WWW.QNS.COM RIDGEWOOD TIMES DECEMBER 26, 2019 27
More than just a political powerhouse
BY THE OLD TIMER
OUR NEIGHBORHOOD: THE WAY IT WAS
The Ridgewood Democratic Club is
just a little older than the Ridgewood
Times itself, having formed
in the same year, 1908. While the paper
fi rst went to press on Aug. 1, 1908, the
Ridgewood Democratic Club fi rst convened
in January of that year, 112 years
ago next month.
Through the century to follow, it
became the focal point for local politics
and helped advance the political careers
of many aspiring public servants — some
of their names are recognizable today on
landmarks throughout the community.
When it was formed, the Ridgewood
Democratic Club began in the home of
Carl Berger, who lived at 300 St. Nicholas
Ave. He was selected as the club’s temporary
chairman, and the club began
rotating its meetings at various venues
in the community.
At the start, there were 60 members
of the Ridgewood Democratic Club. By
March 1908, they elected permanent offi
cials including Berger, who served as
its fi rst president.
By July 1908, the Ridgewood Democratic
Club’s membership grew to 350,
and they began leasing space at 448
Grove St. in July as their fi rst clubhouse.
Though they had negotiated a two-year
lease at the location, the club’s membership
continued expanding rapidly over
the next 18 months — forcing the club to
fi nd a larger location.
In January 1910, the Ridgewood
Democratic Club purchased a home at
267 St. Nicholas Ave., relocating there
that March. At that point, there were
By today’s boundaries, 267 St. Nicholas
Ave. is located in Brooklyn, not
Queens. At that time, Ridgewood was
split between Brooklyn and Queens.
Being so close to the border, the Board of
Governors decided that the club needed
a more central location to accommodate
growth further east in Ridgewood and
Aft er many months of deliberation
and research, the Ridgewood Democratic
Club purchased a site located at
2420 Putnam Ave.; today this location
is identifi ed as 60-70 Putnam Ave. They
remodeled the existing building and
built a two-story extension.
The new Ridgewood Democratic Clubhouse
was ready for occupancy in June
1917, when the club had 1,400 members.
The new headquarters was said to be the
envy of Democrats across the borough,
and it gained the nickname as the “Home
The location is at the corner of Putnam
Avenue and Stier Place. The latter is
named for Paul Stier, one of Ridgewood’s
biggest home builders and one-time
Queens County sheriff , who died tragically
in 1916. Ironically, Stier was more
closely associated with the Jeff erson
During his 15 years as club president,
Berger served to make the Ridgewood
Democratic Club one of the most progressive
in the country. In 1920, the club
established a “Women’s Division,” electing
Emma Dunn as its fi rst leader.
Among the local offi cials whom the
club supported in its early years was
Albert C. Benninger. A Glendale resident,
in 1906, he was elected to the State
Assembly and later served on the city’s
Board of Alderman, a forerunner to the
In 1916, Benninger was appointed
commissioner of the city’s Public Works
Department. Two years later, Mayor
John Hylan elevated him to the position
of Queens Parks Commissioner, a post he
would hold over the next 10 years.
Benninger died in 1937 while serving
as the Federal Marshal for the Eastern
District of New York. The city would
name a playground on Madison Street
off Fresh Pond Road in his honor.
For 30 years, the Ridgewood Democratic
Club had as its leader Joseph F.
Mafera, a long-time Ridgewood resident.
Like Benninger, Mafera’s career of public
service included positions with the Parks
and Public Works Departments.
In September 1951, Mafera was appointed
Queens borough president,
succeeding Maurice Fitzgerald, who had
recently died. Mafera would serve just
four months in the post, the shortest term
for any Queens borough president.
Shortly aft er his death in 1967, the city
renamed Glenridge Park, located off the
corner of 65th Street and Shaler Avenue,
as Mafera Park.
The club remains one of the most active
Democratic organizations in Queens,
and its most prominent member is Assemblywoman
Catherine Nolan, who
represents the 37th District that includes
much of Ridgewood.
Over the years, the Ridgewood Democratic
Club — in addition to supporting
national causes and candidates of the
Democratic Party — advanced local
causes to benefi t the community. In its
earliest years, they sponsored picnics
to Forest Park by trolley car, and during
the Great Depression, distributed food
baskets around Thanksgiving to neighbors
Today, the club holds monthly meetings
on various topics affecting the
city and country, from environmental
matters to changes in voting. During the
2020 presidential primary, they’ve also
held debate watch parties, allowing local
residents a chance to come together and
consider their choices.
Sources: the New York City Parks Department
and “Our Community: Its History
and People,” Greater Ridgewood Historical
* * *
If you have any remembrances or old
photographs of “Our Neighborhood: The
Way It Was” that you would like to share
with our readers, please write to the Old
Timer, c/o Ridgewood Times, 38-15 Bell
Blvd., Bayside, NY 11361, or send an email
to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any
print photographs mailed to us will be
carefully returned to you upon request.
The exterior of the Ridgewood Democratic Club at the corner of Putnam
Avenue and Stier Place. Photo via Google Maps
Benninger Playground on Madison Street in Ridgewood. Photo via Google Maps
The Ridgewood Democratic Club recently hosted a Democratic Primary
debate watch party. Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, the club’s most
prominent member, is among those pictured.
Photo via Facebook/Ridgewood Democratic Club