22 AUGUST 5, 2021 RIDGEWOOD TIMES WWW.QNS.COM
OUR NEIGHBORHOOD: THE WAY IT WAS
‘The Man Who Built Woodhaven’:
Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was
It was John Pitkin who bought the
land that was eventually christened
Woodhaven and for that he
is generally regarded as its founder.
But it was a man who came here from
Switzerland (via France) who can
rightly claim the title ‘The Man Who
During his life, Florian Grosjean
was extremely well-known and regarded
in Woodhaven and beyond.
Mr. Grosjean helped build several
churches (some of them still active),
a library, and a park. He helped bring
street lights to Woodhaven and,
in one of his most important acts,
he brought the railroad to Woodhaven
(along the surface of Atlantic
Today, he is not very well-known
at all outside of the older residents of
Woodhaven who remember the factory,
either in decline or as an abandoned
building that was turned into a
shopping center in the mid-1980s. But
145 years ago, there wasn’t a resident
of Woodhaven who wasn’t aware of
whom Mr. Grosjean was.
Back then, the residential section
of Woodhaven lived south of Atlantic
Avenue, in a section that is known
today as Ozone Park. In those days it
was called Woodhaven Village and it
housed many of the neighborhood’s
Woodhaven Village really took off
with the purchase of the nearby factory
by partners Florian Grosjean and
Charles LaLance. The factory began
pumping out metal kitchenware made
from tin through a
was an immediate
Grosjean enticed many of his countrymen
to come here from France and
set them up in row houses that he
owned along University Place
(now 95th Avenue).
At that time, it was estimated
that 8 out of every
10 people in Woodhaven
were tied financially
to the factory. If they
didn’t work at the factory,
their spouse did.
Or they ran a business
that depended on the
To shape their metal
and tin products, the
wooden factory burned
animal fat around the
clock to keep the fires
burning hot. But on the
evening of Feb. 21, 1876, fi re
swept through the factory
and rapidly destroyed everything
except for the tall wooden
clocktower which remained standing
until approximately 2 a.m.
Then, with nearly the entire community
watching, it collapsed in a
spectacular fi reball which many saw
as the fi nal sign that Woodhaven was
As most of the residents of the small
village of Woodhaven worked at the
factory, the fi re put nearly everyone
out of work and a mass evacuation
was underway. But Mr. Grosjean
acted quickly and kept his workers on
half-salary, and hired many of them
full-time to help rebuild.
By August, a new and improved
complex was opened with a taller,
modern, brick clocktower that could
be seen for miles. The clocktower sent
a message that we were here to stay.
One wonders what kind of community
Woodhaven (and Ozone Park)
would have turned out to be had it
been allowed to be abandoned and
the factory never rebuilt. Instead, the
business continued to grow, employing
over 3,000 workers by the turn of
the century and our neighborhoods
grew and modernized around it.
Florian Grosjean passed away just
after the turn of the century and
though the business generally prospered
over the next few decades, it
eventually declined and went under
in the mid-1950s.
Today, there is a historical marker
(placed by the Woodhaven Cultural &
Historical Society) outside of the old
LaLance & Grosjean stamping factory.
And of course, the clocktower remains,
standing tall over the communities
it once served, telling the story of a
group of people long ago who refused
to give up in the face of adversity.
Sadly, though, the clock itself has not
been operational in many years.
Florian Grosejan may not be wellknown
by residents of Woodhaven
and Ozone Park but the impact of his
life is all around us.