St. Monica's Church of Jamaica

by James Driscoll, Research Director of the Queens Historical Society

Looking at the abandoned St. Monica's Church today, it's hard to imagine that it was once the center of an enormous Catholic community in and around Jamaica. Standing at the south edge of a field that lies next to the LIRR tracks, the church faces 160th Street and is directly across the street from the main building of York College.

St. Monica's Church 1936

St. Monica's, according to a 1901 atlas, was once surrounded by a whole complex of parish buildings: a rectory next door, a parish hall behind the church facing 159th Street, and a convent and school building across the street from the parish hall on a plot next to the historic Prospect Cemetery. All these buildings are long gone. Prospect Cemetery, nearly two centuries older than St. Monica's still survives; but it too has been badly neglected and is mostly covered by weeds.

St. Monica's own parish cemetery can be found about a block south on 160th Street on the other side of Liberty Avenue. Considering the condition of the church, it is surprising to find it well kept. It was on this site that the original St. Monica's was built in 1840 to serve Jamaica's growing Irish population.

Before long the tiny wooden church could no longer handle the growing number of Catholics, according to a church history published at the time of the church's centennial in 1838. The crowds at Sunday mass were so great that there was only enough room in the church for the women and children. In 1854, Bishop Loughlin of the newly created Brooklyn Diocese appointed Fr. Anthony Farley as pastor of St. Monica's. Farley, a noted church builder, almost immediately started preparing for the construction of a new church. According to all the early accounts, a French Catholic woman living in Manhattan donated four plots of land on Washington Street (the old name for 160th Street) that were nearer to Jamaica Avenue than the old church. An 1842 village map says that the land was owned by a J. Dupres. Father Farley purchased an adjacent fifth plot.

The pastor hired local master mason Anders Peterson to construct the church. The style of the church Peterson built is, according to the Landmarks Commission Report, Early Romanesque Revival. Its outstanding feature, the central tower, is, according to the report, "a campanile reminiscent of the Romanesque architecture of Northern Italy." A marble plaque above the tower's second story window reads "St. Monica, 1856." The brick walls of the church were made extra thick so its interior could be a great open hall without the need for supporting columns. Old photos reveal that the church's interior was as elegant as its exterior.

In the 1940s Mario Cuomo served as an altar boy at the church. At the time the Diocese ordered the church closed in 1973, the congregation was mostly African-American. The church and surrounding blocks were taken over by the city for York College.

The city failed to seal the church when it took control of the property and the church became prey to vandals. The dormer windows on the roof were somehow stolen. The church was bricked in 1978 after the State took control of the college; but then they failed to allocate the $500,000 needed to convert the building to some other use. Now it would probably take over $4 million to restore the church.

St. Monica's Church: 1996

Recently, because the building does present a danger to the public, some work has been done to the building. A protective scaffolding has been erected across the lower part of the building to prevent accidents from falling debris. The field has undergone a cleanup and the bricks that have fallen from the upper portion of the walls have been neatly stacked. There is a tarpaulin laying by the sides of the building just waiting, it would seem, to be thrown over the roof. There are enormous holes in the roof and it is badly in need of protection. The interior of the church must be in terrible shape by now.

I recently visited York College to find out about the college's plans for St. Monica's. After many attempts, I eventually got through to Naomi Stevens, the Director of Campus Planning. Ms. Stevens said that the college is seeking emergency funds from CUNY in order to stabilize the building.

When I asked Ms. Stevens about the College's long-range plans for the building, she said that only the stabilization of the building was part of the campus' master plan. Some plans about the use of the building had been discussed but no decisions had been made about its future.

It's essential that the building be stabilized. Hopefully York College will be granted funds to complete this task. However, even if this is accomplished many people won't be happy until this elegant building is completely restored and put to good use by York College.

Preservation Alerts !


Leonora Lavan, President of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society, has expressed concern that the former St. Anthony's Hospital, now Catholic Medical Center, remain a community landmark. The property is soon to be sold.

The hospital's chapel contains beautiful mosaics and stained glass windows.

The 1914 structure sits in the middle of a garden now used as playing fields by the Queens Soccer League and Little League.

Far Rockaway

Richard George, director of the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association insists that a historic district designated from the city's Landmark Preservation Commission would benefit the community, particularly the stretch from Beach 24th to 27th Streets.

Some 150 cottages are the last vestige of the blue-collar bungalow resort on the peninsula, It was a popular summer vacation retreat from 1920 to about 1960.

"There is a re-emergence of the Rockaways. The bungalow areas can be revitalized and turned into an asset" says one resident, but another responded, "An historic district would be good, ... but its not an asset, it's a liability," and another states, "[Their efforts] are commendable, but not realistic."

However, George responds, "I'm fed up with people being down on us. They should help us. We're pioneers."


Catholic Charities is about to sell 30 acres of waterfront property. Over 100 homes are to be built on the parcel.

Many "deteriorated buildings" will be torn down for the development. Efforts by community leaders to preserve the circa 1853 Leggett House fizzled after the development plans won local favor.

The estate, a former swim club owned by the Catholic Church, appears overgrown and abandoned. Caretakers on the property informed us several nineteenth century structures are to be removed within the next two years.

"We are very pleased with the whole scenario," said a local civic leader.


Several decades ago, the Elk's Lodge on Queens Boulevard was one of the premier social and political clubs in the borough.

Today, half its guest rooms are vacant, It has a swimming pool, a banquet hall, a gym, a 700

seat theater and a tax bill that has climbed from $35,000 to $86,000 in five years. In thirty years, membership dropped from 6,600 to 900.

Built in 1923 for $750,000, the building is for sale.


Community Board 1 District Manager George Delis suggested ways the city can address its shrinking budget in a recent Queens weekly article: enable owners of two family homes to convert them to three family homes!

"In this area we have a lot of problems with illegal conversion where they fix a basement apartment and rent it out ... the restrictions for [converting] a two- to a three-family home are tremendous. If those restrictions could be lessened, you could put these walk-in apartments on the tax rolls and increase the tax base that the city is looking for."

Forest Hills Gardens

The Aquacade couldn't be saved because noise from concerts would disturb neighbors. Forest Hills Gardens doesn't mind!

Event promoter David Segal and real estate executive Paul Moss, formed a company in

1995 to promote concerts — at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Drawing crowds or parking problems are not an issue. Said Segal: "Many New Yorkers have fond memories of attending this historical arena." Diana Ross gave the first concert.


In the spring of 1995, two fires nearly destroyed the 1923 Mansion "Wildflower", home of Broadway impresario Arthur Hammerstein (who was uncle to lyricist Oscar.) It became a NYC Landmark in 1983.

After a coalition of "city agencies, elected officials and local residents organizations" expressed concern in protecting the mansion

from further damage, a Queens County Supreme Court judge issued a court order giving the city permission to seal the house and bill the owner for the expense.

In June of 1995, the owners agreed to seal the doors and windows and to repair the fire damaged roof. A year later, it continues to deteriorate.

Middle Village

"This is what they call progress," said an outraged Middle Village resident as another symbol of the borough's rural past was torn town in February. Two houses, which stood at 78th Street and Furmanville Road, were featured in the fall "Telegraph."

"[Developer Henry Fabian] won't be happy until he rapes the neighborhood," exclaimed

another resident. In the 1980s Fabian had raised the 1719 Morrell House.

Said another resident, "we tried to save it, but we didn't get a response from city officials." [Emphasis added] "For the price he's paying to demolish the buildings, he could have paid someone to fix them up and sold them for a good price."

The Fate of Fort Totten: Parkland or !

Gleamed from the Queens weekly newspapers.
No local preservation topic has received more coverage in the local press.

Last summer, Community Board 11 voted overwhelmingly for Fort Totten to become parkland.

In January, Mayor Giuliani and Queens President Claire Shulman and other appointed representatives created a "Fort Totten Local Redevelopment Authority (FTLRA)," to decide the fate of the Fort. Borough President Schulman stated that "we need to ensure that future use recognizes the historical, cultural, and recreational significance of the base …. I want the community to be deeply involved throughout the process."

In February, David Nocenti, Counsel to Borough President Shulman, defended private meetings by the redevelopment authority. The public would be invited only "after we receive proposals for reuse of the surplus property." Although federal law requires a public meeting, the FTLRA may have fallen between state and federal law. A media spokesperson from Borough Hall claimed, "It's our feeling that open meeting law does not apply."

The local community leaders began to express concerns on this issue. Said one, "we have over 3,000 signatures ... our hope is that Fort Totten be used as a park." The issue of appointees and campaign contributions was raised. Congressman Ackerman called the FTLRA a "distinguished blue-ribbon panel of the citizens of north Queens."

On April 16th, the FTLRA held a closed-door meeting at Borough Hall. The public and press were not permitted to attend the meeting.

The following week Queens Tribune's editorial page thundered: "a growing atmosphere of unease about the fort's fate has been felt by civic leaders and residents .... it is now time to open those doors and put to rest the community's fears ... the terrible public relations disaster ... when a dozen police blocked the hallways at Borough Hall preventing a group of citizens ... and members of the press should never be repeated!"

In May, a ten member discussion group (including four members of the FTLRA) met at Fort Totten — the first opportunity the for the public to question committee representatives. Lack of representation of local residents and merchants on the FTLRA was raised. Michael Rogovin, deputy council of Borough President Schulman said that this was a balanced committee who have the community's best interests at heart. City officials claimed that without private development, the site would deteriorate. "The money has to come from somewhere ... to expect the Parks Department ... to keep this place beautiful is completely unrealistic."

A local resident stated "this is part of a greater problem. They think we are upper middle-class. [We] receive the least amount of funding. It's not right." Some in the audience expressed dismay when they discovered that local zoning laws allow construction.

To expand citizen participation Congressman Ackerman (who appointed some of the FTLRA) will also appoint a Fort Totten Advisory Committee (FTAC).

All Queens is watching the battle develop. We will follow this story.

Flushing's R.K.O. Keith's Theater

The owner of the former R.K.O Keith's Theater in Flushing illegally demolished parts of the landmarked building's interior. He refused to deposit funds in an escrow account. Work stopped. During the past decade, the building deteriorated. It is constantly in tax arrears.

Valerie Campbell, Counsel, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission: In an effort to encourage an appropriate and prompt restoration of the lobby and to settle a lawsuit that could lead to protracted court proceedings, a tentative ... agreement has been drafted.

New York Newsday: The Landmarks Commission [said] that they will not require the developer to guarantee the rehabilitation of the facade or that the restored lobby would be open to the public.

Thomas Huang: Every time I make a new plan, they find a way to block the permit ... and then they complain that I am a bad man.

Jane Lii, Newspaper Reporter: Residents and politicians have contended that Mr. Huang illegally subdivided the building, damaged the theater's lobby ... and sold some of its contents. Mr. Huang attributed the woes to vandalism [saying] the charges are being leveled by over zealous neighbors.

Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing): Over the years this marvelous theater has fallen victim to greed, vandalism, arson, and tax avoidance. ... The new agreement is woefully inadequate. ... [He is] an unscrupulous developer with a history of illegal actions and tax problems

Jennifer Raab, Chair, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission: It is my recommendation that until all these concerns are addressed that there be no further discussions of the terms.

David Oats, Editor-in-Chief, Queens Tribune: We urge the borough president and the mayor to indicate in no uncertain terms, that the Landmarks Commission must live up to its role and put real teeth into their agreement with Mr. Huang.

Helen Dunn, Vice President of the United Civic Council of Queens: We called Borough Hall, but we have been ignored. I'm one of many who believe that Shulman has not been a friend to us.

Jerry Rotandi, Committee to Save the Flushing Keith's Theater: It's not just the future of the Keith's that's on trial, it's the Landmark Law itself. ... If our favorite landmark is fated to fall then all who stood by and just paid lip service to the cause will be its undertakers — and the Landmarks Law will be buried with it — because the law could do nothing to protect it.

Evan Stavisky, Legislative Aide: The only long term solution for the preservation of the theater is for it to have a new owner.

Bob Hope, Actor: [Keith's] is one of the most beautiful places I ever performed in.

Preservation Forum

The Landmarks Preservation Commission recently gave Queens Borough President Shulman a Preservation Award. Does her Preservation record support this distinction?


by Mary B. O'Hara, Boulevard Gardens, Woodside

Landmarking in Queens? Yes, neighbors, at long last there is hope for the cause of preservation in our fair borough of Queens.

We date the birth of the Landmarks movement in New York to the demolition of Pennsylvania Station. As people realized what had been lost, an awareness of the need to safeguard the city's historical, architectural and cultural resources grew. In 1965, a newly empowered Landmarks Preservation Commission was created.

Since then approximately 1200 properties have been designated. Of that number, the lion's share has gone to Manhattan. And the fewest — you guessed it! — are in Queens. Why?

One factor is, of course, the Manhattan bias which characterized the level of municipal services delivered to the "outer boroughs" and has fueled secession movement in Staten Island and in Queens.

Some cite a wariness among Queens officials of what might be construed as City Hall interference in this borough's affairs. (i.e. "We don't want Manhattan telling us what to do!")

Others are more specific: Donald Manes. As Borough President in the '70s and '80s, He effectively blocked preservation efforts in Queens. The result was a steady loss of important landmarks including — in our own backyard, the Loew's Theater at 28th Avenue and Steinway Street. Described as a movie palace by architectural historians, the site's Landmarks Commission designation was overturned by a Manes vote on the now defunct Board of Estimate

In the end, the Landmarks Preservation Commission directed its attention away from Queens.

That's a brief history, but what of the future?

An unfortunate echo from the past was heard in Queens Councilman Archie Spigner's rejection of the Jamaica Savings Bank as "elitist" interference in "other's neighbor-hoods," …. Still there is reason to hope!

There is hope at Queens Borough Hall. Borough President Claire Shulman has demonstrated active and positive support for preservation.

There is hope in the growing interest in designating landmarks among communities throughout the borough from Boulevard Gardens to Jackson Heights to Forest Hills to Kew Gardens to Douglaston.

Spearheaded by the Queensborough Pre-servation League, borough-wide organizations such as the Queens Historical Society, and neighborhood groups such as the Astoria Historical Society, there is hope in an emerging appreciation among Queens residents for the borough's distinctive architectural character.

Let us hope that residents and officials will unite to declare Queens a "landmark-worthy" borough and together work with the Borough President for recognition and protection of its architectural, cultural and historic heritage.


by Jerry Rotandi, Committee to Save RKO Keith's Flushing Theatre, Inc.

When a borough like Manhattan loses a potential landmark, it loses from its wealth. When Queens loses, it loses from its poverty. Manhattan has a plethora of worthy sites; we have far fewer.

Queens has a huge land mass: it is the size of Philadelphia It has a population of two million, (more than Philadelphia and Pittsburgh combined!) Yet we have 42 Landmarks! We are dead last among the five boroughs. If we doubled our Landmarks tomorrow, we would still be behind Staten Island in number, or the Bronx on residents per landmark.

Even those Landmark designations that the we enjoy are seriously jeopardized: RKO Keith's Flushing Theatre, St. Monica's Church (Jamaica), Hammerstein House (Beechhurst), and the Terra Cotta Building (Astoria.) These Landmark structures, rather than being a source of community pride, are tumble-down wrecks that are a mockery of our city's Landmark Law.

These examples reinforce the sense that neighborhood preservation is a low priority item at Borough Hall. This encourages public apathy. Preservationists in Queens, the "Builder's Borough", are still fighting hostility to Landmarking — a full generation after it was embraced in Manhattan!

Despite all the "hoop-la" that we're "catching up," and the soothing talk that we're doing "O.K.", historic preservation in Queens is in a sorry state. Take a look at the chart below. These numbers speak volumes.

As we can see in the other four boroughs, in cities throughout our nation, or in communities around the world, desirable location and expensive real estate are adjacent to well preserved landmarks or are located in historic districts.

So people of Queens, wake up! We have too much pride to be treated like a fifth rate borough. Let's work together for a better decade to come!

Landmarks by Borough

Source: New York City Landmarks Commission





Per Landmark




Staten Island






The Bronx






Who Will Save Queens Beauties?

by Stanley Cogan, Vice-President of the Queensborough Preservation League

Take a ride to Richmond Hill and revel in those magnificent Victorian houses. Turn a corner and be confronted by two adjoining streets with high wooden barricades. Behind those barricades are three shells that once were a trio of c. 1930s houses, each one once beautiful, and now forlorn hulks that just stand there, year after year, rotting away because a developer's plans fell through.

Drive north to College Point along the East River. Whatever happened to those lovely old homes that once graced the waterfront? Those condos and high-rises took their place, making the builders richer, and College Point poorer.

The next time you go to Manhattan via the Triborough Bridge, take a look (how could you miss it?) at that monolith on your left. It might look like just another high-rise from the bridge, but if you ever walk down that Astoria street that it now blocks, you will find that the old distinctive homes that grace the street are now doomed to live in that high-rise's shadow.

The examples are endless, and more are continually being added.

The beautiful old homes that once ringed downtown Flushing are now dim and distant memories and you'd better get out your cameras and take pictures fast, because what's left will be gone soon, too.

In so many parts of the borough from Woodside to Woodhaven, from Maspeth to Murray Hill, too many beauties are going, going, gone ...

And ... who will save those Queens Beauties?

The old Jamaica Bank Building, a Beaux-Arts beauty, was denied landmark status. The Aquacade is gone with the tide ~ ~ ~

And does landmarking really save those special beauties? Not always.

Endless complaints and campaigns have done nothing to save the Terra Cotta Building in Long Island City. St. Monica's Church in South Jamaica is close to becoming a parody of the beautiful church it once was. The RKO Keith's in Flushing stands denuded of its marquee, with much of its interior in shambles. Two more recent fires at the Hammerstein House in Whitestone have reduced that beauty to a burned-out case.

Queens continues to be Landmark's stepchild and a developer's paradise ... We are being devoured in little nibbles and big bites. And ... who will save them?

But perhaps the picture is not as bleak as these examples would indicate.

We have two Historic Districts and more than thirty Landmarks (one of the them a Tree!) We also have areas of outstanding beauty, and others that are pleasing to look at.

But nothing is really safe. One potential historic district sees one structure after another succumb to demolition, destruction, and development. Another old community realizes too late (almost overnight) that two of its oldest structures are now holes in the ground.

And ... who will save those Queens Beauties? Beauty and heritage are at least as necessary to the quality of life as quiet streets and clean parks. You, the individual and the public, are the first line of defense of Queens Beauties!

... and who will save those Queens Beauties? You will!

1996 Historic Preservation Awards

by the Queens History Advisory Committee, Queens Borough Hall

The Recipients of the annual Queens Historic Preservation Awards were announced by Aida Gonzalez-Jarrin, Director of Cultural Affairs. Awardees are chosen on the basis of dedicated, innovative preservation accomplishments which help document or save Queens' past for the future. Recipients were honored by Borough President Claire Shulman at a presentation and reception on June 13th, 1996, at Flushing Town Hall. The guest speaker was Brendan Sexton, President of the Municipal Art Society.

Two members of the Queensborough Preservation League Board of Directors were honored for their work in preservation:

Dorothy Morehead President, Sunnyside Foundation for Community Planning and Preservation.

Dorothy is proud to be a "Citizen Pruner," licensed by the City of New York Department of Parks to care for street trees — something in which she encourages the public to become involved! Dorothy also participated in the New York City tree census.

She is dedicated to neighborhood preservation. Dorothy is President of the Sunnyside Foundation for Community Planning and Preservation, a board member of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, a member of Community Board 2 (Environmental Committee), and a member of Astoria Residents Reclaiming our World (a recycling initiative, now operating a community garden and park on 35th Street in Long Island City).

She is on the board of the Rosewood Chamber Ensemble.

Jeffrey A. Saunders Co-Chair, Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Architecture Department.

Jeffrey led final efforts to have Jackson Heights designated as a New York City landmark. He regularly testifies before, and works with the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). He unified the residents, business and property owners, borough and city-wide organizations behind strong, detailed, fair, tough renovation rules for storefronts in Jackson Heights.

Working with the Queens Borough President's office, he is developing signs, booklet and a map for a Jackson Heights Garden City & Architecture Trail. He is currently working on a 300+ page nomination book to have Jackson Heights listed on the NY State and Federal Registers of Historic Places. He is a director of the Historic Districts Council, Queens Historical Society, Queensborough Preservation League, Jackson Heights Beautification Group, and Queens Borough President's History Advisory Committee. Jeffrey also attempts to protect trees from city, state, and utility employees and contractors.

Other Recipients are:

William Asadorian - Queens Borough Public Library, Long Island Division

Michael Cogswell - Louis Armstrong House & Archives

Jeffrey Gottlieb - President, Central Queens Historical Society

Edward S. Kirkland - Vice-President, Historic Districts Council

Joel Miele - Commissioner, Dept. of Buildings

Mary Anne Mrozinski - Executive Director, King Manor Museum

Douglaston: This is New York City?

by Kevin Wolfe, President of the Douglaston & Little Neck Historical Society

The question is inevitable whenever a visitor to Douglas Manor, an enclave of 550 single-family homes in the northeast comer of Queens, arrives for the first time. Its situation, on a mile-long peninsula that juts into Little Neck Bay at the western end of Long Island Sound, gives it a unique sense of place. Since 1989, the Douglaston & Little Neck Historical Society has been seeking historic-district designation to maintain and preserve the qualities that make this neighborhood special.

Built in 1819, the Douglas Family Mansion is now home to the Douglaston & Little Neck Historical Society.

In an era before zoning — New York City had no zoning until 1916—deed restrictions in the Manor limited development to single-family houses, and regulated setbacks, density, and lot size. The houses are built on relatively small lots close to the street, giving an urban feeling to what is essentially a suburban setting. This helps create the village-like quality that generations of residents have prized The idea of a shared visual environment was a strong one, — reinforced by the idea of small parks and playing fields as well as communal property along the entire shore that the residents maintain in common.

Larger houses were built along Shore Road, facing the Bay. Modest cottages were built on the blocks facing Udalls Cover, a 100-acre tidal marsh. This ensured a mixture of the middle class. Today, that mix persists — artists, lawyers, teachers, business executives, police officers, and doctors live side by side.

In the 1910's and 1920's, the Manor harbored an artists colony and a movies colony. Ginger Rogers, Hedda Hopper, and others were attracted to the proximity to Manhattan and the Astoria movie studios (a 15-minute drive)

The bulk of the houses in the Manor were built between 1906 when the 175-acre William Proctor Douglas estate was subdivided and 1940. They include an eclectic array of Tudors, Colonials, and Mediterranean Revival style houses. Many were designed by architects of the time, including McKim, Mead & White, Diego deSuarez (who designed the gardens at Vizcaya), Frank Forster, Gustav Stickley, and Josephine Wright Chapman. Chapman was one of only a dozen women practicing architecture in the United States in the early 20th century. She designed eight houses in the Manor, several for women patrons.

Sadly, the physical qualities and the social mix that make Douglas Manor such a wonderful place to live are under attack. Increasingly in the past decade, developers, speculators, and insensitive renovations have left their mark. Historic houses are being demolished, to be replaced by brick monstrosities. Others are being reskinned and remodeled, eroding the very qualities that give Douglas Manor its strongly identifiable sense of place. Without landmark designation, the Manor will perish. [Emphasis added]

Jamaica: Two Queens Landmarks

The New York City Landmarks Commission Designates Two Queens Landmarks

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated two new landmarks in Queens: the former La Casina nightclub and the former First Reformed Church, both in Jamaica.

la Casina
La Casina (c. 1933)

La Casina, at 90-33 160th Street, is a rare surviving streamlined Moderne style nightclub, perhaps the only one of its kind left in New York City. Built in the heart of downtown Jamaica c. 1933, just as the end of Prohibition led to a flourishing of nightclubs, La Casina was a modest but up-to-the-minute version of the exclusive Manhattan clubs romanticized in period movies complete with streamlined design, smooth stucco walls, angular geometric shapes, and sweeping metal bands. Although altered over the years, the La Casina Building has been beautifully restored, and today houses the Jamaica Business Resource Center.

The First Reformed Church of Jamaica, at 153-10 Jamaica Avenue, built in 1858 for one of the city's oldest religious congregations, is one of the finest Early Romanesque Revival structures in New York. Designed and constructed by master carpenter Sidney J. Young, with the assistance of master mason Anders Peterson, the building with its asymmetrical towers, round-arched openings, and corbel tables shows a sophisticated use of brickwork and reflects the growing popularity and influence of the architectural style known as "Rundbogenstil." The First Reformed Church met here until the 1970s when the building was taken over by the City of New York as part of an urban renewal plan. Current plans call for its conversion into a performing arts center.

Reformed Church
First Reformed Church of Jamaica (1858)

Both new designations have been confirmed by the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

Congratulations and the thanks of all of Queens to Carlyle Trowery and Peter Engelbrecht, and to everyone at the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation for pushing these landmarks forward through each step of the process. Their efforts deserve support from all of us.

Control, Stability, Renewal

Part 2

by Jeffrey Saunders, Architecture Department, Jackson Heights Beautification Group

Part 1 of this article discussed the negative changes being forced on a community by many forces.

If the neighborhood is eligible‚ landmarking by the NYC Landmark Preservation Commission changes this downward‚ lowest common denominator dynamic.

Under LPC landmark designation‚ where these changes have already happened‚ much of it will gradually be upgraded during the ensuing decade and new instances stopped. Wrought-iron style lampposts can be restored. Softness can be renewed where coarseness has crept in. The attitudes of residents and visitors changes. Upgrade replaces degrade as an expectation. Appropriateness replaces cheap-ness as a right.

What do we give up in exchange? The right to make out-of-character alterations to the exterior facades of our co-ops‚ homes and stores without prior consideration of the effect upon our neighbors. All around us‚ other people's brainstorms don't have to become

our real-estate‚ lifestyle‚ and (in the case of shopkeepers) income devaluing problems or nagging visual disappointments. People must begin to pay attention to the impact of exterior changes on their neighbors by filing an LPC application for change.

By mutually accepting this fair deal‚ we can largely put an end to others repeatedly forcing their random negative changes "down our throats" with no recourse. For these and other reasons‚ where a community is eligible‚ LPC Landmark designation is one of the most constructive things which can happen to a neighborhood in New York City.

Designation of an eligible community as an historic landmark district, returns control back to it's residents over their future. Finally‚ neighborhoods‚ blocks‚ we can regain control of our heritage‚ achieve stability of value‚ and again experience renewal and upgrade as a way of life.

What Landmark Designation Means

My building has been designated a New York City Landmark. What does this mean?

When it designated your building a landmark, the Landmarks Preservation Commission officially recognized that your building has special historical, cultural, or aesthetic value and that your building is an important part of our city's historical and architectural heritage. To help protect the city's landmarks from inappropriate changes or destruction, the Commission must approve in advance any alteration, reconstruction, demolition, or new construction affecting the designated buildings.

Source: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 100 Old Slip, NY, NY 10005 (212) 487-6745

Aquacade: Reducto ad Absurdum

by Eric Wm. Allison, President of the Historic Districts Council

There is a fight going on in Queens over the future of the Aquacade. Don't be surprised if you haven't heard. Like so many battles over pieces of our built history, threats come and buildings go and only those who live nearby or who have a special interest ever hear about it. Sometimes even groups like the Historic Districts Council that are actively on the lookout for threatened buildings find out only after it's over.

The Aquacade story is an instructive one, however. It's worth repeating, to remind us that though we have a Landmarks Law and have won many battles over the last 30+ years, even the arrival of the millennium in four or five years (depending on your preference), doesn't mean preservation has entered the promised land.

The Aquacade (officially the New York State Amphitheater) is one of the last remnants of the 1939-40 New York World's Fair, where water shows organized by impresario Billy Rose featured swimming stars such as Eleanor Holm, Gertrude Ederle, and Johnny Weissmuller.

This column is not about bashing the administration. What it is about is a reminder of the fact that the battle is not won, that complacency is our enemy.

Henry Stern, our now-and-again Parks Commissioner, has decided to tear it down. The Queens Borough President, Claire Shulman, supports Mr. Stern. Ostensibly, the reason is asbestos contamination that makes maintenance and re-use impractical.

Perhaps this is true. Perhaps it is too expensive for the city to preserve it. But shouldn't something as important to our history as a piece of the 1939 World's Fair get a hearing before it goes? The Landmarks Preservation Commission would seem the obvious place to begin, but the administration needs Claire Shulman's support, so nothing is being done.

The Greater Astoria Historical Society, a community group, wrote to the Borough President asking that the Aquacade be saved. Ms. Shulman wrote back, saying that sometimes even historic buildings must be demolished, an argument that is sad but true. She worried about rock concerts staged in a restored Aquacade disturbing the neighborhood. Then she went on to say that, after demolition, it would be possible to find "an appropriate use for the slab."

An appropriate use for the slab? Would it cost so much to seal the Aquacade and preserve it for some future use? If re-used as a concert stadium, could not safeguards against disturbing the neighbors be incorporated into the lease? Isn't almost anything better than just re-using the "slab?"

"Reduced to absurdity" — that's what "reducto ad absurdum" means. So long a public officials feel that "appropriate use for the slab" is a legitimate argument of tearing down a historic structure, the preservation fight hasn't been won.

The Historic Districts Council is the voice for New York City's designated historic districts and for the neighborhoods meriting preservation. The Council is dedicated to protection the integrity of the New York City Landmarks Law. Contributions are tax-deductible. For more information, write to: H.D.C., 45 West 67th Street, New York, NY 10023 or call (212) 799-5837.

Return to The Telegraph, 1996 Table of Contents

Go to The Telegraph, 1996 Part 1

Go to Preserve & Protect

last rev. 7/6/97
by David Goldfarb