When it comes to the people who literally built Ridgewood and the surrounding area in the early 20th century, two names are at the forefront.
The first is Gustave Mathews, who developed those golden-bricked, six-family apartment houses across Ridgewood that gave families a healthier alternative to the traditional tenement. The other is Paul Stier, who built numerous one- and two-family row houses across the neighborhood. Many of their structures are now city landmarks, and included among the more than 2,900 Ridgewood buildings listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
One local developer, however, who is largely overlooked is Charles Henry Grosch. It’s not known exactly how many buildings he helped to build in our neighborhood, but we do know that he did help develop parts of Ridgewood and Glendale into the modern urban communities we know and love today.
In the Sept. 19, 1985, issue of the Ridgewood Times, The Old Timer told Grosch’s story with the help of his daughter, the late Mildred Lehner of Glendale. We’re happy to retell the story this week on QNS, the online home of the Ridgewood Times.
Charles Henry Grosch was born in Mainz, Germany in 1877; he came to the U.S. in 1887 at the age of 10 with his parents, who lived near Broadway and Myrtle Avenue in Bushwick. Eventually, he began training as a carpenter and became quite skilled.
On May 5, 1899, at the age of 22, he eloped with Mamie Kuntz and they became married. They went on to have four children: Emily (Lahr Schmidt), Mildred (Lehner), Helen (Smith) and Charles Louis Grosch. Mamie’s sister, Clara, happened to also be the first wife of Gustave Mathews.
In 1904, Grosch began building his own houses. His first successful project as 381 Bleecker St. in Brooklyn. After selling that, he constructed four more houses, in June and July of 1905, in the area of St. Nicholas Avenue and Linden Street.
After that, Grosch kept right on building in Brooklyn and Ridgewood. In March 1908, he built three houses at Elm (present-day Catalpa) Avenue and Buchman Avenue (present-day 60th Lane). The following September, he constructed a home on Elm Avenue between Fresh Pond Road and Buchman Avenue.
Grosch, in building these homes, did not organize a construction company; instead, he and Mamie sold the homes as individuals.
Between the fall of 1909 and the spring of 1911, Charles Grosch teamed up with architect Louis Berger — who was also president of Ridgewood National Bank — to build 46 two-story brick row homes in an area generally bounded by Catalpa and 68th Avenues between 64th and 65th streets. These homes were on what had been part of the Henry and Frederick Wagner Farm, which at one time spanned 23 acres of Ridgewood.
When the construction of these homes was completed, Grosch resumed building elsewhere. In May 1911, he built a home on Harman Street in St. Nicholas Avenue; in August 1912, he finished constructing six homes on Chaffe (present-day 64th) Street near Catalpa Avenue, and a house on Sedgwick (present-day 62nd) Street between Catalpa Avenue and Hughes Street (present-day 68th Avenue).
Grosch kept building one home after another in Ridgewood until early 1916, when the Ivanhoe Company hired him as their superintendent of construction. The Ivanhoe Company was owned by the estate of Henry W. Meyer, who had built his fortune manufacturing Ivanhoe chewing and pipe tobacco in Brooklyn. Meyer had moved to Glendale in 1886 and had purchased dozens of acres of local farmland in the neighborhood as well as in Middle Village.
After Meyer died in 1898, his children and son-in-law organized the Ivanhoe Company to manage their real estate assets. They held onto the farmland until the building boom that started in Ridgewood arrived in Glendale.
On Nov. 18, 1916, the Ivanhoe Company mortgaged 17 building sites along Schley Street (now 65th Place) between Central and 70th Avenues. Under Grosch’s leadership, they constructed three-story, six-family homes that copied the Mathews Flats in plan, but not in detail. About two months later, in January 1917, the company mortgaged an additional 17 building sites on the opposite side of Schley Street and built several more six-family homes.
About two months later, on Jan. 17, 1917, the company got to work building similar homes a block south on Schley Street between Central and Myrtle avenues, and a block over on the west side of Valentine Street (now 66th Street) between Myrtle and Central avenues; and on Valentine Street between Central and 70th avenues.
The last home Grosch built was in 1922, and became his home: 69-26 64th St. He had the foresight to construct a two-car garage with a wide driveway.
Grosch died in 1936 at the age of 59. He was interred at Germonds Presbyterian Church graveyard in upstate New City.
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