earliest buildings that Mathews constructed conformed to the standard 20-foot-wide lots that were being laid out in the area and resembled rowhouses, but were divided on the interior into one apartment per floor. By 1909, the G.X. Mathews Company was incorporated with G.X. Mathews as its president, a role he held until his death. 35
In 1907-08, Mathews purchased the land comprising the Ridgewood North Historic District, and began the company’s first full-block development, constructing the model tenement buildings that would make the company and Ridgewood famous. By developing a large scale and efficient building system, the company was able to produce well-designed housing at an affordable price. Meeting with continued success, the company purchased the old Meyerrose farm, south and west of the Ridgewood North Historic district, in 1911, and constructed over 200 more model tenements on the site. That same year, the G.X. Mathews Company received 25% of the tenement house permits issued in the borough of Queens. In 1915, the Tenement House Department of New York City selected the “Mathews Model Flats” as the “most up-to-date method of housing for the masses at a minimum of cost;”36 and other builders began to copy the buildings. By the mid-1910s, few large tracts of land were left to develop in Ridgewood, and the G.X. Mathews Company began to look for other areas for development.
With a growing demand in the low-cost housing market, in the 1910s, the G.X. Mathews Company began constructing Mathews Model Flats in Astoria, Woodhaven, Corona, and Long Island City, moving the company’s office there to Jackson and 18th Avenue by 1919. The need for affordable housing continued after World War I, when the demand for housing in general was at another peak. At the time the City Housing Corporation began constructing the affordable row houses at Sunnyside Gardens (a designated New York City Historic District), the Mathews Company had already began constructing over 300 buildings, including its model flats, smaller, two-story apartment buildings, and one- and two-family houses, just east of the site in Woodside. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company37 was also helping to address the housing crisis by providing millions of dollars in construction financing in Queens, other parts of New York City, and throughout the country. By 1924, the Mathews Company was based in Woodside and was advertising over “950 houses sold; ‘never a single foreclosure;’” promised a high return on
In the late 1920s, the Mathews Bond and Guaranty Company was formed, to
provide financing for future projects, and later the Mathews Mortgage Corporation was also established.
35 It is unclear whether the name of the company was changed or if a new company was formed; however, as is indicated by the name, Gustave X. Mathews served as president of the new corporation until his death in 1958. All of the Mathews brothers appear to have been involved in the company for some time. The oldest, Adolph died in his forties between 1913 and 1920; and the youngest, William F., was the company treasurer during the 1910s and vice president in the 1920s, but later focused on his career as a medical doctor. Ernest Mathews was involved in both ventures, moving away from Queens a year before his death in 1932. According to his obituary, Albert F. Mathews was associated with his brother’s company for nearly half a century, in addition to his own construction projects.
“Ridgewood’s Great Growth,” Ridgewood Times (December 31, 1914), 2:2.
37 In 1922, the state of New York passed legislation allowing insurance companies, of which Metropolitan Life was one of the most successful, to invest some of its profits in the construction of affordable housing for city dwellers. The company began to work immediately on sites in Long Island City, Astoria, and Woodside with the goal of proving that by working on a large scale, modern, affordable apartments could be constructed and still receive a reasonable return, similar to the earlier philanthropic model housing endeavors.
“Classified Advertisement,” New York Times (April 7, 1924), 32.