Remembering Gretsch Cousin Jed Clauss
I saw a quote about cousins on Facebook recently. It read, “A cousin is a ready made friend for life.” It made me think of my father and his best friend Ted Clauss, and Ted’s son and my first cousin Jed. Sadly, Jed passed away earlier this year a few months shy of his 80th birthday, June 8, 2019.
In memory of Jed, here’s a story of my father, Ted, and Jed . . .
My father and Ted were first cousins (Ted’s mother was Elsa Gretsch, one of founder Friedrich and Rosa’s seven children). They were similar in age, grew up near each other in Forest Hills, NY, and were as close as brothers. Both men were outgoing, fun-loving guys who shared the same interests and loved pulling jokes as well as telling them. Relationships were very important to them; they made friends easily and kept many of those friendships for life. One could say they were both cut from the same cloth.
One could also say the “G” gene as I call it, my family’s business and entrepreneurship gene, was passed along to both men.
As I mentioned in my previous article, my father, Bill, grew up in my family’s music business and ran the Chicago office of the Gretsch Company in the 1930s. After his father (Fred Sr.) retired in 1942, and my dad’s older brother, Fred Jr., stepped down as company president to join the Navy, my father became president of the company during the scaled-back World War II years until he passed away from illness in 1948 at the age of 41.
Ted had a much longer career; working for various Gretsch family business interests until he was well into his eighties. His Gretsch career started in 1933 after he graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in mechanical engineering. He spent several years in my family’s music business before being asked by my grandfather to manage the Gretsch family’s growing real estate business.
The Gretsch Real Estate Business Booms.
My grandfather, Fred Gretsch Sr., was a savvy, successful businessman who believed one of the keys to building wealth and financial stability was through owning real estate. In 1905, the Fred Gretsch Real Estate business was incorporated, and over time, my family owned a great deal of office buildings in the industrial area of Williamsburg. We owned and leased many buildings, including the two former Gretsch factory buildings at 104 S. Fourth Street and 109 S. Fifth Street, which still stand today. And, when the 10-story Gretsch Building at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn opened in 1916, over 170,000 square feet of factory and office space was leased, primarily to Robert Hall Clothing.
Ted Clauss was very successful in managing and growing the Gretsch family’s real estate business. In fact, I’ve been told that at one time, the Gretsch family actually owned more property than the other Brooklyn real estate family: The Trumps. Ted was also a sharp businessman. He closed 99% of the leasing deals he presented, and used his engineering skills to make the real estate business more profitable by selling and distributing excess steam (for heating), electricity, and water from our big factory buildings to nearby businesses.
The Gretsch real estate business peaked in the 1950s and started winding down by the 1970s. The Williamsburg industrial boom was over, businesses and factories were closing or leaving the neighborhood, and over time, all the family property was sold except for the 10-story Gretsch Building at 60 Broadway.
Ted loved his work –and working for his family – and spent more than 50 years involved in a number of Gretsch family businesses; music, real estate, and even Gretsch & Brenner, a music wholesale business started by grandfather’s brother, Walter. Ted had no interest in retiring and his wife, Kay, wasn’t keen on having him home either. When Ted turned 80 and asked Kay if he should consider retiring, her response was, “I married you for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, but not home for lunch!” Ted had an office on the second floor of the Gretsch Building for many years and managed the building until he passed away in 1997 at the age of 87.
Jed Clauss: Like Father, Like Son (in many respects).
The “G” gene – plus the love of real estate – were passed down to the fourth generation to Ted’s son (and my first cousin), John “Jed” Clauss. Like me, he grew up in the family business. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Jed worked alongside his father in running and managing the Gretsch real estate business.
Jed had the distinction of being the youngest (as well as the oldest) real estate broker in the history of New York. When he was 18, Jed received a broker application in the mail and decided to take the three-day test. A few months later, he received a “good news/bad news” letter in the mail. Jed had passed the difficult test, but the state apologized for sending him an application when he was only 18; he would have to wait three years until he was 21 before receiving his broker license. Sixty years later, Jed still had a license on his wall and was the oldest real estate broker practicing in the state of New York at that time.
Although he worked with his father in the real estate business for many years, Jed eventually left and became a senior vice president at Cross and Brown, one of the world’s largest real estate companies. And, on the side, he taught Economics at New York University for more than 20 years.
Jed’s entrepreneurial spirit can be found in the successful book publishing business he had been a part of for 53 years. Ironically, his publishing business leased space (from his father) at one of the former Gretsch factory buildings on Fifth Street. What started out as a hobby and side business for Jed more than 50 years ago, Amereon Press turned into a full-time job. You’ll find over 6,000 book titles by Amereon Press on Amazon.
My cousin Jed inherited his father’s business smarts, strong work ethic, and love for real estate. He also followed a family tradition of enjoying a career and working beyond retirement age. It’s funny how genetics can be predictable at times and unpredictable at others.
We miss you, Jed. Rest In Peace!
–Fred W. Gretsch
(4th Generation Gretsch Company President)