About the Club
The Ridgewood Democratic Club was founded by Carl Berger, in his home at 300 St. Nicholas Avenue, in January of 1908. Mr. Berger served as the temporary chairman, holding meetings in various parts of Ridgewood. At that time there were sixty members enrolled. By March of 1908 permanent officers were elected with Berger as president. With a membership of two hundred, the club entered into a two-year lease for its first clubhouse, locate d at 448 Grove Street. In July of 1908, the club incorporated as the Ridgewood Democratic Club. The club’s membership grew so rapidly over the following eighteen months that the Grove Street clubhouse became inadequate and larger quarters were required. In January of 1910, the club purchased its own building at 267 St. Nicholas Ave, relocating to it in March of the same year, the membership was at 450. The Board of Governors in 1916 decided to find a new location that would be more centrally located to the moving population. Berger was in the employ of Paul Stier, a real estate developer who eventually built more than 800 homes in Ridgewood and Glendale. Today the Ridgewood Democratic Club is headquartered in a three storey building originally built by Stier to serve as his office space. In 1916, Stier was elected Sheriff of Queens County. The following year, in the course of his duties, he was shot and killed. Shortly thereafter, on June 29, 1917, the Board of Governors voted to buy Stier ’s office for $12,750 and set aside another $1,000 for renovations. The move to the current building, then known as 24-20 Putnam Avenue, was completed on 11 September 1917. To offset some of the cost, the previous clubhouse was sold to the German Evangelical Church of St. Peter’s of Brooklyn for the sum of $6,000. The membership swelled to 1400 and the clubhouse was known as the best in all of Queens County (it was called the “Home of Democracy”.) Mr. Berger was elected President for fifteen consecutive years, and is given much of the credit for the progress of the club.
After Carl Berger’s death in 1930, Albert Benninger, who was then Queens Parks Commissioner, and Democratic State Committeeman, became the club’s President. When Robert Moses became the New York City Parks Commissioner and replace d Benninger, his lieutenant Joseph Mafera was also removed as Superintendent of Parks for Queens County. Political and legal battles ensued as charges went back and forth, until the matter was resolved when Mafera was appointed to the N.Y.C. Board of Alderman (City Council) in 1933. Upon Benninger’s death in 1937, Mafera resigned from the Board, and assumed Benninger ’s all-important State Committee position, and William Conrad then became the Alderman. In the 30’s the Women’s Division of the Club, under the leadership of Frances
Joos, began its own community programs such as sponsoring picnics in Forest Park and distributing food baskets to the needy during the Depression. The 1930’s and 40’s were a great and powerful time for the Ridgewood Democratic Club. The annual entertainment and reception of ten attracted three to four thousand people to Arcadia Hall on
Halsey Street and Broadway for truly spectacular entertainment. Rudy Vallee headlined at the 1936 affair. Cab
Calloway and the Cotton Club Parade entertained at “Mafera Night” in 1941. (In that year, future councilman Arthur Katz man makes his first appearance on the entertainment committee, which he chaired for many years. In 1944, City Councilman William Conrad was elected to the State Senate, and for a brief time in 1951, Joseph Mafera served as
Queens County Borough President. Mafera retired due to ill health in 1966, after leading the club for 30 years. In 1955, “The Ridgewood Democrat”, a four-page newsletter began publication. At first it was mailed only to members, but for a time it was sent to all registered Democrats in Ridgewood. The Ridgewood Democrat continued in publication until 1973.
In the late 60’s the Club suffered a series of setbacks. In December, 1967, at age 71 Joseph Mafera died. The following year William Conrad passed at age 77. Also in 1968, Assemblyman Robert Whalen was defeated by Rosemary Gunning. In 1970, the club was unsuccessful in an attempt to retake the seat with longtime member Dan Castoria as its candidate. In 1971, former leader John Redmond died. By 1974 District Leader Bob Whalen and State Committeeman Ed Devlin were also defeated. In1978, long time District Leader Marie Stroeble died. In the early 80’s, Club President Ed Devlin, along with Treasurer and State Committeeman Bob Rothermel, joined forces with newly elected District Leader Cathy Nolan and her followers, as well as members of the old Naugatuck Democratic Club on Greene Avenue. The Ridgewood Democratic Club would once again become a force in the Democratic Party.
After Ed Devlin’s death in 1983, Artie Egel became President. In 1984, Cathy Nolan was elected to the Assembly, Bob Rothemel was elected District Leader, and Artie Egel won the State Committee position. The Club was also instrumental in electing Tom Manton to Congress. That same year, television discovered The Ridgewood Democratic Club as Vic Miles did a profile of “Mondale Delegate” Egel, and Jane Velez-Mitchell brought the cameras to the Club as we watched Queen’s own Geraldine Ferraro debate George Bush. In recent years, we became for a time the meeting place for the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. In 1993, when Arthur Egel retired as President, Barbara Primosch became the first woman to serve as Club President, succeeded by Gerry Marsicano. The 104th Precinct Explorers program also has used the building for their meetings. The Club sponsored Toys for Tots for many years, and has often hosted children’s holiday parties. Eric Depaula was elected President in 1998, and Santiago Vargas made history that year, by being the first Puerto Rican born N.Y. State Committeeman from Queens county.