Civic Celebrates A Neighborhood Original
Members of the Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) gathered last Friday, Jan. 27, to celebrate yet the 110th birthday of Middle Village’s Carl Berner, New York City’s oldest male resident.
Berner was born in Stuttgart, Germany, on Jan. 27, 1902. A group of friends and his daughter Emily Berner gathered at his home to celebrate his birthday. There was a delicious birthday cake, freshly brewed coffee, festive decor, and lively conversation for most of the afternoon.
Berner’s parents died when he was a toddler, and his maternal grandmother took him thereafter to live with her in France. Ten years later, his paternal grandmother, Inger, brought him back to Germany.
While in Germany, Berner gained a strong foundation with mechanical manufacturing and learned to speak English. In 1928, he emigrated to the United States at the age of 26, arriving in New York Harbor on the Bremen ocean liner.
Shortly after arriving in New York, Berner went to work as the night building superintendent at the Chrysler Building in Manhattan. For five years, he worked 10-hour night shifts six days a week. He loved his job and even had has picture taken while sitting atop one of the Chrysler Building’s gargoyles.
In 1933, the U.S. government invited him to become a foreign agent, largely due to his fluency in both French and German, but as the JPCA noted, Berner declined.
At the height of the Great Depression, he left his job at the Chrysler Building and became an entrepreneur, opening a toy-making business that produced metal toys and, later, plush animals, teddy bears and dolls. Berner worked 16-hour days to design his own toy collection, including dolls that became collector’s items years later.
In 1936, Carl Berner met and married his wife Margaret. They had their only child, Emily, in September 1943.
Two years after their marriage, the Berners relocated to Middle Village, purchasing a home for $5,190. They immediately became members of the Eliot Avenue Civic Association, which later merged with Residents of Juniper Park Homes to become the Juniper Park Civic Association.
While living in Middle Village, Carl Berner continued to ply his trade as a toy producer, eventually being invited by larger businesses to train younger workers in the industry until his retirement in the 1980s.
During his retirement, Berner could be seen cleaning up locations near his home and walking throughout the area; in fact, he was known to walk about two miles a day well into his 100s. Up until recently, he was also a regular at JPCA meetings.
“For 62 years, this stately, gracious gentleman has participated in civic activities in our community,” according to a JPCA biography on Carl Berner. “He knows more about the history and landscape of Middle Village than most of us can even imagine.”