Despite the Depression, the Mathews Company continued building in the 1930s, constructing a group of 250 one-family brick homes with garages in the Elmhurst section of Queens. By 1942, the company had completed another 150 modern-style, 2-family homes in the area, near Calamus and Grand Avenues. A departure from the style of the model flats, the design of these houses was clearly influenced by Mathews’ travels to Europe to study housing development.39 Later in his career, Mathews’ work also included a group of single family homes near West Nyack, New York, where he and his family lived. After his death in 1958, his sons, who had been active in the G.X. Mathews Company, completed and sold the remaining houses in the West Nyack development.
The Design of Mathews Model Flats
Many of the turn-of-the-century multi-family houses developed in Bushwick and Ridgewood included two- or three-story plus basement buildings constructed on standard (20’ x 100’) lots, similar to those developed elsewhere in Brooklyn. These buildings resemble rowhouses and generally feature one apartment per floor. Some of the earliest buildings constructed by Gustave X. Mathews were of this type, including buildings on Grove and Linden Streets near St. Nicholas Avenue – located west of the Ridgewood North Historic District, close to the Brooklyn border – as well as those constructed by other developers.
According to Department of Buildings records, the earliest Mathews buildings were designed by the architecture firm of Louis Berger and Co., a prolific architect in the area. Although Berger is listed as architect of record for the earliest buildings in the Ridgewood North Historic District, the buildings, which were filed in 1908, represent a departure from the conventional multi-family house plan: they were among the first that Mathews built featuring his 40
39 In 1919, Gustave applied for a passport to study housing conditions abroad, visiting France, Holland, and England. Three years later, Gustave and Albert applied for passports to visit Great Britain, France, Italy, Mexico and Germany for “commercial business” to obtain “first hand knowledge regarding the buildings and construction experience of the various construction experience…the basic materials [used] in the various counties, their styles of architecture, the action of climatic conditions on the materials used.” (“Form for Person Claiming Citizenship through Naturalization of Husband or Parent, No. 17259,” September 11, 1919; (“Form for Person Claiming Citizenship through Naturalization of Husband or Parent, No. 111151 and 111152,” January 14, 1922; available from ancestry.com.) Most of these building remain on Calamus, Grand and Ankener Avenue, Elks Road and 79th Street in Elmhurst.
40 Berger was also coincidentally the brother of Carl Berger, who served as inspector and plan examiner in the Tenement House Department from 1902 to 1906, and later Superintendent of Buildings (Queens) until 1910. Carl Berger resigned from his position with Queens borough government in 1910 amid allegations and indictments against Queens borough president Lawrence Gresser and a number of his appointees, including Berger himself. Gresser was removed from office by Governor Dix for “neglect of duty” in 1911, although he was never convicted of any charges and defended his record in office until his death. The allegations against Berger were associated with the Department of Buildings’ requirement of the use of a “Tilly” vent in tenement house buildings. The vent was manufactured by a Brooklyn-based company that Carl and/or Louis Berger appear to have had a vested interest in, and a statement by the G.X. Mathews Building Company that “it paid to have their plans pass through the hands of brother Louis, if they did not want the Building Superintendent to cause them vexing delays.” (“Look for Another Queens Dismissal,” New York Times (April 20, 1910), 11.) After his resignation, Carl Berger became a managing director with the Paul Stier, Inc., construction company that developed extensive property in Ridgewood, where his brother became resident architect. (Information on Carl Berger is from the following sources: Schubel, 105; “Look for Another Queens Dismissal,” New York Times (April 20, 1910), 11; “Denial by Gresser; A Successor Ready,” New York Times (April 30, 1910), 18; “Turns Searchlight on a Cassidy Man,” New York Times (May 5, 1910), 3; “Carl Berger is Dead; Leader in Politics,” New York Times (July 23, 1930), 21; “L. Gresser is Dead in Brooklyn at 84,” New York Times (January 31, 1935), 19.)