As early as 1910, a high level of home ownership and working-class employment was evident among the historic district’s first residents on the northwest side of Gates Avenue, according to census data. Mathews himself lived in the district and his parents occupied a house nearby on Forest Avenue. At the time, many houses were owner-occupied, most by German immigrants whose occupations included: grocer, builder, plumbing hand, baker, cook, and picture framer.57 Generally, the owners occupied one apartment and rented the others to help cover the mortgage and building maintenance. Many of those occupying the rental apartments held jobs in the construction trades, including: carpenter, plasterer, painter, plumber, rigger, gilder, and iron worker; while a few had professional occupations as salesmen, clerks, bookkeepers, tailors, stenographers or store keepers. Ten years later, the trend of working-class home ownership continued in the Ridgewood North Historic District. In general, most of the buildings on the side streets were owner-occupied, while those on the avenues with commercial ground floors had absentee landlords, possibly due to the higher initial sale price of these properties. The working- class owners held occupations such as cigar maker, carpenter, house framer, silversmith, blacksmith, boat builder at the Navy yard, ship machinist, malting mill laborer, factory cap maker, and warehouse helper. While some other owners’ occupations included storekeeper, barber or butcher with own shop, baker, tailor, post office clerk, church sexton, bartender, or train conductor. German immigrants continued to make up the majority of the residents of the Ridgewood North Historic District, joined by some immigrants from Ireland, Austria, Poland, Italy and Russia, as well as a number of first and later generation Americans. The census records also indicate that the modestly-sized apartments suited early 20th-century family trends, housing smaller families whose adult children often sought their own accommodations upon marriage.
The development of the Ridgewood North Historic District coincided with the building boom that was taking place in Queens County at the time, and particularly in Ridgewood. Numerous articles in the Ridgewood Times and other periodicals addressed the rapid development of the area in the first two decades of the 20th century. According to the Real Estate Record and Guide,59 most development consisted of two- and three-story brick houses and tenements selling for $9,000 to $17,000, depending on size and location. Most of the houses were sold by builders to private owners, but a number of them were retained by the developers as income-producing properties. 58
57 The census data is incomplete. Of the 18 buildings on the northwest side of Gates Avenue, eight were owner-occupied, four were held by non-resident owners, and six buildings lack complete data. (United States Federal Census: 1910).
58 In many instances, rows of houses were built along streets in Queens that had yet to be officially opened and improved with sewers, grading, pavements, etc. By 1907, there were over 300 mapped, but unimproved, streets in the Ridgewood area. These delays were due to the intense development occurring in Queens at the time, which outpaced the city’s ability to carry out improvements on newly-opened streets. (Real Estate Record and Guide (December 21, 1907), 1017 and (December 28, 1907), 1056.) Providing an extra incentive to prospective owners, Mathews advertised in 1913 that the company “put in all city improvements at our own expense, including city sewers, asphalted streets, properly regulated sidewalks, and relieve the buyers of all subsequent trouble.” (“Mathews’ Model Flats,” advertisement Ridgewood Times (April 19, 1913), 8.)
59 “Growth of Queens,” Real Estate Record and Guide (December 25, 1909), 1200, as cited in Stockholm Street Historic District Designation Report.