New Brunswick Redevelopment
The Bloustein School
Listokin: When we're ready we can start at that point. Um, people who even when they moved away they kept some time.
Rubel: Oh, yes.
Listokin : They went to church or they moved to Highland Park.
Rubel: Yes, that's exactly what happened.
Listokin : You know, New Brunswick was not very far away on that.
Rubel: That's right.
Listokin : So I guess, um...
Berkhout: So we're actually working on a book. We started off just doing some interviews, and I was a next door neighbor to Ralph Voorhees.
Rubel: Oh, okay.
Berkhout: I know John Heldrich very well. So they got me involved in the State Theater Board and one thing lead to another, and I'm Associate Dean at the Bloustein School; David's a professor at the Bloustein School.
Listokin: I'm the professor, yes.
Rubel: Did you know Milton Schwabel when he was Dean of the Graduate of Ed?
Berkhout: I didn't.
Rubel: He was a very close friend of mine. My background is arts and education, so I was very involved with him.
Berkhout: I see. That's great. Um, so we did interviews with people who were involved in the Redevelopment, and then, um, you know, we're trying to fill-in areas that we know we didn't...we tried to get people like...fortunately, we got Ralph before he passed away.
Berkhout / Listokin?: Very important person. And then the Rutgers Press was interested in our doing a book on this, so we're trying to expand a bit and get more background on areas. And Bob Belvin has been helpful.
Rubel: Oh, yes, and I'm working with Bob Belvin on, you know, my husband's relationship to New Brunswick in terms of as a photographer.
Berkhout: And he was the one who said we should talk to you. So he knew that we were in the midst of putting more information together.
Listokin: And we were very pleased because clearly the arts and the cultural center, you know, the transformation in New Brunswick was very, very key.
Rubel: You're touching something near and dear to my heart.
Listokin: So anyway we thank you for your time. This is very, you know, and we normally have questions...I don't think we necessarily have to go down even though uses for some inner structures. So maybe you can start what you were speaking about a moment ago, like how...?
Rubel: Well I'm from Canada originally, so my background is a little different because back home the arts were more not talked about as separate; they were just somehow part of life. And so that's what I came down here expecting and it wasn't the case. But my husband who is, I say, born and raised in New Brunswick...his family had a business where the hotel is down where Church Street used to exist.
Listokin: What type of business?
Rubel: I think it was...I keep saying yard goods, but that's fabric.
Rubel: It was like a...
Berkhout: Like hardware?
Rubel: No, home goods, clothing, that kind of a thing. And his uncle owned a pharmacy up on Route 27.
Berkhout: Oh, okay.
Rubel: Anyhow, Harry, my husband was very involved way back in theater. He was with the Habema Guild. I don't know if you've heard of the Habema Guild which emanated from Rutgers, from Douglas. I forget the lady's name; it was so well known. And they did performances at the State Theater in those days.
Listokin: So this is roughly when?
Rubel: Well this would have been before the war, so I'm guessing considerably before the war, but I don't know exactly when. It's before I knew him. I met my husband after the war. But I only know things that he told me. And he had a studio in New Brunswick. He was a photographer. And then when he came back from the war he got involved with a group theater and he worked with, you know, Bernie Schwartz who is...what's his name...Tony Curtis and a few people. And then he studied...
Berkhout: He went to high school with my mother-in-law.
Listokin: See, it's a small world.
Rubel: And then he studied directing with Jose Contero. So he had this theater sort of which was a little out of my realm, but something I was learning as a person interested in the arts and had children who wanted him to be involved in the arts. And then in the sixties, late sixties, we started a Summer Arts Program in Griggstown that was for arts. It was working with professional artists as faculty for kids, young kids. So I got my feet wet in that.
Listokin: And this was a private venture, a public venture?
Listokin: A summer camp?
Rubel: Right, summer programs called CAP, Creative and Performing Arts. So the more I got into that, the more involved I got. I was also...I'm giving you this background probably, but it's just how I came to be.
Listokin: But that's key.
Berkhout: Yeah, it's good.
Rubel: Because of my interest in what I've told you, I was invited to meet with Arthur Lithgow, John Lithgow's father, at McCarter Theatre because they had a newly created Arts Council. That was the first time the Arts Council and the State...
Listokin: This was an Arts Council...
Rubel: State Arts Council.
Listokin: The State Arts Council, okay.
Rubel: The first, yeah. Byron Kelly was the first director. The State Museum, the State Department of Ed, the State PTA, and McCarter Theatre were very anxious to get teenagers involved in the arts, particularly within the domains that they were responsible for. And I had run a program in Highland Park...we had moved to Highland Park...that was a Teen Arts Festival.
Listokin: So you moved to Highland Park roughly when?
Rubel: Actually when we got married he was living in Highland Park. So I never, myself, lived in New Brunswick.
Listokin: So that was roughly when you...
Rubel: That would be in the mid fifties
Berkhout: And where in Highland Park did you live?
Rubel: On South Third beginning, and then North Fifth next to the library.
Berkhout: I lived on North Sixth next to the library.
Rubel: Oh, okay. We were neighbors.
Berkhout: You say you were by the high school.
Listokin: I'm in Edison down North 8th Avenue.
Rubel: Okay, so neighbors (laughing).
Listokin: Yes, yes.
Rubel: So with that background they asked me because of what I had done in Highland Park if I could help them get kids involved. The first year we had just Visual Arts students at McCarter Theatre. This is before it was expanded and so forth. My being, I guess, is I don't understand how things get done without working together. So I said, "This isn't fair. Those kids are only people who knew an art teacher who knew somebody. It's not a state program; it's not representative."
Listokin: And these were children from...?
Rubel: High school, thirteen to eighteen.
Listokin: From where?
Rubel: Around the state. So with that background, I said I would take it further if I could work with all twenty-one counties to create networks so that we could be fair to the kids and it wasn't just those who took art, but those who might be creative and didn't show up in the typical, etc. So the New Jersey State Teen Arts Program was born and started in McCarter Theatre. As when Arthur got dumped from Princeton University, the State Department of Ed was interested in what we were doing because I was working with County Offices of Aging as well as many other kinds of people. So they gave us a home in the basement of the State Museum, and we continued to work. And then we moved into the State Department of Ed. This was all volunteer from art. And we had a National Endowment for the arts funds to make the state festivals function, and the state festivals were held originally in Trenton...from Princeton from the...was too small...went to Trenton and then came to Rutgers. And it was at Rutgers University for many, many years.
So in the process of all this, I met Mason Gross and I met Bloustein, and, you know, they were all people that crossed paths for various reasons. Both men were very interested in the arts. And so when I was also working at the State Department of Ed there was the Bicentennial coming upon us. And at that time Bernie Bush who was the Director of the State Historical Commission was drafting legislation to create what he was calling...
Listokin: Is that from the Busch attorney family?
Rubel: No, not the Busch, Busch, Busch, no. But Bernie Bush was the longtime Director of the Historical Commission. And because...I guess because I gave up my citizenship I'm very interested in what happens politically and I watch and read and follow. And I'm reading this that he's creating this legislation for the Bicentennial that would be called Heritage Commissions. And I called him up and I said, "You know, I'm involved in the arts and I concerned that if we have Heritage Commissions and there's nothing for the arts, and you're putting money into county government, it's not going to work because it's arts and humanities is my perspective." And I said, "We have a new Arts Council and I would like to have you meet with Bryon Kelly." So together the three of us, we wrote the legislation for the creation of the County Cultural and Heritage Commissions. And this was a mixing. The first time, I believe, that these organizations collaborated.
Listokin: And that legislation would authorize the establishment of County Cultural and Heritage Commissions. Did they provide any funding?
Rubel: The County Freeholders were to do that. Freeholders were...the challenge was the Freeholders.
Listokin: So the counties would support it, but this authorized the...
Rubel: The creation of it.
Listokin: The creation of it.
Rubel: We have twenty-one counties. Monmouth County never created a Cultural and Heritage Commission because they had an Arts Council, a very good one, and they had a good Historical Commission. Morris County somewhat the same. So there were not twenty-one county Cultural and Heritage Commissions, but a good number. And, um, and they were very much part of Teen Arts too because we folded all those resources into it.
Listokin: And, again, the year that roughly...
Rubel: That would have been just before the Bicentennial, so I would say seventy-four, five, something like that. So when the Cultural and Heritage Commission is created, I was one...in Middlesex County I was one of the first commissioners when that was created. And then when they hired a director, I was the first Director of the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission. And that was fascinating for me because I'm learning a whole lot of history. I mean it was a whole wonderful experience. And as part of that experience, part of the stuff that was going on with Teen Arts, stuff that was going on with Rutgers, conversations with Mason Gross and later on Bloustein, we talked about establishing New Brunswick as a Cultural Center. One of the things that we started with...and this is the Cultural and Heritage...do you remember the days of CETA, Comprehensive Employment and Training?
Rubel: Uh hum.
Rubel: Well a gentleman came to me and he was a wonderful baritone base singer, and he wanted to know if there was a job. He wanted to have an opera company. And I didn't even like opera at that time. And he told me what he needed. He needed three other people and I said, "Well if you can find eligible people I'm interested." Well P.S. he did. And out of that I said, "Well I'm interested but I'm only interested if it serves the schools too." I said, "You have to have an Outreach Program." So they did. It was called Opera Works. And the Opera Theater of New Jersey was the title. They formed a non profit organization.
Listokin: So this is into the later seventies?
Rubel: Bicentennial time.
Listokin: This goes back to back at that time.
Rubel: Bicentennial time. So here's a county government who created a theater opera company. And as part of the Bicentennial, they had forward thinking or the future or something...I forget, there were three kind of... So we submitted for to the Feds, to the National Department...National Council whatever...Humanities... whoever did it that New Brunswick would be a State Cultural Center. So that's when that became a national entity. I was very excited about that; I was excited the county did it and so on.
Listokin: Now was CETA involved?
Rubel: Yes, because all of those four singers that were in the Opera Company were the foundation for it, and they performed. The State Theater was closed at this time. It was not operational. And we put on an opera, full-fledged opera. Roberta Peters was our Honorary Chair. She was there. George McGovern's wife came in. They were running for the president and was in New Brunswick. George Segal created the invitations. We had a pre supper over across at the Elks Club. And that was an opera...
Listokin: And this took place in the State Theater.
Rubel: In the State Theater.
Berkhout: Was that when it was a porn theater at the time.
Rubel: Well it had been closed. It was no longer a porn, but it was a porn theater before we did this (laughing).
Berkhout: I know.
Rubel: So from that it grew...this idea of the Bicentennial and this program going, you know, the State Theater. There was talk at that time, talk around the state, just talk about the need for. There were kinds of glimmers of the role of the Arts in rehabbing communities. And I'm not sure the timing of this, it was somewhere around this time. The Union County Cultural and Heritage Commission was a very well run... And ours was a...we were two top Cultural and Heritage Commissions. Together, we put together, and I'm trying to remember the exact name. I think it was Exploring Communities, Urban and Suburban. And it was housed in workshops and so on in Rutgers, but it was town-wide. And to this day John Heldrich thinks that I personally started an organization that flopped J&J's...I didn't. All I did was bring people together.
Listokin: So tell me this entity, the Exploring Communities, what was it doing?
Rubel: I brought in some national speakers who were talking and promoting the idea of the role of the arts and rejuvenation.
Listokin: But what you mentioned before, the arts to vitalize cities.
Rubel: To revitalize cities. And one of those people, and I'm sorry I cannot remember his name...don't get old...you don't remember everything.
Berkhout: It sounds like you're remembering a lot.
Listokin: That's right.
Rubel: Well this gentleman was paid for or hired to create a proposal to create New Brunswick's Cultural Center.
Berkhout: Yeah, I have a copy of that report.
Rubel: Okay, whoever wrote that report...
Listokin: Was the person who...
Rubel: And we gave that report to New Brunswick Tomorrow. They did not hire this well-known national person experienced to do it, but they submitted that proposal to the Dodge Foundation who did fund the person who did the research. Now at that time I think George Street Playhouse was still on George Street in the old Acme Market. I knew it when it was above a laundromat on Easton Avenue.
Berkhout: Easton, when it was Brecht West.
Rubel: Brecht West. And we did a conference there also was through the Cultural and Heritage, it was called the Arts Come of Age. And Eubie Blake was our keynote speaker to that day. And I worked on that with...she was the Dean of Gerontology, I think, at Rutgers, Audrey Faulkner.
Berkhout: Oh yeah.
Rubel: And she's back in the area. I don't know if you're interested. She had moved away; she's moved back here with her son. And so that was our first real exploration about the role of the arts and aging which is not talked about a lot these days.
Listokin: Right. So tell me the role of arts and older people.
Rubel: Yeah, the importance of arts and... My personal feeling is arts have to be central to everybody's life. Arts and education is what I worked on. But there's a whole spectrum...
Listokin: So you had started earlier with younger people and then this is going with more...
Rubel: Yes, right, right. Still working with the younger, but...
Listokin: Alright, but expanding into more seniors.
Rubel: But recognizing that this was something that wasn't being talked about. I like to do things that aren't being done; I don't want to do things that other people are doing. And so this was filling what I thought as a real gap and going to be a bigger gap.
Listokin: Actually, not to lose this wonderful flow, but, you know, you mentioned George Street Theater. Do you want to talk about some of your memories of that and then we'll go back to your narrative.
Rubel: Oh, yes. George Street Theater, George Street Playhouse, was really...my husband and I really was thrilled with that. We were pleased with the small, you know, size, the intimacy of it, the quality of it, the vision that Eric had, and the people that he attracted. It was also the times of CETA, and that's when he met, you know, Ricardo Khan and they were CETA employees.
Listokin: Yes, yes. Crossroads, yes, yes.
Rubel: And Crossroads was birthed. And the person who was working with Eric at that time was Maureen Heffernan who is a wonderful theater person and who'd been part of my life ever since. That's where I met her. And we've done a lot of projects together. And she was kind of that mentor to Ricardo and what's the other fellow?
Berkhout: She's the person who was there at the event this past spring.
Rubel: Oh yeah, she's phenomenal. She is a phenomenal lady. And so George Street Playhouse, um...
Listokin: So Maureen, again, was...
Rubel: She worked with Eric and then was part of the...
Berkhout: And helped Ricardo get Crossroads going.
Rubel: Right. Not only is she a wonderful director in CETA, but she's a fantastic teacher and a mentor.
Listokin: Uh hum, okay. I didn't want to lose your flow.
Rubel: No, no. That's okay. No, no.
Listokin: So we have those wonderful things going on with George Street.
Rubel: Right. And so we had also...at that time there was a gal named, um, she had a penthouse in the apartments overlooking in the park in New Brunswick.
Berkhout: You mean out near Buccleuch Park?
Rubel: Yeah. And she, um, she had an art gallery. She is an art collector. And she was very involved. She had money and power and new people, very close friends with John Heldrich and Ralph, and, you know, knew the folks on that echelon. And, um, she was very cautious; she was not happy. The person that they...I don't even remember his name. Maybe you know the history. New Brunswick Tomorrow had this young man that was leading the ship when it was carted, and they found out he was stealing and so on and they fired him. And I can't remember his name.
Berkhout: I don't know who that is.
Listokin: I'm not aware of that.
Rubel: That was back in the early, early parts of it.
Berkhout: In the early eighties, late seventies?
Rubel: I would guess late seventies, early eighties, yeah. At any rate, um, things were moving forward regardless. John felt for sure I was a fly in ointment but I wasn't.
Berkhout: Why did he think that?
Rubel: Because out of that conference there was an organization that was created by a group of merchants in New Brunswick that were...
Listokin: Now this is conference. 'Cause we had the Arts Report was commissioned. So tell me...
Rubel: Okay, the arts...first came this conference.
Listokin: The conference, okay.
Listokin: Revitalizing the city?
Rubel: Right. Out of that came a group of merchants who were primarily Church Street merchants, but not only. One of them owned the Frog and the Peach which became the Frog and the Peach. David something.
Berkhout: Yes, right.
Rubel: And they created an organization that was about maintaining historical. They didn't want things torn down. And very vocal and very public about their discomfort and unhappiness with what J&J was doing.
Berkhout: Right. Did you know Tony Nelessen then?
Berkhout: Okay, he's a faculty member of ours who lived in one of the lofts there.
Rubel: Yes. So my experience was I did not know this was happening. I had this conference because I was interested in the role of the Arts, you know, in conserving communities.
Rubel: And that was it. But to this day, John will tell you I did it.
Berkhout: That you attracted this group and became...
Rubel: Not attracted; I started it (laughing). But anyway, so then they...and it was good because whatever the report came out of, you know, it was different than what the person who wrote the original...it doesn't matter. I don't care, something was happening. At the same time, Eric, George Segal, and myself, we walked Livingston Avenue from George Street up talking about what would a Cultural Center look like. And they had the old Arnold Constable still on the corner there. They had the old storage company, whatever that was called, and the State Theater. And we talked about, you know, making the State Theater...a wonderful architecture, wonderful history, and making this. And then there was an insurance company opposite on the corner or opposite what was. And then, of course, there was the Elk's Building, and then up the street is the library and the house, the whatever it's called...History House.
Berkhout: Yes, right.
Rubel: So we talked about all of that; that's what we had hoped would become the center of the Cultural Center of New Brunswick. And George was really supportive and Eric loved it. That was our image. Okay, didn't happen that way; it's fine. It happened.
Listokin: A lot of that happened.
Rubel: You know, that's normal that somebody else takes it and they have different...it's fine, it happened. And George Street Playhouse was taken over. That was the old "Y." And it became a reality and then, of course, the Crossroads moved up there too. And from...this is my perspective, I'm not saying it's a fact, but a lot of people I know felt that once the theater, especially George Street was established, the powers to be were not necessarily happy with some of the kinds of theater. Was very confrontational. That's what made it exciting, and slowly the Board took over and Eric was ousted.
Berkhout: Yeah, he told us that he was standing at the foot of the stairway at the beginning of a season and his opener was a play on Aids. And some of the Board members said to him, "Why don't you just do some traditional plays" or something to that effect.
Rubel: Different understanding with theater. And so Eric being Eric, he knew what he believed in, and, you know, it was appropriate so he left. He went on, whatever. And they kept Crossroads because it added the right color tone, if you will, to the City, if I may. And also did some very wonderful theater.
Listokin: We value your memories of Crossroads, you know, cause most of the attention is on George Street.
Rubel: Oh, Crossroads will...when it was down on the...
Listokin: Memorial Parkway.
Rubel: What is Route 18... Were you ever in that building where you walked up the rickety stairs?
Berkhout: I saw it; I rode by it.
Listokin: I remember because I was a colleague of Tony Nelessen.
Berkhout: And he lived in the building.
Listokin: That was the same building, yes.
Rubel: So you know where those steps were. And there was a huge kind of a wide beam in the middle of the stage, and they were so clever how they used that huge... Could have been a horror. Very creative. Harry was the photographer; he did all the original photographs of the Crossroads Theater. In fact, that's what I've given to the New Brunswick Library.
Listokin: Which we should make sure we look at.
Berkhout: Photos of Crossroads.
Rubel: Yeah. And I also when I was speaking to the current gal at Crossroads, Roz. You know Roz.
Berkhout: I know Roz.
Rubel: She told me...I told her, I said, "You know, I've tried to give the portraits, the photographs to Marshall is one of my kids from when I did a program at Rutgers, and they have no space. They don't own it anymore, so they don't have security. And so Roz told me and I told her about New Brunswick, she says that Ricardo is doing something with the Smithsonian and maybe they would be interested in some of these photographs. So she was going to reach out to Ricardo and see if he wanted to take a look. And, you know, I think that theater was a wonderful theater. I loved Crossroads Theater.
Listokin: On Memorial?
Berkhout: On Memorial.
Rubel: Yes. I loved both, where it is now too.
Berkhout: How many did it seat, that old one?
Rubel: Oh, it was not that many. I don't remember. It was small.
Berkhout: Below a hundred?
Rubel: No, I think it would be more than a hundred. And it was a lot of white folk, not a lot of black folk, and that was a big issue.
Listokin: You mean in the audience.
Rubel: In the audience, yes. And they have fabulous stars from the world of theater that came there. Now when you go to the theaters, very well-supported by the black community.
Rubel: Which is wonderful. And living in South Brunswick, and now I'm working with the arts and aging, we take groups to both Crossroads and George Street. Everybody where I live thinks Princeton's the...no, no, no, no. New Brunswick has lots.
Listokin: And your memories of Memorial...Crossroads moving from Memorial Parkway to.. .
Rubel: To where they built this. They built Crossroads from the ground up.
Listokin: What are some of your memories of that?
Rubel: Well I don't remember an awful lot about that. I know the people were happy that they were not going to walk up those rickety steps. They thought it was appropriate as we did, all of us, in the arts community thought it was appropriate to be there. And I don't think they got the same level of financial support. I don't know that...from the community or Robert, you know...
Listokin: It was also a much larger theater that they have to support.
Rubel: Well it's a larger theater, but it's...I don't know any of those ins and outs. So then when they had the problem with...what was Ricardo's partner? I don't remember his name. Who got thrown out because of what he did. The fact that it survived, to me, was quite miraculous. And I think it's really a commitment of a lot of people who wanted to make sure it survived.
Berkhout: So what was in that spot, do you recall, where the built the Crossroads Theater? Did they tear something down?
Rubel: Yeah, they did. What the heck was it?
Berkhout: So it was between the YMCA and the building that had shops in it that's now Stage Left?
Berkhout: I guess we have pictures of it, right?
Rubel: I promise I do not remember that. I don't think I ever knew; not that I remember.
Berkhout: So DevCo would have been involved in that, taking it down?
Rubel: I believe so. I believe DevCo was involved with both of those theaters, the building and development of those theaters. And also played a role in George Street and Crossroads.
Listokin: Both George Street and Crossroads, okay.
Berkhout: And eventually the redoing of the State Theater.
Rubel: Yes, that came later, yeah.
Listokin: So again, I took you a little sidebar...
Rubel: Go ahead. That's okay.
Listokin To continue your thoughts. Okay, so now we have an, you know, adaptively reused George Street Theater, okay, and, of course that came before Crossroads in the new building. What is some of your memories of that? And, again, we went to Krebs leaves...I guess that's where we were last.
Rubel: Right. And actually there was a lot of anger. I was very angry the way Eric had...because he was critical. He was the voice to everybody in this. He was the key player, in my opinion, in bridging, you know, the bridges between DevCo, New Brunswick Tomorrow and the cultural folks. He was there in town. He was in the trenches. And a lot of us felt that Eric had been very badly treated and not recognizing what his contribution had been to this rejuvenation of the city.
Berkhout: And this by the Board of the George Street?
Rubel: Well we presumed that. You know, do we know that, no. But that was the general feeling. How dare these folks come in and, you know, toss him out and this is such an important person. That was the general feeling. So for years I never went to the George Street Playhouse.
Berkhout: I see.
Rubel: I was that angry.
Listokin: Because of that?
Rubel: I was that angry. But as I got a little older and I got more involved with, you know, I still believe New Brunswick is a vital place to go, and Princeton is not the only one, and yes, we're midway between, but, you know, so I now promote New Brunswick. Not that I don't go to Princeton and do things, but I promote New Brunswick as a cultural resource as much as I can whether it's the Zimmerli Museum or the theater, it's the State Theater. And so I sort of got back involved. And I'm quite impressed with what St. James has done. I mean that's fabulous theater. I think what they do at Crossroads is uneven, but my God they're keeping it going by and by a love and a hook and a crook, you know. And Marshall, you know, I think is...he's such a caring person. We went from Teen Arts to the New Jersey Summer Arts Institute which we put at Rutgers. It was the first residential summer program for teenagers in the arts, and became the Governor's School. Never the Governor's School at Rutgers, but they created the Governor's School for the Arts for Science and other things.
Listokin: And your thoughts with the State Theater.
Rubel: Well the State Theater, the State Theater I have to say I was thrilled when they renovated it and fixed it up. I have been to a few things there. It's not age-friendly And I have to go...
Listokin: Because what? You have walking...
Rubel: Parking. I mean right now for us to go to see it, and I say us from South Brunswick and the area, us older folks, we go on the evenings where we can carpool where we don't have to find separate parking and they give us...
Listokin: So that would affect everything then?
Rubel: But Crossroads and George Street are very accommodating. Not to say the State Theater wouldn't be. We are an all-volunteer organization still, and so Brunswick...and I have to go with the people who deal with the volunteers, who help arrange these things who are part of our group, and the Crossroads and George Street are very helpful. That's not to say that the State Theater isn't or wouldn't be. Actually, McCarter Theatre is more accommodating in a different way for that.
Rubel: I don't know those policy decisions.
Listokin: So you have now the Cultural Center. The State Theater is a very successful regional Arts Center.
Rubel: Right. They didn't include the library. I'm sorry about that. They didn't include the Elks Building, but that's okay.
Listokin: Do you want to talk some about that, including those?
Rubel: We had projected that the Elks Building would be a great...like a black box where you could do poetry and experimental theater and keep the restaurants, you know. So we saw that as another form of the buildings that don't exist right now.
Listokin: But do you think that would have been viable?
Rubel: Sure, I do, I do. I certainly do. At that very time when we were doing this, there was...we had the Cultural and Heritage...we had worked on...what the heck did we call it? We had a whole group of Princeton people who had come to be part of this planning that we were doing for the Cultural Center idea. We had the Princeton Ballet which is there now. That came because that's from them. There was the New Jersey Designer Craftsman which is now gone out of business. Both theaters were involved, and there were a group of writers. There were people who were interested. They were like people first kind of thinkers rather than organization first.
Listokin: So you're saying that the Elks Building could have been part of the...
Rubel: Yeah, yeah.
Listokin: Even though I guess to the credit of the county, they kept their offices there which...
Rubel: Yes, right. And we had talked about them giving up or at least giving up part of it. And they said they would talk about it, but, you know, it never went anywhere.
Listokin: It never happened; it' never happened. And the library is, of course, there.
Rubel: Well I just think that the library and the things that a library represents are part of a Cultural Center. I mean to me it was a no brainer. And it's so convenient.
Listokin: Do you think it should have been more part of viewed as the Cultural Center?
Rubel: Yeah, if I had had my wishes and we could have had them fried, I would have, you know, if we had fishes, if we had fishes and you could fry them and they would have had them. But it didn't, you know, and it wasn't even part of the report. It never, you know, got...
Berkhout: Do you know why?
Listokin: Neither the library nor the Elks Building?
Rubel: Um-mm. To my knowledge, it was never included.
Berkhout: Incidentally, approval was just given to a developer to build a twenty-two story apartment house right behind the Elks Club.
Rubel: I know, I know, I know, I know, I know. And of course the old hotel. They tore down that wonderful old hotel. What happened to those murals? Where did they go? I mean I think the feeling that made such a confrontational thing with J&J and the people is where's the appreciation for the historical? Where is the appreciation for what was and is? Where is it? Just don't tear it down and throw it away.
Berkhout: Which is why, I guess, Kenneth Wheeler told us about the building that now has the Old Bay Restaurant in it was one of the few on that corner and around the corner.
Rubel: It's still there.
Berkhout: That saved the rest.
Rubel: That was part of when we did a New Jersey...when the Cultural and Heritage did a historic site survey, and I think that's why it was preserved.
Listokin: But actually that had been in the cross hairs to be demolished.
Berkhout: Yes, right.
Rubel: Oh yes, yes.
Berkhout: It was the old Pottery International.
Listokin: All those old buildings.
Rubel: Oh, yeah.
Listokin: So I guess maybe if we can transition to looking back, like things...I don't know if you want to speak more about this theme of where the existing fabric was not, you know, celebrated and maintained.
Rubel: Well, I mean these are the things I remember, and I'm sure it's colored by my husband's background. Because there were a lot of longtime family businesses in New Brunswick...longtime family businesses. And they were not happy; they were not part of the dialogue as far as I understand when these decisions were being made. And they were pushed out, bought out, I don't know how. And you know what's in New Brunswick now. Family businesses would have been wonderful for what's going on now to what's there now. Let's face it, it was not a smart move, my opinion. That's my opinion.
Listokin: So keeping more of not only some of the historic buildings, but the people.
Berkhout: The businesses.
Rubel: Yeah, the people in the businesses who had been there for years. I mean my husband's family store was down, as I say, when they wanted it for the hotel. And they pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed, pushed, and then finally my husband and his brother just gave in.
Berkhout: So it was where the Hyatt is now?
Rubel: Yes, yes, in lower Church Street, yeah.
Listokin: Now, of course, if you didn't sell it, it would be Eminent Domain would take it.
Listokin: We want to speak more about the...maybe more preservation of the buildings could have been done.
Rubel: I would have liked to have seen...I think a lot of people would have liked to have seen reusing the old buildings. I mean even a loft down on, you know, Route 18.
Listokin: Any particular buildings or areas that you think?
Rubel: Well. there are a whole lot of lofts along where the old police station was down there.
Berkhout: Yes, right.
Rubel: Those buildings had a lot of possibilities. You know, a lot of people talked about them. We went down and looked at the torpedo factory down outside of Alexandria and what they did with that. There were so many...because there was a heavy presence of different kinds of artists, we were a large group of different kinds of arts people.
Listokin: Living in New Brunswick?
Rubel: No, not necessarily. Just loved New Brunswick and saw what it could be from all those experiences that they brought to the table, you know, beyond what I knew certainly. People who were far more focused nationally and had a bigger picture than some of us. And they were excited. I mean think about George Segal being excited about it, you know, and he was. And, of course, you know, there were other artists at Rutgers that were, you know, not just people who were coming and going.
Listokin: Actually, speaking of Rutgers...and, again, I'd like to get back to the theme of sort of looking, you know, with 20/20 hindsight length. You mentioned in part where Rutgers was involved with Bloustein and George Mason. Any further thoughts on where Rutgers was in this scheme relating to the arts?
Rubel: Well I think Rutgers has been a leader. I think with Mason Gross establishing the Mason Gross School of the Arts and the kinds of folks that they have, I think it has, I believe it really has its place in a national vision of a quality arts school. I would be happy to have recommended it for anybody. And, um, I worked with a lot of the faculty there. I mean I still work with faculty there wherever I can. And so I think the fact that Mason Gross was that kind of person, I think that Bloustein was the kind of a person, and I think, you know, let's give its due to Bettenbender who took on that first real role. By the way, I just saw Rita just a week ago. I hadn't seen her in years. She hasn't changed a bit.
Berkhout: Is that right? She still living in Highland Park?
Rubel: No, she's living in Bloomfield.
Rubel: Yeah, so I asked her the same question. But, um, you know, there was a continuity of support for the arts; a vision if you will.
Listokin: From Rutgers?
Berkhout: From Rutgers.
Rubel: From Rutgers. You know, from these three key players. I think Bettenbender was a...he took that Mason Gross and, you know, started it. I mean he put it on the map. And I remember, um, Pat Turner in the Dance Department. At that time I worked with her for years with Teen Arts. And we were having dinner. I don't even remember what the occasion was at Bloustein's place and home. And she was not going to be given tenure, and the whole lot of us were very angry. And so Bloustein was walking around being a nice host and I said, "I have to speak to you." I said, "It's not the place, but I've never going to get you better than here." And I told him. I said, "This is a disaster that this woman, this wonderful dancer, does not..." and she got tenure. And I mean he had to know.
Berkhout: He overturned the faculty.
Rubel: She got tenure. And then she was...I talked to her maybe a year ago. She was Acting Dean of Mason Gross for awhile for some time (Laughing). I said, "What are you doing?" Anyway.
Berkhout: Pat Turner...did she have a different last name?
Rubel: Hm-hmm. Not as long as I've known her at the school. She did not chair it. Well I think she went on maybe to chair the Dance Department, but when I worked with her she was not the chair. She was very involved with Pilobolus originally.
Listokin: You mentioned in part...you commented some on Rutgers and all this. Some additional thoughts or comments on J&J in all of this going on?
Rubel: Well not more than what I said. I mean I know that they still, you know, they've got New Brunswick Tomorrow. I know that they're not well loved by everybody. I know that they're building, building, building, tearing it down, tearing it down. You know, I guess it's good for something. I'm not involved in it; I don't know. You know, it's not of any interest to me. I have no role to play. I have enough to keep me busy. And so when I moved out of Highland Park and into South Brunswick, I devoted my time to South Brunswick.
Berkhout: So you view it as J&J who's still involved in doing building, etc. as opposed to DevCo.
Rubel: I think people think that. Do I know it, no, but I think they think it.
Listokin: Where do you think the minority community in New Brunswick was with all of this going on?
Rubel: I think they felt pushed out. I think that, um, they were pushed out on a large scale. I don't know all the how's and why's that they did it, but I believe that's accurate. And, um, I think that's a big loss because there were some very good folks that brought a lot to the, you know, to the community.
Listokin: Anyone come to mind?
Rubel: Ah, well there was a woman, her name is Dee Chamberlain. And she lived down there on Route 18, you know, down in that area. And she was a longtime family from the area. Her daughter is a librarian. And I just remember how badly that family was treated. In fact, I'll never quite get over it.
Listokin: In that they were pushed out?
Rubel: Pushed out. But even more so, and this is a personal story that I know from a fact. Dee was a person who was not well. She was in her fifties when I knew her, and she had some kind of internal problems. I don't know the details; it's not important. But she needed to go to the doctor, to the hospital, and I took her to St. Peter's. And she had internal bleeding. And she sat there for hours in that Emergency Room with people coming and going around her. And I was getting angrier and angrier.
Listokin: And do you think she wasn't being attended to because...
Rubel: I know she wasn't. When they finally took her in, they came out and told me that I needed to go and get her belongings. She wanted her wig and her perfume, and you know. I went down to where she lived, and when I came back she was dead.
Berkhout: Oh my goodness.
Rubel: I still can't over it. I heard stories, but that's one I experienced.
Listokin: What about the minority community and the arts, you know, the cultural? I mean unfortunately you never see, you know, you go to attend events, it's overwhelmingly white.
Rubel: Except Crossroads.
Listokin: Except Crossroads.
Rubel: Except Crossroads. That is absolutely so; that's absolutely so. Because I don't think the population lives in New Brunswick. I don't know. I know there's a heavily Mexican community.
Listokin: It's heavily Hispanic. There's a black community...
Rubel: I don't know where they all went. I don't know; I don't know. My personal feeling is I think diversity, that's why I like South Brunswick. I love diversity.
Listokin: Do you think there could have been more outreach from what was going...?
Rubel: Oh, I would say absolutely, absolutely. I think that Crossroads was the effort.
Listokin: I'm talking about the arts now. What was going on in the arts to the minority community?
Rubel: Well Crossroads was the draw, you know. But that was a new experience for them too. It wasn't something that community was all familiar with. This was a brand new thing. They didn't go to theater like, you know, most people think about going to the theater. So even though they loved it when they went, but it was, as I say, it was more white usually when you went to the theater down on Route 18, Memorial Parkway.
Listokin: How about Mayor Lynch and all of them?
Rubel: (Chuckle). Well, you know, Mayor Lynch is who Mayor Lynch is...political and who else and what else who knows. He's still pulling the strings, so he doesn't go away.
Listokin: I mean was he supportive?
Rubel: He talked a good game. It's easy to talk. Talk is cheap. He always talked a good game. I never put any store in it personally.
Berkhout: So you don't think he was instrumental at all in getting things done?
Rubel: Personally, no. I don't know that he wasn't, but personally it's not my perception.
Listokin: The County was a supporter.
Rubel: The County was a supporter because we had...what I liked, we had a very well-informed and educated group of commissioners. We had commissioners that were...
Listokin: These are Freeholders?
Rubel: Freeholder appointed, but we used to identify them as who they were. In fact, one of the best commissioners was, oh God, he was a black man. He was our voice down into the projects, you know, down where the projects were.
Berkhout: The Memorial Homes?
Rubel: What the heck was his name? He's well-known. He's a well-known black man.
Berkhout: David Harris?
Rubel: No, this was a friend of David Harris. Oh gosh, if you check back Cultural and Heritage history I'm sure you'll find his name. Estelle Goldsmith I see is still a member of that. I don't know how active she is, but she would probably remember him. But he was a really important person. Very sharp, kind, caring, man. And so he was, you know, the voice that we had getting in. And, of course, Harris too. He was certainly an important person.
Listokin: Um, in part, some of this looking back is underlying this, but anymore 20/20 hindsight things you would have done differently with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight?
Rubel: I'm sure there would have been other ways, but, you know, from what we did, we did the best we could. And my position is so it's not exactly what we imagined not only in this, but, you know...
Listokin: And I guess not what you imagined in parts of the things you mentioned with the Elks Building, the library.
Rubel: Yes, it would have been great to have a... I mean I personally think the building that they built on the corner that's the Mason Gross is the ugliest piece of architecture.
Berkhout: Yes, the one that we live in...we work in.
Rubel: It has no sensitivity to the architecture in the area. How could somebody conceive of that.
Listokin: Yes. Actually, I teach a class in historic preservation, and I do that because the firm that designed it, the architectural firm, is known as a preservation-owned firm.
Berkhout: Right. They did the work on the Trenton project – Ford, Mills, and Gatsch.
Rubel: So what happened?
Listokin: They did the State House.
Rubel: A big slip between the lip and the cup, that's for sure.
Listokin: And then I try to say, well, some of the colors in brick, but clearly it's not...
Rubel: It's ugily.
Listokin: It's not contextually sensitive.
Rubel: It's ugily.
Rubel: I don't even think it's functional. I've only been in it...I don't even want to go in it. I mean that's how much I dislike it.
Berkhout: You should come in sometime. We put up a nice eco wall with plants and whatever.
Rubel: Okay, well that's an improvement.
Listokin: It's a nice academic building. It is a nice academic building.
Listokin: And it's a creative building in that, you know, this Mason Gross and actually bringing Bloustein...the Planning.
Rubel: That's good.
Listokin: Some people knew what was done in New Brunswick is, you know, like a model what other cities can do and others not. So what are some of your...
Rubel: Well I think it's interesting.
Listokin: Maybe a two-part to that. One with respect to the arts; one more broadly with respect to the redevelopment. So what are some of your thoughts on that front?
Rubel: Well are you aware of the new thing that's happening in New Jersey. It's called Creative New Jersey.
Berkhout: Creative New Jersey, no.
Rubel: Also funded by the Dodge Foundation.
Berkhout: Okay, this is not Leo Vasquez?
Rubel: Well he's part of it, but it's not his organization. But he's part of this. But it's, um...
Listokin: I may have gotten an email to attend something.
Rubel: Well they had a meeting down in Monroe Township about a month ago.
Listokin: So maybe if you...
Rubel: So that's kind of interesting on two parts. Because, and I'll backup again. There's also an organization called The New Jersey Foundation for Aging. Just had their annual conference and I was one of the speakers. The woman who created the City Community Without Walls in Princeton and a newly hired person from Montclair. There were three people talking about the different ways of aging in place. And then coupled with this Creative New Jersey, I see again this movement not only in New Jersey, but I'm sure you know, nationally. National Endowment for the Arts is, you know, there's so many organizations that are into this. So I think that there's a renewed interest and recognition probably out of necessity as well as interests that the arts have a major role to play in keeping a pulsating, livable community. That's the way I feel about it anyhow. And so this Creative New Jersey I was very interested in because they are working with like and unlike organizations, and have recognized that you don't do this in a vacuum. And so they're working across economic development, transportation, and the arts are a critical place. And so each...like Monmouth County...I don't know whether the man who presented is a Freeholder or he works with the Freeholders, but they're creating a Momo...Monmouth-something. It's a corridor reflecting Creative New Jersey. It talks about food. It talks about historical. It's got all the...
Listokin: It's a very holistic...
Rubel: Exactly. It encompasses anything that gives you a quality of life.
Listokin: Okay, so you're saying what? That what New Brunswick did was not...I'm just trying to relate it back to...
Rubel: I think this is something that could enhance what New Brunswick has got if they looked at it. I'm not sure if it's too far gone to do that. I don't know. In fact, when I left that meeting in Monroe, I said, wait a minute. I'd like to talk to Middlesex County College. I'd like to talk to the powers that be in New Brunswick. I'd like to talk to the powers to be in Trenton. And let's talk about a corridor in Middlesex County and Mercer County. Something in Central Jersey because there's a whole lot of stuff.
Listokin: So it's really expanding both spatially and also conceptually and holistically of what's in this packet. It's beyond what traditionally was viewed as the arts.
Rubel: Right. There's a lot of stuff gone, you know, wall murals and events outside. No limit. You know, the arts, there are no boxes that you fit the Arts into. It's unlimited. And I think, again, I can admit to being biased, but you're celebrating, as you know, New Jersey 350.
Rubel: It was created by the Historical Commission. Did not involve the arts community. Those logos are so ugly I can't use them. You know, truly I mean...
Berkhout: I'm sorry, the what's are so ugly?
Rubel: The logos. The visuals that are created as part of New Jersey 350, they're ugly. And I said there was no conversation with the arts community on this like it was in the Bicentennial, you know, it was a whole other thing. You work with the arts community, you get lots of beautiful stuff. That's my find.
Listokin: So this is sort of like almost the next stage of...
Rubel: Yeah, I'm going to observe it. I said I'm not going to do that when I came on. I said I'm not going to do that. I got enough on my plate.
Listokin: You have to do what you can and you have to build incrementally.
Rubel: Yeah. But, I will say I read in the Star Ledger that this project that Leo is part of, the North Jersey Sixteen...you know, does say you can have some comments on it. So I said, I ought to send my comments because, again, I don't see any emphasis on the aging. I don't see it. I don't hear it. I don't read it.
Berkhout: Right. Actually, we have a staff member, um, Karen Alexander.
Rubel: I know Karen, oh yeah.
Berkhout: She's now working with a group that works with...
Rubel: New Jersey Tips.
Berkhout: New Jersey Tip, right.
Rubel: Cause I also deal with transportation. Who knew in my time I'd be dealing with transportation. That was my meeting this morning, transportation. It's a critical thing. Somehow I keep saying it's like back with the arts education. It's such a...why is it such a hard sell? It's so basic. I can't get over what...don't get me started on that.
Berkhout: You mean needing for aging people to be able to get around and do things?
Rubel: If you can't drive for whatever reason...
Berkhout: Yes, yes.
Rubel: You are so isolated, and all the things that happen with isolation...
Listokin: Especially in a suburban community.
Berkhout: I did that for my mom. I actually hired somebody to do errands, bring her to the doctor. Cause she was up in Franklin Lakes and I was down in Princeton at the time.
Rubel: And seventy percent of caregivers are family. And there's a piece...again, while watching legislation, there's a piece of legislation that's going to give tax credits to people who are caring for seniors. So I talked to the sponsor, "Why is it only seniors?" We work with a whole group of young, married people who have adult children. And it's hard when you have to go to work and you haven't got support for your challenged adult kids. So I'm pushing on that. I said, "They can create another piece of legislation, but they're going to have the same pot of money. Why can't we just do it together?"
Berkhout: I'm curious as to...just because my husband and I sold our house in Princeton and moved to New Brunswick. We're in the high rise at One Spring Street. Um, and it seemed to us ideal because as we age there we're two blocks from the hospital, we can get on the train, we have a lot of mobility, we have great restaurants, we can go to the theater; it's two blocks from where I work. But yet a lot of people when they retire go to the suburbs to over fifty-five communities.
Berkhout: Where it's then difficult to get around if you can't drive.
Rubel: Well I just had an... There's another piece of legislation that I've been watching called NORC, Natural Occurring Retirement Communities, I'm sure you're familiar. Piece of legislation written by a Mercer County legislator to put two hundred fifty thousand dollars at the state-level to support and create a NORC or NORC's. Well it blew my mind. So I called up the editor and I told him what I thought. He said, "Well why don't you put it in writing." So three months ago I did that. Well it just got published this week. Everybody...oh I see your articles. The title is "Senior Ghettos Are Not the Answer." And I believe senior ghettos...
Listokin: There's a lot of...its time has passed. I can't tell you how many age-restricted zoned pieces of land are now trying to undo that.
Rubel: Where are they going to go, the people that are there once they can't drive?
Berkhout: Yeah, I know.
Rubel: There are some communities that do provide some limited transportation.
Berkhout: Yeah, right.
Rubel: Where are they going to go? I call it the "Silver Tsunami" waiting to happen. And then I'd like to say, "Well there's the way that maybe we could ride on and make it better, but I'm not sure."
Berkhout: Where did you publish this?
Rubel: It's in U.S. 1. This past week's U.S. 1.
Listokin: So I guess the things you're speaking about, the corridor and the expanded, taking down silos, so this sort of would be like a next stage. But I guess looking back on what was done in New Brunswick, the things, again, with 20/20 hindsight. And I'm not saying there is more.
Rubel: You know, from my perspective there isn't.
Listokin: Yes, yes.
Rubel: There isn't. I mean it's there. I support what I can. I think it's better than nothing. I'm sorry about some of this, but I can't undo it, and it's not my fight anymore. And my fight right now is that I want to see that the caregivers, be they of older people or the challenged adults, learn about basic Arts techniques that are no fail so that they can improve their health, their spirit, and have new tools to work with the people for whom they're caring. And that's not happening. Because across the country there's a whole big movement; arts, health and aging. But if you don't read it with a careful eye and ear, what you're seeing is oh, it's wonderful and J&J is supporting this. I have artisan residents in residential say, "Fabulous. It's like arts and education." Residents, artisan residents and the school." As money's there it works. Money's gone, it doesn't work, right. Now that the other piece is okay. This is a time when older people have time to discover the arts. I think that's wonderful. But what about the folks that are dealing with that other group, the caregivers that are caring for the people who are not in an institutional or residential setting, where does the arts help them? In a sense, that's not being done; that's what we're working on. And that's what I'm busy with.
Listokin: You shared some reflections on various major players. Where was John Heldrich in the arts revitalization?
Rubel: I think he was supportive; I think he was supportive. I'm not exactly sure where. And to his ability, his limited ability, to his limited understanding, John's a wonderful tennis player. I mean that's what he does wonderfully. And I knew John because, um, mutual friends. I ran an eye research center for a mutual friend, and John would come up. It's Upstate New York, you know, and schmooze with the doctor and so forth. I knew him in a different way. Um, I mean did I know him? I didn't really know him, I didn't. I just believed that he tried his best given his...it's like he's no different than anybody else. You're making decisions. If you don't involve the people who are what I call the people, the troops in the trenches, you haven't got a full picture. You can't do it sitting up in an ivory tower.
Listokin: There should have been more participation.
Rubel: Yes, but that was not of his interest at all.
Berkhout: Now Tony Marchetta.
Rubel: Oh, Tony. Tony and I worked at the county. He was at the county when I worked there.
Berkhout: Yes. So Tony managing some difficulty with John Heldrich at the time that George Street had to go to a new site. And that John didn't like the idea. He wanted them to move into a supermarket someplace else or something.
Listokin: He wanted, I think, the Davidson Supermarket.
Berkhout: The Davidson Supermarket.
Rubel: Yeah. I only know very little about that. When I worked at the county, Tony was part of the county, and so that's what he's referring to. Ralph Albanir is now with Parks and Recreation too. Those two gentlemen helped me get the, um, the approval and the funds to create the Cornelius Low House, the museum and that. And how did I do that they said. Because, again, we called it MCNAC, Middlesex County Neighborhood Arts Consortium. I had representatives from all municipalities. It didn't matter to me whether they were PTA, schools, library, didn't matter. And Tony and Ralph told me if I could get the county reps, the county township communities to give up a piece of their Green Acres funds they would get this building. And everyone gave up funds to make...Green Acres Funds...to make this happen. I didn't know anything about it; they knew. They told me what to do and I did it.
Berkhout: Were you part of the Olde Towne establishment?
Berkhout: That was Piscataway?
Rubel: No, that was somebody who came after me and there was a big discussion about that. Because there was Joe Clair was a person who was passionate about that. I think what's there now is excellent. I think it's very worthy. But there was a lot of stuff that was not accurate. There's a lot of misinformation. It's okay; only a few people know.
Listokin: It's very Williamsburg.
Rubel: But there are stories about buildings and stuff that are there that are not true.
Berkhout: Is that right?
Rubel: Yeah. Richard Durnin, did you know that? Richard was one our commissioners, and he was the County Historian, and I was in charge of Cultural and Heritage. And as he was getting older, he gave me all the county history. He said, "Jackie, I can't leave it with the Cultural and Heritage. It will be written according to the Cultural and Heritage concept." You may not like history, but you don't write it according to somebody else.
Listokin: Let me go back. There's always this tension of if you have too many cooks it's hard to get a meal cooked. So J&J and the NBT and DevCo was sort a core of people who didn't have too many people at the table. And, of course, that's one criticism. But I guess the other side of that, to get something done, it's often hard to have a lot of people at the table. What is your perspective on that?
Rubel: I would say it's hard, but I can't imagine things getting done to the best that it could be without that. I don't see business liking that. I understand why they don't like it, but I can't operate that way. So, you know, I have to tell you my planning committees have people of all walks because that's how I learn and that's how we put together the things that we do. And it doesn't cost money; that's the point. I keep saying you don't have to have money to make things happen. And because our organization, the Aging in Place Partnership, and every single one of our partners represent any organization in the township, and we don't have to have a place to meet, here we are. I can go to the library.
Listokin: So I guess if you would have been more at the redevelopment there would have been more players.
Rubel: Well I think they would have discovered some very interesting ideas and people. But I understand. At the same time I do understand that it's just not business modus operandi. It isn't. I understand that.
Listokin: I also when I speak to my classes about what's going on, it's also in the context of its time.
Listokin: When J&J was doing this in the seventies...
Rubel: It was new.
Listokin: You know, adaptive reuse was foreign. Now everyone's, oh we'd love to have a loft building. We've been wanting to have our little New Brunswick Soho.
Rubel: Exactly. This was brand new.
Listokin: So it's harder, you know, to go back thirty.
Rubel: Absolutely, you make an excellent point. And I say, cause I work with a lot of Rutgers School of Social Work interns, and I say to them, "You are the future. And as you're doing your internship" and I have different placements, and I say, "You're not going to find things that are...don't look at everything you're seeing as the only way. In fact, a lot of it's old hat. You're the new. You have to think new thoughts, follow your gut. Ask questions." And that's really what you're talking about too.
Listokin: And if you look broadlyvin the United States with redevelopment, it did not involve, you know, it was the antithesis, model cities that had a mandate, maximum, feasible participation. And, of course, it wasn't that. So there isn't really any major city redevelopment that had that.
Rubel: But what is going to happen now with the influx of the older people? The numbers per day are getting into this category...living with all those old rules and regulations and so on and so on, and trying to have the decision-makers understand it's time now to look at something for the future, and people don't want... I mean money is tight. Time is short. People are uninformed. I mean the county, this Middlesex County believe it or not had a transportation director. He works for Rutgers. You probably know Steve Fatanti.
Berkhout: Uh hum.
Rubel: Alright? Was he perfect, no. I'm perfect, no. You're perfect. No. But he knew and he cared, and he thinks outside the box. He's gone. And then the woman who was in-charge of the Office on Aging retired. They have a new woman office on...very smart. Didn't know that she was going to have transportation on her plate. Didn't know nothing about transportation. Have another person that took over Human Services. Also smart lady, learning. The person that's left that had anything to do with transportation is...I think that she's...anyhow. She is not an ideal person. Who's going to do transportation at the county-level? I talked to Gerry Mackenzie who's in-charge. I said, "Gerry, I understand you're hiring somebody." I said, "Is this going to be a transportation planner?" She says, "No." I said, "Does this person, he or she, have experience?" "No." I said, "What don't they bring"... "They're a people person." To me, how can you be talking about...and this is... I said to the chief today, "All I want to know is who do you talk to that can..." Who asked are we doing it the best way? Is there something we're missing? Are we serving all the people we should be? What could we do better? Who asks those questions? How do you make decisions without asking those questions?
Berkhout: Did he have an answer?
Rubel: No. "Put it in writing and make it short."
Rubel: I want to have a dialogue.
Listokin: We'd like to expand our discussion with minority community redevelopment. Any names immediately come to mind? So we've spoken to, um...
Berkhout: David Harris.
Listokin: David Harris.
Rubel: How about Ricardo?
Berkhout: Yeah, we haven't done that yet.
Listokin: We have not done...
Rubel: I would talk to Ricardo.
Listokin: Actually, when he came back to New Brunswick when they had that big celebration and we were hoping to have some discussion.
Rubel: Well Roz told me that she was going to reach out to Ricardo. So if that's the case, I'll suggest and give them your phone numbers.
Listokin: That would be...
Rubel: I would think Ricardo would really have a good handle on it cause he lived through it.
Listokin: We'd like to do that. Any other names that come to mind?
Rubel: Well I will ask Roz at the Cultural and Heritage because she's a pretty savvy person. I can ask her.
Listokin: Cause right now we have some of that, but we need to have to more discussion.
Rubel: Would New Brunswick Library folks have some ideas?
Berkhout: Oh, Belvin?
Listokin: See, it's also the new Hispanic community. The Hispanic superceeded the black community. The black...you know, they weren't here back...
Rubel: Right, right. They just filled in the blank stores, the empty stores. Um, I'll put some thought to it. There was also...what's his name? Reverend Jackson...I'll find that name. I think he's in Metuchen. But he's a pretty knowledgeable person and he might be able to help you.
Berkhout: Did he used to be in a church in New Brunswick?
Rubel: I'm not sure.
Listokin: Oh, you know, we didn't discuss the Master Plan for the Redevelopment in New Brunswick which was done by...what was the architectural firm? I'm having a senior moment.
Berkhout: You mean Pei Cobb.
Listokin: The I. M. Pei plan.
Rubel: Oh yes. Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Listokin: Any thoughts back on that and where they were viewing the arts?
Rubel: I only know him by reputation. I was never part of any of the dialogue. I know he has a very interesting reputation, and it was quite a coup to have him. But, you know...
Listokin: Because there was some discussion of the arts.
Rubel: Oh, yes.
Berkhout: Of having that Cultural Center where...
Listokin: And the Cultural Center, yeah.
Rubel: Yes, yes. I know that. But I was not privy to any of that. My level of involvement really in New Brunswick other than talking and planning was that we did a whole series of community wall murals. And, you know, that level. I'm not talking this, this.
Listokin: So tell me that thought. Wall murals is...?
Rubel: Well I think community wall murals are fabulous because you involve the community. I take my message from Philadelphia's experience.
Berkhout: Yeah, Jane...?
Rubel: Well before Jane. One of the people I worked with worked at the museum before she. He and his partner did the wall murals throughout Philadelphia. In fact, we took...down on the...well maybe you saw. Down on Memorial Parkway at one time there was a big mural that was painted by the township...by kids in the summer program.
Listokin: I don't recall.
Rubel: But the kids worked with an artist, but the kids designed it. That's the difference in community wall murals. When we talked...and I did talk to John about Heldrich. We talked about doing wall murals further cause we also did one in the old Public Service building. That was ours. That was one of our murals. We also did one up near the bus stop. There was a bakery or something if I remember up near the train station. Um, and instead, what they did went and hired an artist to paint the dots on the overpass, uprights. No John, that's not a community wall mural.
Listokin: Alright, so this is something that did not flower.
Rubel: They were wonderful, but, you know, we tried to get John to think about this as something that could have gone further. As I say, how do I know I learned from the folks in Philadelphia? We took the kids that did the wall murals here in New Brunswick, about five car loads we took to Philadelphia Museum and had a Vasarely Exhibit. And the kids didn't want to go up and see that Vasarely, they didn't. One or two got up to hear to talk. Then we took a tour of the wall murals in Philadelphia. And the fellow that was leading it, he showed us one mural. He said that this was a white wall that was painted pre Halloween, and he said normally no one ever destroys these wall murals in the communities. It's the community. And he said after the Halloween they came back and somebody had painted all kinds of stuff over this white wall. He said about a year later the same wall...the gang that did that came back and apologized and painted the wall mural that you see. And, you know, this was a very meaningful story to these kids who were New Brunswick kids. And when we came back they got out of the car and went in and saw the Vasarely Exhibit (laughing). I'll never forget that.
Listokin: A chair was doing a study on Route 66 in a few communities and trying to attract people have gone with a mural theme. Now both Route 66 theme then local history theme. And it's amazing if you have the people come. And actually there's an organization, I think it's based in Canada, the Waldorff. Where basically they will coordinate, you know, some of this effort, and it can be done quickly. So I remember talking to the New Brunswick Business Improvement District.
Rubel: I'm going to sneeze; you're not going to like it.
Listokin: No, no, no. Please, please.
Berkhout: Do you need a tissue?
Rubel: No, I have...
Berkhout: That happens to my husband. He'll go on for twenty sneezes. I have no idea what sets it off.
Rubel: But community wall murals are something and very loved.
Listokin: Yes, they are. Actually, I was trying to interest some the Business Improvement District, and, you know, there's something...without a lot of money you can do it. And it didn't take. And then I thought they started with some community sculpture, but it just seemed so removed from the community. It was like the third signer of the Declaration of Independence. No one in New Brunswick is going...how are they going to relate to that?
Rubel: Well I think again it's getting the kids. The kids are the secret. I love working with the kids. Give me the high school kids anytime.
Listokin: Any other thoughts, comments?
Rubel: Well I'm just looking. I made some notes here. I think I've covered everything from what you wanted.
Berkhout: Yeah, I think we covered a lot.
Rubel: I know I get all over the block on it.
Listokin: This was obviously a rich and insightful discussion.
Rubel: Good. It was fun and I'm glad you're doing it because I'm also, if I ever get time, I have a book I want to write too. It's called "There Are More Than Two C's in Success." And it's about working at the state and county level. I'm a person that doesn't really travel the same paths that most people do because...I have worked, but I'm primarily...I'm a big believer in volunteer. It's not about the money; it's about the project.
Listokin: Well look how much you've done.
Rubel: And the people that you work with, the people I work with are in the trenches. I'm on the journey; I know nothing about what I've been talking about...caregiving, transportation. I mean I learn every day. And I'm so fortunate because I have people from all over the country who are working with us. And we have no money; we have no budget. Our budget is under ten thousand dollars. But we now have a van that's been donated. We're going to start a curb-to-curb service in South Brunswick. We're working with Mercer and Somerset and Middlesex County to get rid of those invisible boundaries called counties. Cause now if you want transportation...can't cross that boundary somehow...can't do that. And what that impact is. I like the learning...it's the people you work with that make it worthwhile. And I've been very fortunate. I had all kinds of wonderful people to work with.
Listokin: Actually if you'd like, we can share... you know, this is still a work in progress, but this is some of our write up on the Cultural Center.
Listokin: If anything strikes you one way or another...
Rubel: Did I cover anything or most of it or nothing?
Berkhout: I think we need to add to that now that we've talked with you.
Listokin: We will add based on this discussion.
Berkhout: Is that the part with quotes from Eric Krebs?
Listokin: Yes, yes. So I mean if you can read it when you have a moment.
Rubel: Oh, I'd love to.
Listokin: I'm sure there are things where you are off for...it's hard to recreate history.
Rubel: No, you asked very good questions and I think that it's exciting that you're doing this. It's very meaningful.
Listokin: It's been a good learning experience. And actually we hope to have a class this coming fall with Rutgers in the planning program on urban redevelopment that will focus on New Brunswick. It seems silly, we're in New Brunswick. Look outside your door.
Rubel: Well that's what I said too. You just told me, um, Catherine Alexander...no...
Berkhout: Karen Alexander, yes.
Rubel: Karen Alexander. I said to her cause I knew her before she came here. "I can't believe it. Is it true you're in Rutgers. You're in New Brunswick, the County Seat of Middlesex and you can't continue New Jersey Tips in South Brunswick?" I said, "It doesn't make sense." She said, "Well the grant...da-da-da." I said, "You got to change that cause we're working." Cause we were talking transportation when we first met. I said, "Here we're pursuing this." That was like two and a half years ago. "It's going to happen, but we have to have the training." And she said, "Hopefully, that I have a grant by this September." But I said, "You're just . . ."
Listokin: Well I'm going to co-teach that with Chris Paladino.
Rubel: Oh, okay.
Listokin: So I'm going to give like the bigger picture in history and what's going on in the rest of the country, and then he'll talk about some of the projects. I think that should be it.
Rubel: Do you get transportation into your...?
Listokin: Um, transportation...I start with, you know, why did New Brunswick get settled?
Berkhout: Yeah, which was transportation.
Listokin: And actually most cities, why were they settled where they were?
Berkhout: Yeah, I mean I've learned a lot of the history too going back to when Vanderbilt started in New Brunswick with a steamship company. You know, his wife built a hotel.
Rubel: Where the port was?
Berkhout: Yeah. In fact, the current new president of Rutgers...I'm not sure he's still thinking of this, but wanted to rename the New Brunswick Campus something different. So one of the thoughts was Rutgers at Raritan Landing. I don't know if I told you this or not.
Listokin: No, no.
Berkhout: So people from University Relations came to us and to Jim and said, "Well what is Raritan Landing?" So it went through, you know, some of all of that. But we said people are going to think it's a new development somewhere.
Listokin: Actually, I call that our Pompeii.
Listokin: It is.
Listokin: I take a class at the Lowe House and to New Jersey Olde Towne. So they never...I mean I have no sense of Jersey history on that, but that there was, I think, a two hundred or three hundred foot warehouse in Raritan Landing. I mean, of course, now it's nothing. I mean it was one of the biggest...
Berkhout: And the entrance to the football stadium is on the site of the Rising Sun Tavern.
Listokin: Yeah, no, no. It's, um...
Rubel: Well that's why I was so happy that we at least got the Cornelius Lowe House. That was a whole learning thing for me too.
Berkhout: The only other thing I need is because we are going to a transcript and then summarize. But since we recorded you...
Listokin: Which you will see.
Berkhout: We'll send you the transcript, so if there are any errors or whatever...
Listokin: And inevitably there are.
Berkhout: I can fill in the date and all of that. Actually, I'll need your address too. Cause if I send you a transcript...
Rubel: How about if I put it here?
Berkhout: Yeah, that's great. Great, thank you.
Rubel: If you have anybody that you come across, run across, in what your work is, I'm trying to...I spoke to what it is Rockland?
Berkhout: Michael Rockland?
Rubel: Michael. Yeah, Michael Rockland.
Berkhout: American Studies?
Rubel: Yeah, yeah. Cause I know he's done a number of things of communities. But I think...alright, so I live in South...but I find South Brunswick fascinating because it was a rural, more rural suburban community for years. And it wasn't until Kendall Park was built that those folks laid the foundation for what is South Brunswick today. There are five villages that make up town. There's no Post Office for South Brunswick. No zip code for South Brunswick. Don't let me tell you the problems that creates. That a whole other story. But this is a community where many of those same people who came after the war still live. Their children and their grandchildren still live in this community. They were the people who made the schools what they are. They made the library what it is. They laid the foundation for the faith communities. And I think it's fascinating what they did. You know, just like I think Roosevelt's a fascinating community from a different time in history, but I wanted him cause, as I said, New Jersey 350 we're celebrating. I wanted to honor the past at our annual October event, and recognize our future with real people who are doing the things that make it so special now. And he said he didn't have time to do the research on that. He's never done it. Okay, I can understand that. So what we're doing, I'm working with the Township Historical. There's a lot of stuff in the archives at the library here, and I'm not sure where it's going to go. But I like to involve the kids in these projects, so I may end up having a group of kids make a video of the materials that are here in the library with these, you know, there's probably a hundred people still living here from those eras including veterans. I think it would be very important to have something like that. I mean sure there's other communities that did the same thing, build housing for Vets, but I'm not sure that those communities are reflected like South Brunswick is. We have sixty-four different languages and dialects spoken in the township here.
Listokin: It's also, you know, it's heavily Asian. It's a very interesting . . .
Berkhout: But you could do oral histories with them like we're doing.
Rubel: Well we have...one of the things that we do...it's interesting you say that. I have a project that's been going on with the high school kids since 2009. It's called "Living Legacies." And we have a group of kids, high school kids, teacher runs it, who interview seniors or not only seniors, but primarily, depending on the theme, and we've had Living Legacies, the veterans' stories. Living Legacies, immigration or common bond. Living Legacies, people, places and events. This year's was Living Legacy, South Brunswick heroes and heroines. And they interview and then they take that interview and translate it into a theater monologue and then translate that into a theater presentation which they present at the Senior Center every year. And in some instances, you know, wherever they can. Transportation schedules are tough. But the kids love it. And so my hidden agenda here is to have them, you know, discover their history in this community and find a new appreciation and real people, real live human beings that you can talk to and touch.
Berkhout: Right. That's great.
Rubel: And so this has been...
Listokin: I always just historic preservation would be a wonderful vehicle for children in a community to know about the history, the community and the physical structures, and the changes, and it's often not. It's just...
Rubel: Well this is also what I'm looking at for October 18. That's our annual Outreach. Is that we are going to have...I'm working with scouts, both Boy Scouts, no me but people who are Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and the volunteer program at the high school to involve these kids, prepare them for the day so they kind of become a buddy to the older people, and help them through that day in all different kind...and subtly they're going to learn a little bit about these other things. And maybe this video, if it goes through, that we'll have it streaming the whole day.
Berkhout: That's nice.
Rubel: And we will have the real live people, the older people, as many as we can there, and introduce them, and maybe wear red shirts or something that they're easily identified. We don't know...that's where we're at.
Berkhout: Right. Yeah, nice.
Rubel: But I think it's really an opportunity to do this, and, you know, it's not a hard sell to the school or the library cause they understand.
Berkhout: Sure. Great.
Rubel: But give me the kids, you know, give me the kids. I love the kids.
Listokin: Well we admire all the stuff you've done.
Berkhout: Yeah, very nice.
Rubel: It's been a pleasure. It's been a wonderful life I've lead. I can't complain about it at all.
Berkhout: That's good.
Listokin: Thank you for your time.
Rubel: Thank you for your interview. If I can help you in whatever way, I'll be happy to.
Listokin: No, you've helped us enough. Cause I think one of the most important...
[End of Audio – 90:35 minutes]