16 May 2020

Three Towers (1931 - 1958)

The opening of the Route 31 (now called Route 206) bridge across the Raritan River in August of 1930 was the final piece needed to complete the Somerville-Princeton highway. There was only one impediment left to be removed before the area of Hillsborough Township, NJ known as South Somerville could blossom as a commercial center - the dangerous grade crossing of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

Advertising Postcard, 1937
Property owners in the vicinity - roughly the area along the highway between Valley Road and Brooks Boulevard - had been waiting for nearly seven years for a highway underpass to be completed. It took a full six years to decide the exact location! In the meantime, entrepreneurs bided their time and sat on their land.

Advertising Postcard, reverse, 1937
One of those enterprising businessmen was Willy Cremer. In 1922 he bought a piece of property opposite the highway from the railroad station that was originally developed in 1915 by real estate man O. J. Brown (hence Brown Avenue). In February 1931, Cremer announced that he would remodel the existing structure on the property and construct a new building and encompass them both within a new edifice of a "Spanish design" that he would call "The Three Towers". His plan was to have the project finished to coincide with the opening of the highway underpass later that spring.

8 May 1931 Courier News
The Three Towers - later shortened to just Three Towers - was an ambitious undertaking. It was to be a combination restaurant, catering hall, and dance hall with the largest dining capacity - 400 - in the area. The cost of the improvements would be $30,000 - $500,00 in today's dollars - with the special proscenium lighting in the ballroom costing $1,400 by itself! Also planned were facilities for a hotel and a campground - and, improbably, a landing field for airplanes (yes, it was built and operational!).

1930s Newspaper Ads
Three Towers opened with much fanfare on May 2, 1931. The 2400 square foot dance floor was a key element of what was described as "the most beautiful ballroom in New Jersey". It quickly became the place to have any type of event - from glamorous weddings to political club meetings (both Hillsborough Republicans and Democrats used it!), and everything in between. High school reunions, awards banquets, and civic events were all par for the course in the 1930s - and in between people came for the dancing.

Ernie Krickett Advertising Flyer
Local talent such as Harold Barwig, Ben Van Doren, and The Clintonians vied for stage time with popular regional acts such as bandleader Ernie Krickett's WOR radio orchestra. Three Towers also became the official "dining stop" for the Yale Club of New York - presumably on their way to Ivy League matches in Princeton.

20 September 1939 Home News
On Thanksgiving, a "Deluxe Turkey Dinner" could be had for just $1.00 - and a couple could ring in the New Year - including a turkey dinner, novelties, noisemakers, souvenirs, and dancing to the Seven Syncopated Swingsters - for only $4.00. Willy Cremer was not above the occasional wild stunt, such as when he promoted a hypnotist act where a girl would be buried alive in his parking lot for two weeks! The Alcohol Beverage Control Commission put a stop to that one.

World War II-era advertising postcard 
At the end of October 1940, Cremer sold the business to Hans Ertlscweiger. He ended up owning Three Towers for four years and only made minor changes. In this era, it was possible to pull your car right up to the front of the establishment and order lunch at a window. Ertlschweiger also introduced square dancing nights alongside the typical big band fare.

World War II-era Newspaper Ads
Between 1945 and 1946 Three Towers was owned by Somerville area restauranteurs John Primm and Joe Gos. The final twelve years of Three Towers were under the proprietorship of Joseph and Margaret Hazy.  For the first year or so after VE Day, things remained much the same - club meetings, banquets, dancing to popular orchestras. Then the reputation of Three Towers took a turn for the worse.
Post-War Newspaper Ads

It probably began early in 1947 when the ABC Commission charged Joseph Hazy with permitting "a lewd and indecent form of female entertainment" on three consecutive nights in February. Other not infrequent headlines from the period include "Youth Stabbed at Dance", "Youth Jailed After Brawl", and "Hillsboro Residents Rock Police Car" (they were trying to free three of their compatriots who were involved in three separate brawls at Three Towers that evening). In just a few short years the showplace of Hillsborough went from being the place where Hillsborough Democrats and Republicans held their monthly club meetings, to being the place that Hillsborough Township Committeeman J. Irving Stryker described as having a "bad reputation". Things came to a head, literally, when the Hazys 14-year-old son knocked 70-year-old former Amwell Farms Inn owner Willard Hafner on the noggin with a baseball bat to prevent him from choking Margaret Hazy after a dispute over the Venetian blinds. The Hazys sold the place shortly thereafter.

11 July 1955 Courier News

Fortunately, thanks to Manville resident and business owner Petey Semenick, we have this rare film of Three Towers during a happier time in the late 1930s/early 1940s.