Fort Lee, the gateway to New York City, is located at the top of the Palisades on the eastern border of Bergen County, at the entrance to the George Washington Bridge. Because of its proximity to the Bridge and it accessibility to New York, it became one of the first major high density condominium and cooperative towns on this side of the Hudson River. Located at the western terminus of the George Washington Bridge opposite Washington Heights in New York City, it is just northwest of the waterfront community of Edgewater
The town was named after General Charles Lee, a general in George Washington’s Army, who was in charge of American troops stationed in Fort Lee at Constitution Hill, what is now Fort Lee Historic Park. The American Army after retreating from New York held the position at Fort Lee and Burdocks Landing, at what is now The Colony in Edgewater. It was here on the road leading to Constitution Hill, what is now Main Street, that Thomas Paine composed his pamphlet “The American Crisis” with its most famous quote; “These are the times that try men’s souls.” These events are now depicted in the museum at The Fort Lee Historic Park, and a statue of Thomas Paine in the park.
Fort Lee remained a sleepy outpost from New York City and it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that the town truly gained its fame. It was the advent of the Motion Picture Industry in the United States that had its beginning roots in Fort Lee and during this period Fort Lee became the Motion Picture Capital of the world, especially in the early years of “Silent Movies.”
Because land was so much less expensive than in New York City, a more ideal location, the boom started across the river. The industry not only started attracting capital for the new industry but also it became a new booming workplace hiring hundreds of skilled workers that supported the industry. In 1907, The Kelman Company started using Fort Lee for its filming locations. Soon, other studios followed and started either renting or purchasing land to build studios to support the new enterprise. Not only did Fort Lee benefit from this new found growth but many of the towns along the Palisades saw phenominal growth during this period. Most of the studios were located at the northern portion of Fort Lee in the Coytesville section. In 1909, The Champion Company opened headquarters in Fort Lee, which became the forerunner to Universal Studios. Soon more studios followed that included such notable studios as Independent Moving Pictures, Peerless Studios, The Solex Company, Goldwyn Pictures, (which became the most famous Metro Goldwyn Meyers), Fox Film Corporation, (now 20th Century Fox,) Biograph Studios, and countless others. The movie industry was on a tear and stars and directors were being born many of whom started here in Fort Lee.
Such notables as John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Ethyl Barrymore, Clara Kimbell Young, Douglass Fairbanks, Lillian Gish, Owen Moore and the most famous of all Mary Pickford all had their start in one of the many growing movie studios in Fort Lee. Fort Lee became their home and it was not until the defection by the Nestor Studios in the early 1930’s that the Movie Capital remained in Fort Lee. The loss of the Nestor Studio, that merged with Universal Studio, and moved to Hollywood, for even cheaper labor costs and its more hospitable climate, led to an eventual decline in all filmmaking operations in the Fort Lee area.
Although the loss of such a prominent industry caused a decline in the Fort Lee economy it was still a vibrant town; and with its easy access to New York City, developers purchased up large tracts of land along The Palisades, as housing needs started exploding after World War 2. With less expensive costs from the city and with easy transportation into the city, large high rise complexes started springing up all along the cliffs of the Palisades. These included over the next 20 years such notable complexes as Horizon House, The Plaza, The Colony, River Ridge and later on Buckingham Towers and The Royal Buckingham. Soon there was no room left for more development but the trend started and continued into the surrounding towns of Edgewater, with its transformation from factory town to high rise residential town and down along what would then become New Jersey’s Gold Coast.
Other Condominium Complexes in Fort Lee:
Photos of Fort Lee