Froehlich, In The Old Schwencke Tradition, sells “The American Dream”
Selling the dreams of America it’s what his grandfather sold in quarter acre Medford wilderness lots to immigrants who dreamed of streets paved with gold and bought them paved with the undisturbed humus of uncounted woodland years.
It’s what J Alwin Froehlich sells now.
The package is different this time. No quarter acre pieces anymore. And no more $20 per acre with a dollar down as in the good old turn of the century Schwencke days.
If the package has changed, so, too, has the buyer. No longer does he speak in guttural accents of Middle Europe. No longer are his good clothes and work clothes the same clothes.
J. Alwin Froehlich sells the American dream to middle-class Americans – the suited and tied, college educated, small families, frequently self-employees, an ever-growing band of American who have more money than they need to live on, more time than they need to make it, and more need than ever before to certify their growing prosperity by the conspicuous consumption of good times.
J. Alwin Froehlich sells one and two-acre pieces of the American Dream on Suffolk’s rural east end at prices ranging 19,000 to 100,000.
Yet, despite the differences in package and buyers Froehlich’s tactics remain essentially Schwencke’s – let them buy it on time and “make it nice.”
It has been an extraordinarily successful formula. And while Froehlich’s success in purveying second home lots to the prosperous middle class has been greater than many of the others in the business, it has also been typical in many ways of a very big Long Island business – one which grew frantically in the 1960’s, slowed in the 70’s and promised to boom again in the 1980’s and beyond.
J. Alwin Froehlich comes by his love of the land as much from his ancestors as from his business instincts.
O.L. Schwencke, his grandfather, was the biggest seller of land on Long Island at the turn of the century.
Schwencke was a lithographer born in 1858. He started in the real estate business in 1896. What he had for sale was most of what is now Medford and Patchogue.
By 1926, 135 licensed salespeople work for Schwencke, seeing small lots to thousands of city dwelling immigrants who believed that winning a piece of land in the country was part of the America’s promise, American’s dream.
Froehlich says his grandfather had “a very conciliatory, very generous attitude toward people” and helped promote the first state legislation to protect people from unscrupulous sellers.
Schwencke must have been doing something right because Froehlich estimates that 15,000 Long Island deeds have been conveyed by the Schwencke and Froehlich companies combined – so many in fact that, at one time, the county clerk in Riverbed has a separate index for the Schwencke transactions.
Schwencke’s price then was $30 an acre and up and he gave terms – $5, down and $1 per month and up. The “easy terms” concept was one that grandson Froehlich was to continue later on.
Schwencke died in 1928 at the age of 70, his son died six years later in 1934 and the Schwencke company ceased to operate.
In 1950, the Joseph T. Froehlich Co. picked up where Schwencke left off.
Begun by, Froehlich’s father, the firm open in Nassau County with 12 salespeople.
Land development was not their business says Froehlich, but he soon began thinking about developing and controlling a piece of land from start to finish, in gradual steps over a long period of time.
The Froehlich plan was a mixture of old Schwencke – including deferred payments – and new Froehlich – especially the determination to go slow and control architectural design.
In 1958, Froehlich, a lawyer, joined with J.P. (Hobby) Miller, an entrepreneur, and builder, to develop a portion of Fire Island just east of Davis Park.
They called the development Ocean Ridge. It was about 50 acres and 100 plots.
The development, according to Froehlich, was “very successful. The vast majority of lots had a house on them within five years.”
Perhaps, it was too fast and too successful for Froehlich for he says he “was disappointed with some of the houses built later on.
Ocean Ridge taught him two things, however. First, he found out he could not develop land the way he wanted to on Fire Island because of the “lack of foliage and the harsh weather process.” He would decide after Ocean Ridge, to develop the only woodland.
The second lesson he learned from Ocean Ridge was that there was an exciting middle class of people and I could see their appetite for escape.”
So Froehlich decided to eschew the “city of beehives” on Fire Island and move to the east end of Long Island.
It was to be the perfect marriage for in Froehlich were combined the developer’s instinct for promotion and the gentry’s passion for only the slowest most elegant growth.
Aside from a small community in Quogue, Hampton Waters was Froehlich’s first east end fling.
It was on Three-Mile Harbor and was in its infancy when Froehlich bought it from Grove Press Publisher Barney Rosset.
Here Froehlich began to refine his east end woodland development touch. He soft-pedaled advertising, concentrated on an imaginative street layout to capitalize on natural contours and a minimum of tree destruction, and he carefully exceeded minimum zoning standards for building and lot square footage.
The result was a sellout of an 180-acre parcel (8000 feet on Three-Mile Harbour) in 2 and 1/2 years, using the same Froehlich mix of no advertising and deferred payments.
Settlers Landing marked the first concentrated Froehlich attempt to “pay more attention to new concepts in architecture and to positively induce people to use natural woods and stains.”
Froehlich says such positive inducements are a “question of tact. The community doesn’t attract people with no taste. They run away. It’s too underplayed.”
Froehlich communities, including Settlers Landing, all have architectural control committees, just one instrument he uses to exercise the kind of total control he feels is necessary to good development.
After Settlers Land, East Hampton town upzoned large tracts of undeveloped land to one acre. Froehlich’s next development, Landfall, offered one-acre lots directly on Gardiner’s Bay next to Cedar Point Park.
The 115 plots sold out immediately, mostly to New York City people – self-employed, well-educated, in their 40’s, very few with large families,” as Froehlich describes them.
The lots sold for $8,000 to $20,000 away from the water and 60,000 on Gardiner’s Bay.
His latest east end development is Hawk’s Nest in Devon, north of Amagansett. The lots are two-acre, reflecting yet another town up zone, and sell for about $28,000 apiece – all on the installment plan.
Upzoning as a means of controlling growth has Froehlich’s full support.
He says East Hampton town had “gotten dose of too many bodies” and had to take steps to control growth.
In fact, after Settlers Landing, Froehlich says he wrote the east Hampton town Planning Board and “pointed out that we felt they shouldn’t be considering apartments but larger plots.”
“The only way for East Hampton to survive esthetically and economically is to keep out and burgeoning and newly created houses resulting from a building boom,” is the way he puts it.
Or, put another way, the area must carefully market its exclusivity to a rapidly expanding middle class with money in its pockets.
“It’s discrimination based on bucks,” Froehlich says. “Without it, east Hampton is doomed. There’s no chance if the population goes to 40,000 years round.
Froehlich says the second home on a big plot is an economic bonanza for the east end.
To prove the point, he says that, after five years, 150 homes in Settlers Landing and Hampton Waters were paying over $250,000 in taxes per year “with less than 10 kids attending schools, no police, no fires, no riots.”
He says these households were also spending approximately $5,000 each every summer in local stores and restaurants.
J. Alwin Froehlich claims his success on the east end results from “sidewalk diplomacy” among other things.
“The word has to go around that the developer cares. He’s there all the time,” says the 64-year-old father if 4.
Froehlich spends his weekends and much of the summer at a home on the water in Landfall.
And sidewalk diplomacy, Froehlich says, can;t be done in large suburban communities where everybody suspects everyone else.”
He emphasizes too that he “never got involved in politically” but instead maintained “strong relationship with the regulators on both sides. We did what we were supposed to do but always a little better.”
Chances are J. Alwin Froehlich will remain in East Hampton Town. He says he has “studied the whole east coast with respect to the waterfront and there is nothing as beautiful as East Hampton.”
His affinity for the east end is latent in almost all that he says and the listener can sense his determination to do what he can to keep it beautiful.
$80,000 homes on 60×100 plots, as is Nassau County, are not part of Froehlich’s dream for the east end.
He says there should be “one little pocket of the world that people can call lovely.”
For Al Froehlich, East Hampton is that pocket and he’d rather “make it nice” in the old Schwencke tradition or not do it at all.
“What the hell is $250,000, “ he says from a swivel chair with a view of Long Island MacArthur Airport, I’d rather have some quality of life.”
“Nothing Reaches People Better than…Pennysaver News” March 6, 1977
Meet Me At The Cannon
Rockville Centre, New York 1921