New Brunswick Redevelopment

Voorhees, Ralph



Ralph Voorhees has lived in the New Brunswick area for most of his life. He contributed not only information about the city before and after the redevelopment process but his thoughts about people who have played important roles in shaping the city.

The Voorhees family name is well known in New Brunswick. There is the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum—named after Ralph Voorhees’ mother—and the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, named after his brother. When Ralph Voorhees was three years old, his father died. [5] Several years later, his mother Jane remarried to Adolph Zimmerli. Voorhees said that Jane was “a wonderful mother,” and years later he and his brother Alan named the art museum in honor of her. [5] In the mid-1990s the museum was “so fortunate” to receive a collection of Soviet-era art from Norton Dodge, a collection that included more than 20,000 works. [6] Voorhees noted that Adolph Zimmerli and the Voorhees family were “very good friends” with Paul Robeson; in fact, his father was instrumental in Robeson attending Rutgers. [17]

Ralph Voorhees had a close friendship with John Heldrich growing up, and they were in the same elementary and high school class. [26] They worked a paper route together, splitting the territory. Heldrich “always had to give his money back to his mother,” Voorhees said. Regarding Heldrich’s philanthropy, Voorhees noted that “He’s been very generous, a close friend; 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.” [27]

Voorhees had planned on being a teacher and worked at two preparatory schools but “was so lucky that I got out of that, because I disagree with that whole prep school stuff,” he said. Having studied business at New York University, he then “got into the broker business” while remaining involved with “local stuff—in my church, the borough council, Rutgers.” [25-26] Voorhees would go on to become a senior vice president of Paine, Webber, Jackson & Curtis, Inc.          

A 1944 graduate of Highland Park High School and 1948 graduate of Rutgers University, Voorhees did not have fond memories of New Brunswick before revitalization. He described the area east of George Street as “slummy.” Clearing the area, Voorhees said, “made a tremendous difference; you can’t realize how bad that area was.” [7] He remem­bered visiting the State Theater, the Rivoli, the Strand and Albany Street Theaters in his youth. [9] Voorhees also said he “did all my clothing shopping at a store called Fischler’s” on George Street and visited his dentist, Dr. Brown, on Livingston Avenue. [10]

Voorhees discussed the number of churches that remained in New Brunswick even though their congregants eventually moved out of the city. They continued to return to New Brunswick for services, Voorhees noted.

He stressed that Johnson & Johnson’s “staying in town” was key to the revitalization of New Brunswick. [10] “If they had moved out,” he said, “I think New Brunswick would have gone downhill.” [14] Voorhees said that John A. Lynch, Jr. “was the mayor who was most involved in the redevelopment” and that he “had a very good relationship” with John Heldrich. [11] He also had positive remarks about Patricia Sheehan: “She was a wonderful mayor. A delightful person.” [11]         

Voorhees thought that the Cultural Center has been “very important.” He said that the George Street Playhouse “is as strong a cultural unit as almost anything in the state,” although he thought that the “Crossroads has been a disappointment.” [12]          

Voorhees said that Middlesex General Hospital, of which he was a board member, “would not have made it on its own” had it not “[hooked] up with the medical school.” [13] In 1986, he was chair of the Middlesex General Hospital board when “we went from Middlesex to Robert Wood Johnson.” He noted that there is always a member of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation board on the hospital board, given the foundation’s generous support.          

When asked about transferability, Voorhees responded that it is possible to pass on the New Brunswick process but that “you need a corporate leader in most cases, or a very strong person.” [16]          

Voorhees himself lives in New Brunswick in a building that was constructed as a result of the revitalization—a testament to the successful redevelopment of the city. “It’s convenient for me,” he said. “In the summertime, or sometimes, I still walk to my church in Highland Park.” [20] He has season tickets to the George Street Playhouse and attends concerts at the State Theater.


[Quotations have been edited for grammar and alphabetized by topic]

Eric Krebs (and the Cultural Center in New Brunswick)

He's the guy—he's a key person. Whatever is going on in the arts in New Brunswick, he’s the guy that started it. [24]


I was the chair [of the Middlesex General Hospital board] when we went from Middlesex to Robert Wood Johnson. There is generous support to Robert Wood and there is always a member of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation board on the hospital board. [13]

John A. Lynch, Jr.

John was good. He was the mayor who was most involved in the redevelopment. He and John Heldrich had a very good relationship. If you want to talk about the redevelopment of New Brunswick, you have to talk about him and John Heldrich. [11]

John Heldrich (and his Philanthropy)

John’s a close friend—very, very generous (of course, he made a little money, too). But a lot of people who make a lot of money don't give as John has given. [27]

Johnson & Johnson’s Decision to Remain in New Brunswick

I think the first and most important [thing] was that J&J stayed in town. If they had moved out, I think New Brunswick would have gone downhill. [14]  

Route 18 Extension

It was all backed up with cars—all congested—so that certainly has helped people to get in and out of New Brunswick. [15]