Stewart’s Drive-in, a longstanding Kearny business at 938 Passaic Ave., is on the market. The property is just south of the Cpl. Osbrany Montes de Oca Memorial (Belleville Turnpike) Bridge.
By Karen Zautyk
Ninety-five years ago this week — Aug. 19, 1919 — 13 veterans of the Great War, as World War I was then known, gathered in the Kearny home of Fred E. Portz to organize a local chapter of the American Legion.
Along with Portz, those founding members were Alfred Feickert, Willis E. Wood, Dr. John F. Hanold, John Hanly, Asher I. Roberts, Charles Whitehead, Al Downing, Robert Downing, Dr. Edward H. Willan, George Winne, Roland M. Ellis and Alexander Brockway.
We list them all here because it was from this small group that emerged one of the strongest Legion chapters in the country, J.E. Frobisher Jr. Post 99.
With the approval of the hero’s family, it was named for the late Joseph Edwin Frobisher Jr. of Kearny, a U.S. Army Signal Corps pilot who had been shot down over France in 1918.
The Post received a temporary charter in October 1919 and a permanent charter in May 1921.
The meetings were first held at the Arlington Players Club (at the time located off Midland Ave.) and later at Town Hall, then the Exempt Firemen’s Headquarters and then the Elks Lodge.
In 1923, Post 99 could stop bouncing around, its having acquired the Burroughs mansion on Midland Ave., where the Kearny Post Office is now located. The real estate investment proved wise: The Legionnaires bought the property for $15,000 and sold it in 1930 when they received an offer for more than twice that price.
For several years, they met in the Patterson Building on Kearny Ave., and then they moved to the headquarters they still occupy, at 314 Belgrove Dr., across from what is now called Veterans Field.
That structure, by the way, had been the carriage house and stable for the Old Soldiers Home, which moved to Menlo Park after many decades in Kearny. Post members did the renovations — as, thanks to the current efforts of former Commander Anthony Capitti, they are now repairing and renovating the building that has been in continual use as a meeting hall/gathering place since 1936.
Post 99’s primary mission has always been to assist veterans. Even back in 1919, its programs involved vets’ insurance, cooperation with the Red Cross on veterans’ matters, and outreach to the community. But at the height of its activities, between the wars and with an influx of veterans after World War II, it also sponsored student essay and oratorical contests, a competitive drum and bugle corps and basketball, baseball, softball and bowling teams.
In the 1940s, it organized the Kearny Civilian Police Reserve force, which supplemented the KPD through 1946. And following World War II, it was instrumental in the development of veterans’ housing, including 25 homes built on Passaic Ave. The program was so successful, and garnered so much attention, Post 99 received requests for advice from more than 200 localities nationwide.
You can also thank Post 99 for the existence of the veterans’ memorial park between Kearny Ave. and Beech St., north of Quincy Ave. The Legionnaires bought the land, donated it to the town and raised funds for the first monument, the towering World War I memorial, which was personally dedicated by Gen. John J. Pershing on May 27, 1922.
Now, lest you think your correspondent did massive research to collect all this knowledge, she did not. It comes courtesy of Fred E. Portz, the same gentleman who hosted that 1919 organizational meeting.
When he died in 1964, Portz was in the process of compiling and writing the Post 99 history. It was published posthumously by his widow, Jessie E. Portz, who noted she had it “printed unedited.” (You’d never guess. It looks pretty neat to our copyeditor’s eyes.) It was from this booklet that we harvested the information presented above.
Today, like many other veterans’ groups, American Legion Post 99 is dealing with diminishing membership. Over the last decade or so, it has dropped from 325 to 187, primarily due to the loss of the WWII generation. But this is not discouraging current Post Commander Keith McMillan. A lifelong Kearny resident, McMillan is an Air Force veteran who served three tours of duty in Kyrgyzstan, Iraq and Afghanistan. His father and grandfather were both Post members. He joined in 2004, and he is anxious to recruit new blood.
“I understand that most of the guys coming back want to start a new chapter in their life — getting a job, starting a family,” McMillan said, but he has hopes the younger vets will join.
Walter Tomasheski, the finance officer and a Vietnam-era Navy veteran, noted, “The No. 1 thing for the Post right now is getting newer members, younger members. They join, but they do not get active.”
“We’re trying to communicate with the new generation of veterans,” McMillan said, adding, “We are fortunate enough to be next door to the VFW and close to the Marine Corps League, and we’re starting to work more together.”
“Each is unique,” the commander continued, “but we have a common understanding: We all served. And we have a common commitment – keeping the heritage and history alive and helping other veterans.”
In 2012, Post 99 Auxiliary President Mary Alyn Fisher spearheaded the launch of a new project, Kearny VOICE (Veterans Outreach Information Community & Education), which is partnered with the VFW and Marine Corps League. VOICE provides Kearny veterans and their families with information and assistance regarding benefits, claims, counseling, education and job training.
After 95 years, American Legion Post 99 has lost none of its commitment to its founders’ goals.
(Editor’s note: Next month, on the anniversary of his death, we will write more about the man for whom Post 99 is named, Joseph E. Frobisher Jr.)
By Ron Leir
Lawmakers from all levels of government, led by State Sen. President Stephen Sweeney, assembled for a press conference on the banks of the Passaic River Aug. 12 to declare their support for a replacement for the 109-year-old DeJessa Memorial Bridge that links Lyndhurst and Nutley.
To that end, the counties of Bergen and Essex will be applying jointly to the N.J. Transportation Planning Authority for an endorsement to undertake the project together with the Federal Highway Administration.
Applications for the “concept development phase” of the authority’s transportationrelated Local Capital Projects Delivery Program are due to the NJTPA by Sept. 12 for the next funding cycle’s consideration, according to authority spokesman David Behrund.
That program provides federal funding for projects led by counties in the region, Behrund said. After technical review of proposals, NJTPA’s Board of Trustees will vote to allocate a total of $2.5 million in funding for successful applicants in January 2015.
President Obama has signed a bill that provides nearly $11 billion to fund bridge and highway repairs over the next 10 months.
Cost for a new bridge – bigger, wider, stronger – is tentatively pegged at $15 million but Bergen County Public Works Director Joe Crifasi, who is helping draft the application, said: “There are estimates it could go as high as $30 million to $40 million.”
While the experts may differ on how much would be spent – if the application is successful – the legislators all agree that the existing two-lane bridge, at Kingsland and Riverside Aves., has got to go because it can’t adequately handle the current volume of traffic: some 40,000 vehicles cross it daily and about half that number travel Riverside, making for slow-going at peak hours at that poorly signalized intersection.
Adding to the snarls is a traffic signal at the Rt. 21 North ramp on the Nutley side of the bridge which is out of sync with the light at the intersection. Construction along Rt. 3 causing diversion of traffic to the bridge has also contributed to tie-ups.
The bridge, a swing span, lifts and spins to the center of the river to let boats pass through, but its ancient mechanical system “precludes us from opening it efficiently,” Crifasi said. Bergen and Essex have shared an annual maintenance cost on the bridge at between $100,000 and $200,000, he said.
In a letter to the NJTPA, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat representing the 9th Congressional District, characterized the DeJessa bridge as “functionally obsolete and structurally deficient. … Furthermore, the traffic at the intersections surrounding the bridge is unbearable and is creating economic consequences for daily commuters as well as a number of local business establishments.”
One of those business owners is Nutley Mayor Alphonse Petracco, who, with his brother, in April, opened the Riva Blue restaurant-lounge just off the bridge in Lyndhurst. Bridge traffic delay “is the biggest complaint we get in Nutley,” the mayor said at last Tuesday’s event. “It’s time to act before there’s a serious accident.”
Those conditions make it clear, Pascrell wrote, that “a two-lane bridge built in 1905 cannot possibly meet the needs of the modern day.”
In the meantime, Lyndhurst Mayor Robert Giangeruso said he’s “taken the lead” to get Bergen County to redesign and widen the Kingsland/ Riverside intersection that will take out the traffic island, provide new turning lanes and improved signalization, along with a new Rt. 21 ramp. JC Improvement & Construction Corp. of Bloomfield has been contracted to do the job for $856,000 and Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan said the contract calls for a 180-day completion. It took Lyndhurst several years to acquire privately-owned easements needed to do the work. Also, PSE&G will be relocating several utility poles.
But the DeJessa bridge is only one example of what Sweeney – an ironworker by trade — labeled as “the crisis in the state with crumbling infrastructure” at a time when the Transportation Trust Fund “is broke.” So he said he’s campaigning “to refund the Trust.” Otherwise, he wondered: “What business is going to move to New Jersey when there’s no Transportation Trust Fund?”
By Karen Zautyk
A Kearny man, who two years ago accidentally shot himself in the jaw with a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, was arrested last week in Newark on weapons charges. This time, authorities said, he was in possession of an AR-15 assault rifle. There was no indication he had ever accidentally shot himself with that.
James J. Hamilton, 23, of Kearny was arrested Aug. 13 along with Jonathan Garcia, 30, of Newark, after a raid on a home at 33 Taylor St. in that city by the Essex County Narcotics Task Force.
Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray and Newark Police Director Eugene Venable said both men were charged with possession of an assault weapon (a Bushmaster Carbon AR-15), possession of a high-capacity magazine and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon (both being convicted felons).
The Task Force, which was executing a search warrant at the address, reportedly also seized 28 live .223-caliber rounds and a semi-automatic .40-caliber Hi-point JCP pistol.
Kearny Police Chief John Dowie said Hamilton (a/k/a “White Boy”) has a township arrest record dating to 2010 that includes shoplifting, drug and weapons charges.
Back in July 2012, the KPD responded to a shooting at a rooming house at 344 Kearny Ave., Hamilton’s place of residence at the time, and found him lying outside on the sidewalk, bleeding profusely from a bullet wound to the jaw.
Officers followed a trail of blood to his second-floor apartment, where copious amounts splattered the floor and walls.
Hamilton had shot himself accidentally, and a friend who was visiting at the time hid the gun, police said. During a search for the weapon, Kearny Det. Ray Lopez climbed a tree near the rooming house and spotted it on the roof of an adjacent garage.
While Hamilton was hospitalized, the investigation continued, and police learned he apparently had no permit for the .38. He was arrested Aug. 15, 2012, by Dowie, who spotted him near Beech St. and Seeley Ave. and knew that warrants had been issued against him.
Hamilton was remanded to the Hudson County Jail on charges of unlawful possession of a handgun, unlawful disposition of a handgun and discharge of a firearm within town limits.
Disposition of that case is not known.
But last week, he was back behind bars, this time in the Essex County Jail, where he and Garcia were being held on $100,000 bail each.
By Karen Zautyk
A house-party host got a bit more than he bargained for when he hired a disc jockey for the festivities and an “associate” robbed him at knifepoint, Kearny police reported. Thanks to some determined detective work, the alleged assailant was tracked (pun intended) down and arrested last week.
Kearny Police Chief John Dowie said the incident occurred in late July at a party in a home on the 500 block of Devon St. During the bash, the 20-year-old host reportedly was confronted by a man who said he had supplied the speakers for the music and demanded money above and beyond the agreed-to DJ’s fee.
When the self-proclaimed “associate” was advised that no such separate payment had been arranged, he pulled a knife, police said. After the host still refused to pay, the man allegedly began slashing the air, nearly cutting a female partygoer across the face.
“To appease the assailant, the victim gave him his cell phone, and the assailant fled,” Dowie said. The party broke up shortly afterwards.
The crime was not immediately reported, police said, but when it was a couple of days later, Det. Ray Lopez interviewed the victim, got the suspect’s description and gathered basic information about the DJ who had been hired.
Lopez then conducted a foot canvas of the area, noting the location of private security cameras. He requested and received permission to view the videotapes and saw images of the alleged robber walking down the street, Dowie reported.
Presuming that the party might have engendered some noise complaints, Lopez checked the records (no pun intended) at headquarters and discovered there had indeed been such calls to the KPD that night. The detective contacted the responding officer, P.O. Ben Wuelfing, who, as luck and good police work would have it, had noted the descriptions of vehicles in the area. Lopez then identified the one the robber might have used.
The detective developed a suspect, drew up complaints and on Aug. 12 took into custody 20-year-old Springfield resident Tarik Gourdine.
Gourdine has been charged with conspiracy, robbery, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes.
He was released on $30,000 bail, which had a 10% option.
The Lyndhurst Police Department last week announced the capture of suspects wanted in connection with a stabbing at a local entertainment spot and with a residential theft.
On Monday, Aug. 11, at about 2 a.m., police were called to the Riva Blue night club, 525 Riverside Ave., on a report of a fight with injuries. Inside, on the second level, officers found Eric Burrell, 21, of South Orange, on the floor covered with blood.
Police said Burrell appeared to have sustained laceration type wounds to his chest and side. Lyndhurst EMS stabilized Burrell and transported him to UMDNJ Hospital, Newark, where he was treated for three stab wounds and a collapsed lung.
Burrell is expected to recover, police said. Police said Det. Sgt. John Mazure, Det. Sgt. John Kerner and Det. Vincent Auteri, all assigned to investigate the incident, learned the identification of the suspected attacker – listed as Malik Taylor, 21, of East Orange – after interviewing several witnesses and reviewing the club’s surveillance video.
No weapon was found at the scene but police believe a box cutter was used in the assault.
According to Det. Capt. John Valente, the victim and alleged attacker had known each other and “there was bad blood” between them.
Once the suspect’s ID was known, detectives went to Taylor’s place of employment in Union and to his home in East Orange but the suspect wasn’t at either location, but was alerted to the fact that police were looking for him.
Taylor subsequently turned himself in to Lyndhurst PD detectives on Aug. 12, police said.
Taylor was booked on charges of criminal attempted homicide, aggravated assault with significant bodily injury, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose and possession of a weapon and taken to Bergen County Jail after failing to post $250,000 bail set by Bergen County Superior Court Judge Lisa Perez-Fricia.
In the other incident, shortly after 1 p.m. on Aug. 12, police responded to the 600 block of Third Ave. on a report that someone had just taken a package from the front steps of a residence and fled on foot, east on Third towards Orient Way.
Police said a witness who spotted the would-be thief provided officers with a description and the suspect, identified as Flavio Arandi, 56, of Paterson, was stopped by Sgt. Richard Jarvis in the 700 block of Third Ave. and Officer Chris Cuneo, just arriving at that location, placed Arandi under arrest.
Police said the package, which was delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, was found in a recycling bin next to a home in the 600 block of Third Ave. It had been opened but the contents – a pair of shoes – were still inside, police said.
Police surmise that the suspect ditched the package after realizing he’d been seen in the act of allegedly stealing it. Arandi was charged with theft and destruction of evidence.
A follow-up investigation disclosed that Arandi had an outstanding warrant for $1,256 from Clifton and he was later turned over to Clifton PD on that warrant, police said.
– Ron Leir
The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has upgraded charges against a Belleville man to murder in an alleged assault on his roommate.
Authorities say that the accused, Edwin Andujar, 49, got into a dispute with Thomas Parent, 59, on Aug. 7 and allegedly stabbed Parent in the stomach.
A report in northjersey.com referenced a Belleville police incident report on the matter saying that officers responded to a disturbance at a Wallace St. residence where they found Andujar in a wheelchair with multiple stab wounds to his stomach and back. He was taken to UMDNJ in Newark.
Andujar was then charged with attempted murder.
“Parent died from his injuries on Aug. 12. On Aug. 13, we upgraded the charges to murder and weapons offenses,” said Essex County Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Katherine Carter.
Andujar is being held at the Essex County Correctional Facility on $1 million bail, Carter said.
No trial date has been announced.
By Ron Leir
On its maiden fire response, Kearny Fire Department’s fireboat – Marine 3 – performed up to par as its seven-man crew was first on the scene to help battle a smoky blaze under the Pulaski Skyway last Friday, Dep. Fire Chief Joseph Viscuso said.
But it took 51 minutes from the time the KFD got the alarm of fire to get its boat to the scene, department logs show, largely because the boat was dispatched from the Midland Ave.
It took about an hour for the Kearny boat, working in tandem with a Newark Fire Department vessel and the N.J. State Police Zodiak boat, to extinguish the flames attacking a wood fender that protects the base of the Skyway’s huge support columns from impacts of passing boats and other objects.
Viscuso, who was serving as the KFD’s acting chief on Friday, said it appears that the fire – reported at 1:05 p.m. – was ignited by sparks from welding activity on the bridge deck above.
Interestingly, at almost the same time on Aug. 8, a brush fire was reported under the Skyway on the riverbank, just 200 feet from the site of Friday’s incident, which was also believed to have been triggered by sparks from a welder’s tool, but, at the time, Marine 3 was undergoing some adjustments so the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department sent its boat, Viscuso said.
At Friday’s fire, aside from the fire boats pumping out sprays of water onto the burning timbers, Viscuso said that several of the Kearny crew also climbed onto another nearby section of fender and used firefighting tools to “cut a lot of holes into the creosote planking” to vent the fire and then used hand lines to squirt water behind the holes. The wood fencing rises about six feet above the water line, Viscuso said.
There was only “moderate damage” to the fender structure, Viscuso said, while, the Skyway superstructure appeared to be unharmed.
The 25 1/2-foot-long Kearny vessel, acquired in May 2013 with a $345,000 FEMA grant (that paid for the boat and a trailer for it), is designed to shoot 1,250 gallons of water per minute and its crew kept it pumping until the fire was declared under control.
Aboard the boat were Capt. Dave Kealy, Capt. James Mullins, Capt. Tom McDermott (the driver) and Firefighters Nelson DaSilva, Michael Janeczko and Tom Grieb, along with Probationary Firefighter James Burgos, all of whom had received trainning on it.
“It was the first time we used the boat to fight a fire and they rose to the challenge,” Viscuso said.
After being alerted to the fire through a 911 call routed to Kearny, at 1:05 p.m., the KFD deployed members of the seven-man team and hauled Marine 3 on its trailer, from the Midland firehouse, to the Passaic River Yacht Club on Scout Ave. from where it was launched into the Hackensack River, enroute upstream to the fire.
Viscuso said the boat was in the water by 1:51 p.m. and got to the scene five minutes later. It was the first of the three vessels to arrive, he added.
Jersey City Fire Department also dispatched a boat but it was directed to return, he added. Admitting that he was a little skeptical, initially, about whether Kearny really needed a fireboat, Viscuso said last week he’s absolutely convinced that the vessel is essential.
“The only way we could’ve fought this fire [on Friday] was from the water,” he said. “You couldn’t do it from the land.”
Marine 3 has been previously deployed but its prior mission was not fire-related, Viscuso said.
“On Aug. 12, at 12:43 p.m., we got a call from the bridge tender at the Amtrak portal bridge that he’d spotted a canoe drifting upside down in the river so we deployed our boat on a search and we located it along the shore,” he recalled. No one was clinging to it or near it and firefighters landed to search the area but saw nobody, he said. The KFD learned later that the canoe had been reported missing by a canoe rental place in Secaucus a month prior.
At first, residents of Harrison Gardens probably thought they were seeing a mirage: As of Aug. 8, their stretch of Hamilton St., between Schuyler and Franklin Aves., was open.
No longer clogged with barricades, dirt, above-ground pipes, construction crews, the block was clear and they could actually park their cars on both sides of the street. It meant that, at long last, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) had completed the relining of more than 1,500 feet of the 42-inch concrete Kearny- Harrison-Newark branch interceptor sewer line dating from 1924 and repairs to five manholes.
When the contractor was hired to do the work, the PVSC agreed to pay about $900,000 and figured the job would be done within six months.
It ended up costing $3.9 million with the time stretching over two years, based on figures provided by the commission’s chief engineer, according to PVSC spokeswoman Hollie Gilroy.
Gilroy said the original scope of work included the relining of 1,200 feet of sewer and the rehabilitation of four manholes; the revised scope included the replacement and relining of an additional 380 feet of sewer and an additional manhole,” Gilroy said.
Asked what complicated the job, Gilroy said that, “Significant ground water issues were encountered as part of the excavation required for the sewer and manhole replacement work. Ground water issues were the main cause of the schedule delays and cost overruns.”
Despite all the travails that accompanied the job – including having to provide a substitute water service for the Gardens for four days – Harrison Public Works Superintendent Robert Van Riper said it could’ve been a lot worse, given the magnitude of the job and a horrid winter. Plus, during the job, PSE&G had to relocate its power lines to the other side of Hamilton St. so the contractor would have room to work, Van Riper said.
“I want to give a shout to the PVSC for staying with it,” Van Riper said. “They did everything they said they’d do. It went as smoothly as it could possibly have gone. Everything was like synergy.”
Van Riper said the PVSC interceptor line had collapsed and the contractor had to dig down some 30 feet to lay in a new section of pipe with a liner.
“Every time it rained, they’d have to put in a sewer bypass line and we’re talking about a big trunk line on the south side of Hamilton that runs from Kearny to the Passaic Valley plant in Newark,” he said.
And Harrison Gardens received a new six-inch water service line, valve-to-valve, on the north side of Hamilton, replacing a line that had persistent leaks, he said. “Now, the leaks have been resolved.”
– Ron Leir
Belleville BOE President John Rivera is fighting to keep his job as a $48,000 a year township public works laborer.
Suspended without pay in February on charges of “creating a hostile work environment,” Rivera said that the township has yet to schedule a hearing. The municipal governing body only recently authorized hiring a special counsel to deal with the matter. Township Attorney Tom Murphy said last week, “We’re waiting to get some dates from the hearing officer.”
“I’m totally innocent,” Rivera told The Observer. “It’s political – I backed the wrong horse [in the May municipal contest].” Now he’s collecting unemployment. He was hired in April 2013 as a property maintenance inspector but later transferred to various other slots. The township doesn’t discuss pending legal matters.
Another school figure who may be in transition is Superintendent Helene Feldman who, Rivera told a member of the audience at the Aug. 11 BOE meeting, is currently on leave. Feldman has two years to run on her contract.
Because she may be away for an extended time, due to a serious health issue involving her husband, Tom Egan, the state monitor assigned to Belleville BOE, appointed Ray Jacobus, the BOE secretary/ school business administrator, as acting superintendent at the Aug. 11 BOE meeting. Egan said that Jacobus holds a New Jersey school superintendent’s certificate.
Egan said that a possible additional stipend for Jacobus for taking on the extra duties would likely be discussed at a special meeting called for Aug. 25. Egan also expects, at that time, to “finalize changes for the 2014-2015 school budget” and to nail down the calculations for the amount of additional state aid the district will be seeking “so that the 2014-15 school year won’t be in deficit.” Auditors have reckoned that the district ended 2013-2014 more than $4 million in the red.
At the Aug. 11 BOE session, Egan exercised his veto power as monitor to overturn several votes by a narrow board majority: He overruled a 3-2 vote to deny $90,000 in compensation to two resource (safety) officers, one at the high school and one at the middle school, and he overturned a 3-2 vote to table a proposed termination of a contract with Clarity Technologies Group LLC for outsourcing the district’s Internet Technologies Department. Egan said he felt the $20,000-a-month contract was “too expensive.” He also vetoed a vote to table the reappointment of eight non-tenured staff for the upcoming year, allowing six to go through for now, with the other two to be considered at the special meeting, along with a tabled appointment of Michael Vargas as district special education supervisor.
– Ron Leir