In Bay Ridge, Fedders doesn’t mean cool


When investors from across the country descend on tiny Liberty Corner,
N.J., next month for the Fedders Corporation’s annual stockholders
meeting, much will be said about weather and its effect on the air conditioning
manufacturer’s bottom line.

The exceptionally long winter and last year’s mild summer each played
a hand in what the company’s chief financial officer bluntly described
this week as three quarters of declining profits.

But what did not play a role, Fedders CFO Robert Laurent told the Brooklyn
Papers, is its tenuous and somewhat coincidental association to a style
of drably built condominiums and row-house apartment buildings that many
people in Brooklyn say are marring the landscape.

Perhaps most vocal among the complainants decrying the development of
“Fedders houses,” as they have come to be known, are residents
of Bay Ridge, whose neighborhood awaits city approval of a rezoning measure
that would bar such housing developments.

So ugly and bland are those buildings, say some, that their most striking
architectural trait may well be the air conditioner sleeve itself.

“It’s not even on our radar,” Laurent told The Papers,
adding that, unlike Fiscal Year 2004, the preceding year was one of record
sales totaling $421.7 million. “But I would hope the houses are as
well built and as high quality as the air conditioners they’re named

The colloquialism, while originating by most accounts in Bay Ridge several
years ago, has spread to all corners of the city in recent months, thanks
to preservation efforts like the 249-block down-zoning proposal for the
southwest Brooklyn neighborhood that, if passed later this month, could
reduce by half the potential number of row house-style condos built there.

Eager to fit in, the term has been uttered by no less an authority than
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said it at an Oct. 30 speaking engagement
in Dyker Heights.

Chris Coffey, a mayoral spokesman, said Bloomberg first learned of the
term while exploring a run for public office in 2000. That year, the down-zoning
proposal in Bay Ridge was still in its earliest stages and being studied
by Community Board 10. Since then, however, Bloomberg has used the term
“Fedders houses” on numerous occasions and, said Coffey, uses
it when referring to zoning measures in other neighborhoods and boroughs.

“New York City has great dialogue and the mayor has to speak all
of its dialects,” said Coffey, who also cited “McMansion,”
a term used heavily on Staten Island to describe the large-scale, cookie-cutter
houses that dot the borough. “But it’s increased, and the more
he goes out, the more he hears the term,” Coffey said of the Fedders

By all accounts, the term was coined by Bay Ridge resident Victoria Hofmo,
a longtime community activist and a member of Councilman Vincent Gentile’s
neighborhood preservation committee. A fixture at local zoning and land
use meetings, Hofmo believes the term first came to her in 1998, while
she was fighting to landmark a block of homes on 95th Street between Marine
Avenue and Shore Road. While she was successful in gaining city landmarks
designation for one of the buildings, a 158-year-old Greek revival home,
two thirds of the block was eventually converted into condominiums and
installed with those ubiquitous through-the-wall Fedders air conditioner

Years later, Hofmo said, the phrase was used by then-Community Board 10
Chairman Stephen Harrison, in the early stages of the Bay Ridge rezoning
initiative. When she asked where he had heard the term, Harrison told
Hofmo that he had borrowed it from her and before long he was giving her
credit publicly.

“I started using it a lot then and after awhile I noticed a lot of
people were saying it,” said Hofmo. “In Bay Ridge, people just
know what it means.”

Not so in Liberty Corner, where the Fedders Corporation first began selling
manual fans 109 years ago. Since branching out to include air conditioners,
the company has expanded across the nation and now boasts manufacturing
facilities in Illinois, North Carolina, New Mexico, New Jersey and Texas.

In 2002, Fedders established a factory in India, four new factories in
China and another in the Philippines.

Frigidair is the company’s closest competitor, said Laurent.

But while Fedders continues to grow, the air conditioners have remained
largely unchanged, he said. Laurent said that while the window units have
become smaller and smaller, and their style “more appealing,”
the wall-mounted units, such as those seen on the Bay Ridge condominiums,
have stayed the same size. And whether referring to the “Eubank H,”
the “Sun V12” or the “Eubank W12,” each model has
the company’s name imprinted along the outside.

“I guess it’s a well known name,” said Laurent. “And
we’re proud of the fact that everyone knows it, but I hope in this
case people aren’t using it in a derogative way.”