Preservation In-Basket

Elmhurst Gas Tanks

New York's first living landmark, the weeping beech tree of Flushing, may be nearing the end of its life. The Parks Department is taking "Heroic measures to prolong its life ," according to Com-missioner Henry Stern. Its 150th Birthday is planned for May ... Queens has two new books: "Lighting the Way," Dr. Jeffrey Kroessler's celebration of the Centennial of the Queensborough Public Library, and "Jackson Heights: From Ice Age to Space Age" by the Jackson Heights Beautification Group ... the 1911 Forest Hills LIRR station is getting a $5.4 million dollar restoration after a concerted five-year effort by the Friends of Station Square and the Forest Hills Gardens Corp. ... a 1936 park on 49th Avenue in Flushing may contain 1,000 bodies interred between 1840 and 1898. Mandingo Tshaka, a Matinecock Indian, would like to see the predominately black cemetery restored ... The Elmhurst Gas Tanks (1910), were demolished last fall, victims to obsolescence. Newspapers punned "Tanks for the memories" and "Tanks are out of gas" ... Jonah's Whale, late of the Central Park Zoo, will be installed at Beach 94th Street in the Rockaways. When it was moved, the tail snapped off ... Thousands of cars were allowed to park on the fields of Flushing Meadows for last fall's U.S. Tennis Open. When asked if this would be allowed in Central Park, a parks spokesperson said, "its not the same thing. 'Shakespeare in The Park' does not attract thousands of people." ... Astoria's 1901 Stern's warehouse (built originally for the Steinway Piano Company), is slated for conversion to apartments. To qualify for a loan from the city's Housing Development Corporation, 20% of the apartments must be set aside for low-income housing sparking community concerns ... Bayside, Douglaston, Sunnyside Gardens, Astoria and Richmond Hill were recently featured in the New York Times "If You're Thinking of Living In" series. Local community preservationists in these neighborhoods complained they were not consulted ….


Queens Organizations on the Info Highway

Arthur F. Rojas, Queens Village Civic Association

Civics and historical groups around Queens are making the leap onto the Internet.

The 'Preserve & Protect' homepage on the Internet has addresses from organizations across the city. Queens groups include the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Queens Historical Society, the Greater Astoria Historical Society, and now, the Queensborough Preservation League!

Among the civic groups, the Queens Village Civic has been among the first to enter the Internet. Said President Arthur Rojas, "besides being an effective communication channel for the community, the Internet site has electronic mail that enables us to send and receive messages.This is very useful for exchanging newsletters with other organizations, and to post timely information to the public. We are hoping that this will encourage other organizations to create their own sites and then we can all be linked to each other in cyberspace. The Queens Village Civic Association page is hhtp://www.geocities.com/CapitalHill/5485.


St. James Church of Newtown

James Driscoll, Research Director, Queens Historical Society

The ancient unadorned building located at the corner of 51st Avenue and Broadway is the original St. James Episcopal Church of Newtown (now Elmhurst). According to Riker's Annals of Newtown, the frame for the building was raised in 1735. When the first service was held is not clear but the pews were not installed until 1740. The family names of the people who were assigned those first pews reads like a who's who of Queens colonial history: Moores, Sacketts, Alsops, Blackwells, Hazards and Halletts.

At the time of its construction, the church was officially a chapel of the Grace Episcopal Church in Jamaica. Both Newtown and Flushing were part of the Jamaica parish. The Newtown congregation was given the right to have its own parish and hire its own minister in 1761 but for some unknown reason it failed to do so at the time. It wasn't until 1809 that St. James permanently became a separate parish.

With the start of the Revolution, many of the congregation members who were patriots fled Newtown. The Reverend Joshua Bloomer would continue to conduct Anglican services at the church swearing allegiance to the king. He would minister to the remaining congregants: Tories and British army officers stationed in Queens. Some old newspaper articles claim that such well known British leaders as Lord Cornwallis attended services at St. James. However, the 19th century histories of Queens by Riker and Munsel make no mention of this.

The building looked different in the 19th century. Most significantly, there was a large square tower topped by a steeple and spire attached to the rear of the building. Also, although very little information about this appears to exist, there was a small cemetery directly behind the church. A 1908 City History Club walking tour guide for old Newtown mentions a badly maintained graveyard in back of old St. James, which indicates that it still existed at this late date.

By the 1840s the congregation had outgrown the small church and a new building was constructed on the other side of Broadway, a short distance up the road. The new St. James was consecrated in 1848.

The old church, now identified as St. James Chapel on some of the old maps, would serve as a parish house and Sunday School. There were plans to move the old building to a location behind the new church but they were apparently rejected as too expensive.

The appearance of the building began to change inside and out. Some time after 1875 many of religious fixtures such as the pulpit were removed. The tower also disappeared. Some authors say that it became rickety and was taken down in the late 1800s. Others say that it collpsed as a result of a storm. Ernest Brierly, who drew wonderful sketches of old Long Island buildings for the Star Journal, is the most specific. He says the tower collapsed in 1888 after being struck by lightning and fell on a neighboring stable killing one of its horses.

Old St. James (1927)
Old St. James of Newtown (1927)

In the 1930s, the church became embroiled in an unusual dispute with the city. The city maintained that the cemetery behind the church was a town and not a church cemetery. Therefore the city now owned it and the city had the right to construct a playground on the property. The playground would have come very close to the back wall of the church. St. James objected maintaining that the land had always been used as a churchyard.

According to a Long Island Press article from the 1970s, there was some interest in landmarking the building but the church objected, according to a spokesman, because a landmark designation might somehow threaten the building's use as a meeting place for local boy and girl scout troops.

The "new" St. James, a beautiful wooden building designed by noted New York City church architect Minard Lafever, was tragically destroyed by fire in the 1970s and was replaced by a smaller brick building.

In 1989, the church allowed the Vietnam Veterans of America use of the old church. In exchange, the veterans agreed to help restore and rehabilitate the building.

Old St. James (1997)
Old St. James of Newtown (1997)

I recently visited the site to take pictures and went inside when I noticed that the back door was open. I discovered a number of young people painting the walls. I asked one of the workers, a young woman, what she knew about the building. She said that St. James Parish still owns it but they allow a number of church groups to use the site including the one she belonged to: the Indonesian Bethel Church. I asked about the Vietnam Vets and was told that the organization yet holds meetings there. I looked around the small interior and noticed the flags of the different armed forces hanging from poles extending from the back wall of the church. Above the flags could still be seen what appears to be a small choir loft. Some maintain it was where slaves stayed during church services back in the colonial days. This ancient building is the second oldest church in Queens. Flushing's Quaker Meeting House is the oldest.

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to the Chairman of the Committee for the Preservation of Sacred Sites, a national organization for the conservation of religious structures. He says that old St. James is one of the most important religious structures in New York State. He feels that the building is virtually intact and, even with the loss of the tower, has been little altered since the 1700s. He also pointed out that the landmarked Dutch Reform Church, a mid-19th century building, and its parish house stand almost directly acrros the street from St. James.

All these religious buildings together create a fascinating unit that would be lost if old St. James was destroyed. Landmarking old St. James would be one way to prevent this from happening.

Of all the buildings in Queens deserving of landmark status, I think there is none more so than old St. James. The designation of this church building as a New York City Landmark is long overdue.


Paths to the Past

Stanley Cogan, President, Queens Historical Society

The history and heritage of a community, a city, or any geographical entity can easily be defined through its structures, sites, documents, or any of its idealized memories.

Occupying a most honorable place on a heritage list is the cemetery.

Today, the early Colonial family burial grounds are among Queens' most precious heritage resources. Scattered from one end of the borough to the other, varying in size from less than an acre to several acres, varying in condition from neglected to mint, these cemeteries rank with the best of Queens' landmarks.

At least a dozen cemeteries have vanished from the Queens scene, abandoned, sold at auction, paved and built over, or just "gave up the ghost" through sheer neglect, dying out of the family, or similar reasons.

A most fascinating characteristic of these old cemeteries is the constant repetition of many names in the various cemeteries. To select a few at random from any of the above cemeteries would be to select what might be termed the elite of the early Dutch and English Colonial settlers. The prosperous farmers, land-owners, businessmen, and people in other trades and professions were often community leaders, serving as politicians, judges, and the like. Such names as Lent, Riker, Brinkerhoff, Wyckoff, Lawrence, Cornell, and so many others have been the delight of historians, researchers, and genealogists, and still provide many areas for future research.

This article is about to end on a most happy note. There is one more cemetery, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside, which for years, decades, and centuries (1733), has somehow survived in relatively good condition.

Neighbors have maintained this cemetery with concerned, loving care.

Twenty years ago, an effort to have the cemetery landmarked failed because no owner could be found. Several years ago, this landmarking effort was renewed, this time with successful results. On March 18, 1997, after various public hearings and extended research, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Two other city agencies, the City Planning Commission and the City Council still have to approve the designation. If they do, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery will become a landmark, and will remain in the family of Queens Family Cemeteries. It will then have come home.

Moore Jackson Cemetary
Moore Jackson Cemetary, Woodside

These then, are the paths to the past.


Cultural Medallions

Barbaralee Diamondstein-Spielvogel, Chairperson, Historic Landmarks Preservation Center

In 1995, the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center inaugurated its Cultural Medallion program. Modeled on programs throughout the world such as London's Blue Markers, it will help to bring history alive in our city. The terra cotta, black, and white medallions are placed on selected buildings in each of the city's five boroughs. Internationally acclaimed designer, Missimo Vignelli, has designed the medallion as a pro bono public service.

The program will document and highlight New York's notable occurrences and other important aspects of New York City's cultural, economic, political and social history. It includes those associated with science, the arts, medicine, business, education, and the law. This is an extension of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center's work to enhance public awareness of this city's cultural and architectural resources. It is meant to create and communicate a sense of pride in history and of place, among New Yorkers and visitors. We hope the program will encourage broader appreciation, support and participation in the landmark process, and the preservation of our architectural and cultural heritage.

As of this date, thirty-nine medallions are in place. The Historic Landmarks Preservation Center is currently working on a new set of Cultural Medallions, which will be installed within the next few months.

Cultural Medallion sites in Queens include James J. Corbett's residence at 221-04 Corbett Road, The New York City Building in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the residence of Jack Kerouac at 94-10 133rd Avenue, George Grosz and Claudio Arrau's dwelling at 202 Shore Road, and Thomas "Fats" Waller's house at 173-19 Sayre Avenue. One for Alfred M. Butts, the creator of Scrabble®, at 81-10 35th Avenue in Jackson Heights, was the first cultural medallion announced.

For further information, please contact the Historic Landmark Center at 212-861-4641.


Queensmark Program

Queens has the lowest number of New York City landmark designated buildings. The Queens Historical Society, supported by Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, began recognizing structures in Queens which have never been officially designated New York City landmarks. In a recent newspaper article Queens Historical Society stated,"a Queensmark award is designated on the same criteria that characterize a landmark selection."

"The Telegraph" will examine the Queensmark program in out next issue.


What Landmark Designation Means

Published by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

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 New York 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.

What is a historic district? A historic district is an area of the city that has been designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission because it has a special character or a special historical or aesthetic interest which causes it to have a distinct "sense of place." Each historic district represents at least one period or style of architecture typical of one or more eras in the city's history. Historic districts may contain a variety of building types and styles from several different eras. For example, the "sense of place" in the Metropolitan Museum Historic District is derived from a mixture of architectural styles ranging from Queen Anne to Art Deco.

How can I find out if my building is designated? If you do not know whether your building is an individual landmark or located within the boundaries of a historic district, contact the Commission. You may also wish to consult the Guide to New York City Landmarks which is available at bookstores.

How large are historic districts? Historic districts range in size from small groups of historic buildings to areas confining hundreds of properties. Fort Greene, Mott Haven, Greenwich Village, and Brooklyn Heights are examples of areas of the city that contain historic districts.

My building is located in a historic district. Do I need the Commission's approval to make changes? Yes. Every designated structure, whether it is an individual landmark or a building in a historic district, is protected under the Landmarks Law and subject to the same review procedures. If you want to perform minor work or make alterations to your building (with the exception of the ordinary repairs and interior alterations), you must obtain the Commission's approval before you begin the work.


People from Queens have decided
"landmark designation is good for my community."
We now ask,
"How van my community win designation?"
Can landmark designation preseve these innovative model apartments built for Mr. Everyman?

Landmark Designation Improves Property Values

Arthur Ziegler, Jr., a Nationally Recognized Preservationist from Pittsburgh

Allegheny City
Allegheny City (the North Side)
A Landmark Designated Community in Pittsburgh

Economically, preservation was paying off. In Washington, D.C., an acre of land was generally valued at $547,000 (in 1950 and 1960 dollars), while an acre in the historic area called Georgetown was valued at $1.6 million — nearly three times as much. In Richmond, general land values rose 30 percent from 1955 to 1963, but in the historic district they rose 163 percent. Meanwhile, visitors to historic Savannah were generating $60 million in tourist dollars for the city coffers. In Pioneer Square in Seattle, tax values rose 800 percent and crime dropped from 15 percent of the city's total to 0.5 percent.

It was the same story all over. I remember learning from [local preservationist] that in The Strand in Galveston, Texas, property values shot up 208 percent in three years, compared to 85 percent for the city as a whole; in the same three years, the historic area's crime decreased 73 percent, compared to 17 percent citywide.

My own study of Charleston found that a seed fund [for community preservation] of $100,000 had generated $12 million worth of restoration, and that while the city tax base had declined 22 percent in 10 years, the tax base in the historic district went up 100 percent.


People from Queens have decided
"landmark designation does improve property values."
We now ask,
"Will local press encourage community designation efforts?"
Can landmark designation preseve this rare bit of suburbia in the City of New York?

Landmark Designated Douglaston

Kevin Wolfe, President, The Douglaston & Little Neck Historical Society

Soon residents of Douglas Manor and two adjacent streets in Douglaston, an enclave of 600 single family homes in the northeast corner of Queens, hope to hear what they've been waiting to hear for more than eight years — "you're a landmark district!" — from the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

That's when the LPC will take a final vote on designating The Douglaston Historic District — having held a public hearing on January 14th. The boundaries of this new district — New York City's 70th — include the historic limits of Douglas Manor, which was developed in 1906 from the Douglas estate, and parts of Cherry and Bay Streets, which are adjacent to the Manor just north of the Long Island Rail Road tracks.

At the January hearing, the LPC was overwhelmed by the turnout of residents coming to testify in favor of the district — more than 60 people filled the hearing room at 100 Old Slip — and there was not one person who spoke against creating a district.

Eight years may seem like a long time coming (it is!), but for anyone who has worked toward getting their neighborhood landmarked in New York City, it's about average.

Creating a district is a lot of' work! It requires the support of the neighborhood residents, and that means fighting misconceptions about landmarking, and educating the public to see its overwhelming benefits.

It also requires research and documentation — hours of research by historians as well as volunteers — to document the architects of each building, the dates they were built, the designers of the landscape, and to chronicle the biographies of residents past and present who may add to the significance to the district.

Last spring, when the Douglaston & Little Neck Historical Society launched its final campaign to create a district, the effort culminated seven years of public meetings that the Society held in the neighborhood with speakers, slide shows, and written material that we distributed.

The Society hosted countless parties, house tours and other events to raise money and build support. We lobbied our elected officials and the LPC. We also discovered our allies in Queens — advocates of other special neigh-borhoods equally deserving of designation. We realized that Queens, the forgotten borough for so many years, was home to a host of preservationists who felt as we did, that Queens had neighborhoods and architecture worth preserving. We were not alone!

William Van Seenberg Home
The William H. Van Steenberg Home

The Society's long-range educational campaign on landmarking Douglaston was so successful that by last September more than 420 individual property owners had sent postcards to City Councilman Michael Abel stating that they wanted a district — an overwhelming consensus. Those postcards were copied and passed on to Landmarks chair Jennifer Raab, who had come to visit Douglaston in April of 1996.

After her spring tour, Jennifer Raab came back to Douglaston in June with her staff to answer questions to a standing room only crowd at Zion Church, the white clapboard church with a spire that faces Northern Boulevard. And Jennifer sent her staff back again in the fall to answer still more questions at another public session at the Douglaston Club. Her presence and the expertise of her staff were a critical factor in the final push for creating the district.

There were a handful of naysayers in the crowd of course — this is New York City after all — but the message was clear. Douglaston wants an historic district.

So what makes Douglaston so special? And why should it be a landmark district?

Situated on a mile-long peninsula that juts into Little Neck Bay at the western end of Long Island Sound, Douglaston is a New York City neighborhood like no other. It is defined by geography and landscape, just as surely as it is defined by history and architecture.

In summer, sailboats hover into view off the end of each block, providing buoyant reminder of this neighborhood's seaside locale at the head of Long Island Sound. Pheasants, egrets, kingfishers and foxes (yes foxes!) and ducks — thousands of ducks in autumn — attest to the importance of the adjacent wetlands as a safe haven for wildlife. Salt marshes and open water ring the neighborhood, and gardens with hedges define property lines, allowing expansive views of open space in a highly urbanized setting.

While Douglas Manor is the prototypical American "railroad" or "garden" suburb — the Long Island Rail Road station is a loci of activity — its position on the peninsula gives it a unique sense of place. The commonly held mile-long water-front — all 550 homeowners share in its maintenance through the Douglas Manor Association — was a radical departure from other similar developments of the time. In neighboring Great Neck and Bayside for example, there was no access to the Bay unless you owned a home along the shore.

Shore Front
The Shore Front of Douglas Manor

The houses at Douglas Manor 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 so prized.


Preservation in College Point: Is it still possible?

Susan Brustmann, Executive Director, Poppenhusen Institute

When this question is first addressed, it is hard to remember that there are still structures left here in College Point worthy of recognition and preservation. But after a moment's thought, we see that hidden among the "intrusive" newer buildings, our community's precious history still stands.

Flessel's REstaurant (1872)

It was about 15 years ago that unfortunately the developers found our little "village" of College Point. With the earlier zoning changes they were in their essayistic glory as they bulldozed our Victorian mansions with their sloping mansard roofs, replacing them with brick boxes, often 3 two family homes where one home proudly stood. This, you can imagine, greatly saddened our "senior" senior citizens (some 90 years old) who remember growing up here when the trolley cars still clanged their way down old 13th Street and wild berries hung ripe for the picking in all the open fields that meandered their way all through the community. It saddened the teens and young people who enjoy the small town atmosphere.

Since we have lost so much we must make a dedicated effort to appreciate and hold onto what little is left such as:

The First Reformed Church — The corner-stone of the church was dedicated on September 28, 1873. The first minister was the Reverend Elijah S. Fairchild. Standing before this little white frame country church with it's delicate gingerbread work you feel like you're in a small town in New England.

Flessel's Restaurant — the last reminder of the Summer Resorts and beer gardens that once were the dominant business here in College Point. Built in 1872, the original proprietor was Joseph Witzel. Although in need of some restoration, the structure holds true to its original architecture inside and out.

Poppenhusen Institute — Built in 1868 with funds donated by Conrad Poppenhusen, the benefactor of College Point. The original architects were Murdell, Teckritz and Masons, whose names still are displayed on the marble tablet in the main entranceway. It is a three story building with French Second Empire Mansard roof and features derived from the Italianate style. Built originally to serve the area as a town hall, today it serves as a community cultural center. It was saved from demolition in 1980.

Schleicher Court — circa 1870, also operated as the Jockers Hotel.

Beech Court — this is a little cul-de-sac with a variety of houses make it worthy of Historic Districting.

Poppenhusen Library — an Andrew Camegie library, completed in 1904. Architects were Heim and LaFaye and the builder was Thomas Williams.


Boulevard Gardens

Mary O'Hara, Boulevard Gardens, Woodside

The Greater Astoria Historical Society, recently presented "Boulevard Gardens — Landmark Housing for the American Dream" as part of this season's lecture series "The Gardens of Queens."

Boulevard Gardens, regarded by residents and community preservationists as one of the most innovative and attractive housing developments in Queens, the award-winning design illustrates the powerful connection between environment and quality of life.

Boulevard Gardens
Boulevard Gardens --
Landmak Housing for the American Dream

Built by Cord Meyer Development Company in Woodside, it is one of the first housing projects of the New Deal. The Gardens, heralded as "A New Idea in Apartment Housing," and as Woodside's "Model Village," won an award for architectural merit from the Queens Chamber of Commerce in 1936. Its practical design and attractive layout remains today as popular as when it welcomed its first residents on June 25, 1935.

The Gardens are a complex of 10 six-story buildings with a total of 960 apartments. The structures cover only 22% of the land, the remainder being reserved for landscaping and playgrounds.

This revolutionary development set a seldom-equaled precedent for open space and apartment house design. The main entry leads residents up a set of steps to a formal colonnaded arch. A neo-Georgian entryway characterized by stately Doric columns leads to two open courtyards.

It contains special design and landscape features which are reminiscent of those in a well-established urban park. Mature oaks and maples, a living link to the past, reinforces the Gardens' sense of history. Buildings are set back from the sidewalk by raised grassy berms which complement the streetscape and enhance the open feeling in the neighborhood. Spectacular shade trees, meandering paths and well placed sitting areas give Boulevard Gardens its special character as a model village.

At the lecture, several representatives from local Community Boards and Civic Associations were in attendance. Said one, "they saw Jackson Heights and Douglaston go through the Landmark designation process. In those places, property values are going up — quality of life is improving. It's only a matter of time before Boulevard Gardens — and other communities in western Queens — discover they, too, are worthy of Landmark designation."

[Mary O'Hara, a civic leader from western Queens, is a member of Community Board 1, and sits on the boards of the Astoria Civic Association, the Astoria Historical Society, the Queensborough Preservation League and the Queens Historical Society.

[Mary is a life-long resident of Boulevard Gardens.]


A CALL TO ACTION !

A battle plan includes:


Return to The Telegraph, Spring 1997 Table of Contents

Go to The Telegraph, Spring 1997 Part 1


Go to Preserve & Protect


last rev. 7/20/97
by David Goldfarb