Note: This is part of a weekly series about unusual buildings around Hudson County. Ever see a strange-looking structure and wonder what it was? From West New York to Hoboken to Bayonne, you’ll soon find out!
While many of the mom-and-pop shops on Bergenline Avenue in Union City have withstood the test of time, it is a newer store that displays a prominent hint of the old days.
Looking up at the relatively new Children’s World clothing store at 37th Street, one can make out faded signs for “W.M. Gulden’s North Hudson’s Leading Furniture, Carpet and Bedding Establishment.”
Gulden’s was, in fact, one of the most renowned furniture establishments around the state from the 1868 to the early 1900s.
Cornerstone of the community
The business was first established in 1868 – three years after the end of the Civil War – by William Gulden Sr., who started it in a different location. It was originally a small furniture and repairing store on Union Street (now 37th Street), between Hudson and Park avenues.
It was only a few years before his son began working there. William M. Gulden Jr. was born on Nov. 12, 1854 in Union Hill (now Union City). The younger Gulden started working at the family furniture store after finishing school, and eventually went on to open his own furniture store in New York City.
According to “History of Hudson County – Genealogies of Prominent Families,” Gulden then left his store in New York in order to travel the country learning about the furniture business.
Gulden was hired as a traveling salesman for a large wholesale furniture establishment, and during his travels, he became schooled in several methods of business, which he later applied to his own.
In 1882, Gulden returned to Union Hill and took charge of his father’s store.
Gulden the man
Gulden incorporated his new modern ideas of business into the store, and by the following year, the store began to prosper. It was relocated to 81-83 (now 149-151) Bergenline Ave.
With its new location on the main commercial strip, customers began to frequent the store a lot more, and Gulden’s Furniture was soon a household name.
Gulden himself became one of the most widely recognized and highly respected men in northern Hudson County. A friend of the community and a savvy businessman, he drew customers from all over the region.
By 1892, Gulden found it necessary to enlarge the store due to the number of growing demand, and that year developed a new four-story brick building on Bergenline. The store continued to grow in the new building, and was becoming one of the largest furniture stores in the state.
Fire before Christmas
In 1916, a fire broke out in the building just weeks before Christmas and burned it down. It was said to be one of the largest fires in the history of North Hudson.
Despite the heavy loss, Gulden bounced back and decided to start all over again.
Within mere days of the fire, he rented out an empty store on the same street and opened it with brand new stock.
A local newspaper wrote, “All through this crisis, in which many a man would have completely broken down, Mr. Gulden has shown a remarkable determination. This is fact has been the foundation of his success. Strong in his convictions, strong in character and possessed of a great business ability, no obstacles can possibly stop his efforts.”
In addition to his successful business stance in the community, Gulden was also known for his philanthropy and charitable works. He belonged to various organizations in North Hudson such as North Hudson Hospital, North Hudson Board of Trade, and the Eintracht Singing Society.
Today, one of the only remnants of the illustrious past of Gulden’s furniture store are the faded signs painted on both sides of the Bergenline Avenue building, where Children’s World now stands.
However, the faded face of the now five-story building at 3711 Bergenline Ave. is not the only thing that remains of the store.
Carmen Borrell of North Bergen grew up in Union Hill, and she has a piece of the store’s furniture adorning the foyer of her home.
“Someone in my building was throwing it out, and as I was going up the stairs, I said, ‘Do me a favor; don’t get rid of it. It’s really pretty. I want it,’ ” said Borrell. “I had it redone, and that is how I have it.”
The piece was a curio, which is typically used to hold small collectables and can usually be found in any furniture store. There was some moderate damage and it had been painted black.
The paint was chipping away and the glass had also been cracked, but incredibly, the original emblem of the furniture was still in good condition on the piece.
“I had seen the emblem on the piece before, I took it in to get restored,” said Borrell. “I knew it was an antique piece, and it said it was made in Union Hill. That was even more why I kept it, because Union Hill is not Union Hill anymore.”
Having grown up in Union Hill, Borrell was intrigued to know a little more about the store, and received help from the Union City library.
“This woman had said that this store was there many years ago, and that it was famous furniture store,” said Borrell. “I thought it was interesting because it’s a piece of history from where I grew up.”
At the moment, the curio is a home for stuffed animals belonging to Borrell’s daughter. She said she is hoping that one day her daughter will inherit the piece as well.