only came to the movie theaters here, and they some of them worked here, they also went to services here, religious services here.

Voorhees:        Yeah, right.

Berkhout:        There is that very old Jewish synagogue too that I think is conservative down on, by the Hiram District.

Voorhees:        Now which one are you talking about?

Berkhout:        I don't the name of it . . .

Voorhees:        But tell me where it is.

Berkhout:        It's on Neilson Street . . .

Voorhees:        Is that near. . .?

Berkhout:        It's across from the Wolfson Parking deck. People walk to it.

Listokin:          I think there were like four synagogues in that area, and three left, and that one remained. And I don't remember . . .

Berkhout:        I see people walk to it from Highland Park.

Voorhees:        My memory on that is not too good.

Listokin:          Okay. Again, if there any other thoughts on the redevelopment, and if not, this was – thank you.

Voorhees:        I think it's great what you're doing here. It really is.

Berkhout:        And if you find any documents – I mean I don't know when you moved – about New Brunswick, or any, you know, when he was on the boards of places and they talked about New Brunswick redevelopment. When he left his other house, I guess Jane did a lot of work . . .

Voice:             We have plenty of old newspapers he keeps.

Berkhout:        Oh yeah?

Voorhees:        I'll look through that.

Listokin:          How do you think the Home News covered the redevelopment?

Voorhees:        I don't read the news anymore. I used to deliver the paper.   I still read the  

Listokin:          You read the Ledger, the Star Ledger?

Voorhees:        I read the New York Times, the New York Times. I used to read the Tribune and they went out of business.

Berkhout:        They're all going to go out of business soon.

Voorhees:        Oh yeah. It's a tough times. Two dollars a day or two dollars, right.

Voice:              It is always sold out by 10:00.

Listokin:          If I can ask, you are living in the building across the street, who are your neighbors. Like who else bought in or if you have occasion to see them?

Voorhees:        Who's that person. George DeVau's widow lives there. Edith De Vau.

Voice:              Edith yes, and their granddaughter.

Voorhees:        She used to live on South Adelaide off that, one of those street. I think she might be somebody you might want to talk with.

Berkhout:        What's her name? Edith DeVau.

Voice:            Edith DeVau.

Listokin:          And what was her connection to . . .

Voorhees:        Well just they lived in Highland Park a long while, and they were one of the few Republicans . . .

Berkhout:        Along with John.

Voorhees:        Yeah, but I think she . . .

Berkhout:        But her daughter Alice is a lawyer in New Brunswick.

Voice:              She works near here – two blocks.

Berkhout:        I guess Tom Kelso is another person maybe we should talk to right?

Voorhees:        Tom knows a lot of people and lot of things around New Brunswick.

Berkhout:        And was he a lawyer for the city or the county?

Voorhees:        I think he was a lawyer for the county.

Berkhout:        Do you know him?

Listokin:          No, I don't know him.

Berkhout:        And he was on the State Theater Board, and he was one of the people at the very beginning when it first got renovated who was involved in that, and the county giving money for that.

Voorhees:        There's a plaque in the State Theater, and I think there are five or six names on that, and I think it would be good to talk to all of them.

Listokin:          Since we just mentioned the county, Middlesex County, how did Middlesex County government, what was their role in the redevelopment.

Voorhees:        I don't know. I don' know. So , no I – Tom Kelso could help you on that one.

Berkhout:        Going back to your neighbors, I read an article about people who live on the very top right above you. I think he's a restaurant owner. Trying to remember the name of it – Tre Piani near Princeton.

Voice:            Yes, I have seen their picture.

Berkhout:        She has blond hair.

Voorhees:        What's the name?

Berkhout:        Can't remember their name.  But they said they wanted to live in an urban setting, but he works closer to Princeton, so they got this space on the top.

Voorhees:        They got the top floor.

Berkhout:        Right.

Voice:              There is also one program in Highland Park. Barbara established the program "Who Is My Neighbor?."

Berkhout:        Oh is that really? I know that the two ministers have that.

Voorhees:        Yeah, right. Yeah, it's a good program.

Listokin:          Thank you, thank you.

Berkhout:        When this gets published in some form we'll let you know and give you a copy.

Voorhees:        Well, I hope I'm around by then.

[end of recording]

Rutgers Oral History Archives

A Rutgers History Department Affliated Center 


This website and all content

Copyright © 2016 ROHA

Contact Us

1 Spring Street, 4th Floor

New Brunswick, NJ 08901


848-932-0454
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.