A Large Page in Local History

    By Kathleen Lonetto

           Rudyard Kipling called him ‘Effendi’. Frank Nelson Doubleday lived up to this honorable Turkish
    nickname of ‘chief’ as a publishing master who realized not only the literary value of the authors he
    befriended and published, but also the worth of his employees. Doubleday’s construction of the
    Country life Press in Garden City remains today a monument to the businessman who strived to leave
    a mark upon the world and began, quite literally, in his own backyard.
           For area residents, the Doubleday building is a landmark. It is an impressive, yet subdued portion
    of the Garden City community that is landscaped traditionally and a respite from the modern lines and
    skyward construction of Nassau’s building boom.
           Doubleday established his publishing company in 1897, housing the operation in Manhattan. By
    1910, the successful firm needed additional space and Doubleday felt that a move to Long Island would
    be wise. Doubleday purchased thirty-seven acres of prime land on Franklin Avenue for $600 an acre.
    He found that the greatest obstacle to building his printing plant was the Garden City Company. The
    company had a contract with homeowners stating that no manufacturing would be permitted in Garden
    City. The future Country Life Press had to convince the community that the building of the company
    would be advantageous.
           Architect John Petit designed Country Life Press and his sketches included extras such as
    landscaped gardens, and a building design in the style of an English manor house. Finally, the Garden
    City Company was convinced, Work began in the spring of 1910 and the building was completed in 93
    working days for a cost of $267,000.
           Teddy Roosevelt, resident of Oyster Bay, was a friend of Doubleday and agreed to lay the
    cornerstone of this new structure. His speech, published in the August 27, 1910 edition of Publishers’
    Weekly seemed to be almost prophetic in setting the pace for the development of Long Island. Colonel
    Roosevelt stated: “I feel that everything that tends to spread the population as it becomes congested in
    the great cities, everything that gives more chance for fresh air to the men, the women, and above all,
    to the children, counts for just so much more in the development of our civic life.”
           Frank Nelson Doubleday always believed in attractive, clean working conditions for employees. As
    a young man in Brooklyn, he was appalled by one wealthy manufacturer who lived in a magnificent
    home with the best of amenities, yet worked and housed his employees in a dirty, overcrowded factory.
    Doubleday made certain that his own employees were comfortable. He provided them with a cafeteria,
    an infirmary with a nurse on duty as well as a dentist and a barber. He also took his pact with the
    Garden City Company seriously, often at expense to himself. When his engineers advised him that a
    chimney would be necessary, jutting eighty to one hundred feet above his building, Doubleday
    demanded that an alternative to the ugly eyesore be found. The Chimney was built twice as wide, but
    at roof level, costing approximately 10 cents per hour more, but being much more attractive. Another
    ugly necessity was the wooden tank of water to be placed on the roof as fire apparatus. Instead of this
    particular eyesore, Doubleday built a pool west of the building containing one hundred thousand
    gallons of water. The pool was attached to a special pump that would enable it to be used in case of fire.
    He modeled the surrounding area after a pool at the Villa Falconieri near Rome and imported cedar
    trees to reproduce the effect of the Roman cypress trees that grew around the water.
           Doubleday took considerable pride in the grounds that surrounded his building. Flowers were
    imported from around the world and planted in settings such as rose gardens, rock gardens, special
    scent gardens, a peony garden and an array of more than 200 varieties of German Iris. Fruits and
    vegetables grown on the grounds were served in the cafeteria and evergreens and odd trees were
    planted around twin reflecting pools.
           Also evident on the grounds are several curiosities such as a sundial with a reproduction of a page
    from the Gutenberg Bible as a dedication to printers who followed in the path of the master printer.
    Another is the large brass plate in the center of the front walk. Since the building is set upon the four
    corners of the compass, the builders computed the distance to the North Pole, South Pole and other
    points on the globe. They placed their findings on the brass compass plate, noting that for instance,
    Country Life Press is 6,851 miles from Peking and 3,413 miles from the North Pole. A special railroad
    station was built at Country Life Press, enabling trains to bring paper to the pressroom and pick up
    completed books.
           As many as 6,500 books per day were printed in Garden City during the first year with Rudyard
    Kipling’s “The Day’s Work” as the first best seller. A folder machine folded flat printed sheets of
    paper into groups of pages. Type was set in the Monotype Room and the Sewing Department was
    responsible for binding. Platemaking, packing and other functions moved publication along smoothly.
    The employees were happy workers with free time activities such as tennis, lawn bowling and softball
    available on the grounds.
           Some of the greatest names in literature such as:  Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Booth
    Tarkington, Edna Ferber, H.G. Wells, 0. Henry. Sinclair Lewis, Christopher Morley, Somerset
    Maugham, and Kathleen Norris were published at this time by Doubleday and many made themselves
    at home in Garden City. Doubleday once attempted to have visiting authors plant trees on the grounds
    to commemorate their visits. John Muir planted a Douglas spruce and John Burroughs planted a sugar
    maple before the plan was abandoned.
           As the publishing company grew, other locations were necessary for the printing of Doubleday
    books. Today, the office building at Franklin Avenue is used for administrative purposes for the entire
    company. Jeffrey Cunion of Doubleday explains that “we’ve got a number of different divisions in processing, accounting, financial analysis, media analysis, fulfillment operations which is
    the biggest aspect of what we do whether it’s for the book club division of the publishing division.
    Mailroom is also a big operational area. We have service departments such as personnel and benefits;
    all of our office services; all of our corporate accounting functions are done here.” The company also
    continues to have a good relationship with the Garden City community.
           “We sponsor from 40 to 50 local activities ranging from the Garden City High School Alumni,
    Garden City Athletic Association, Little League, Chamber of Commerce. So, we have a lot of
    community involvement. Doubleday is basically considered part of the Garden City Village., .and
    Doubleday really provides a mainstream for the small businesses and for the community...We have
    1,300 people on any given day streaming in and out of the building, so we need to have a close
    relationship with the village. We have to deal with them on traffic problems, facility problems. We’re
    probably one of their largest taxpayers, and one of the largest users of their water supply. We have a
    close relationship with their police and fire departments because of the size of our facility.”
           As for today’s employee, Cunion feels that “the Doubleday philosophy is to try to provide a
    congenial, pleasant place to work. Our building on the outside still looks like a small college campus.
    On the inside, it’s not as plush as the new office buildings, but that is almost impossible to do when
    you have a 75 year old office building...but I think that the environment never changed. You still have
    the family atmosphere where people are informal and friendly.”

Published in North Shore Magazine