Friday, November 5, 2010

10/28 Queens Preservation Networking Event & Ceremony Honoring Our New Queens Borough Historian, Jack Eichenbaum

The New Queens Borough Historian, Jack Eichenbaum
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall presents to a diverse crowd
Writeup and photos by Michael Perlman, Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, Queens Preservation Council and Central Queens Historical Association board member, and Queens VP of the Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance

Queens has a new official face, which some people may already know from his walking tours.... Queens Borough Historian, Dr. Jack Eichenbaum, who was appointed by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. On October 28, 2010, a Queens historic preservation networking event was held at Queens Borough Hall, and sponsored by BP Marshall of Queens Borough Hall and the Queens Preservation Council, which is Chaired by Mitchell Grubler. The new Borough Historian was formally introduced to the public. The Queens Preservation Council's mission statement is: As an alliance of the borough's historical societies, civic, and neighborhood organizations, the Queens Preservation Council is a catalyst for positive change through civic engagement; specifically related to laws and regulations governing city planning and zoning, landmark and historic district designation, and building enforcement.

The setup of Queens Borough Hall's conference space, Room 213, was "picture perfect," and was a well-conceived response to an event that was a few months in the making. Representatives of a diverse coalition of neighborhoods were in attendance, and reflected Queens and citywide civic groups, preservation groups, and community groups. It was encouraging seeing approximately 100 people networking for 3 hours during the evening of October 28th. There were some familiar faces, but many new ones. All attendees wore name tags, which included the organization they represented. Guests arrived to find a table of informative pamphlets and flyers representing some of the organizations, and a table of catered hors d'oeuvres, pastries, wines, and sodas that spanned the width of the space. Chairs were arranged in a semi-circle, facing a podium for the guest speakers. The ambiance was a healthy chorus in a pleasantly lit, open space.

Autumn-themed spreads
Historic preservation organizational pamphlets
Queens Preservation Council member James Van Westering
Queens BP Helen Marshall on podium, with Borough Historian Jack Eichenbaum & QPC member James Van Westering to her left
James Van Westering, a board member of the Queens Preservation Council was the first guest speaker, who explained the need for a preservation networking event, centered around the new Borough Historian, Jack Eichenbaum, and also explained the mission of the Queens Preservation Council. He then introduced Borough President Helen Marshall, who delivered a speech. She said, "Without knowledge of our history, we are not very much of a people. Our neighborhoods are like little Villages." She demonstrated her pride that historic places still exist in Queens, such as the Bowne House in Flushing, which gave rise to religious freedom. She also thanked everyone for attending, and urged a continuation of advocacy for the historic establishments that grant Queens its culture.

Borough Historian Jack Eichenbaum explained "Queens is a borough of neighborhoods, and our neighborhoods are our greatest strengths, but we can dilute it if we revert to parochialism." His primary focus is an educational and authoritative focus of borough-wide history, and he believes we should present history and community-related causes as a borough issue to be most effective, rather than only a neighborhood issue, which historians, community residents, and preservationists commonly do. Some of his priorities include raising consciousness about Queens environmental preservation, documenting immigration and demographic patterns since the mid-1970s, and technological advances by the means of digitizing history. One such improvement is the ability of taking aerial photos of superb quality, where people can zoom in to see alterations over time periods on a lot level.

Another goal is the compilation of community history using our local colleges, and encouraging people to rely more extensively on people's memories, differentiating from the norm of using traditional archives. One of his primary goals will not revolve around historic preservation and landmarking issues, but referring those with an interest and questions to key members of the preservation community. He believes in uniting people on a neighborhood level.

Dr. Eichenbaum explained how Queens residents have a history of identity over their borough. From 1898 - 1920s, suburban villages were on the way of becoming urban in Queens. During that time period, the only way to have a unique address was using the neighborhood name. When zip codes were established shortly thereafter, residents had the option of using only the zip, but illustrate pride over their communities by retaining their neighborhood name as part of the address. On a related note, quite a few neighborhood names have been lost over time. For example, Winfield became absorbed by Woodside sometime during the 20th century. A postcard collector would see that early 1900s postcards boast the name "Winfield."

Dr. Eichenbaum explained how Queens has always offered more land to landlords and residents as a benefit over Manhattan, making Queens a very desirable borough. Primarily between WWI and WWII, Queens was greatly inspired by the Garden Apartments Movement, where 45% of land was typically covered by 2 to 6-story garden apartment walk-ups or elevator apartment buildings, leaving sufficient space for landscapes, recreation, and fresh air for its residents. Some parcels have only 20% - 30% covered. He stated "This is the garden borough, and we're paving it." This trend has been increasing in recent decades. Not only does eliminating green space compromise our aesthetic quality of life, but contributes to insufficient runoff and flooding. Some examples include the elimination of the verge, which is a strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb, and also the strip of land outside 3-story rowhouses, which were typically built in the 50s and 60s. When demographics increased, so did the amount of cars, causing more residents to park on spaces that were not designed for cars initially.

QPC member Henry Euler presents plaques
After Dr. Eichenbaum's speech was warmly received, Henry Euler, a member of the Queens Preservation Council and the Bayside Historical Society, presented two plaques. One was a plaque honoring Stanley and Lee Cogan, in memory of Joseph Hellman. Stanley Cogan was the founder of the Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance, a member of the Queens Preservation Council, President of the Queens Historical Society, and was the former Queens Borough Historian. His wife, Lee Cogan, recently passed away. Joseph Hellmann was a well-respected and accomplished member of the Queens Preservation Council, the Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance, trustee of the Queens Historical Society, historian of the Douglaston-Little Neck Historical Society, a member of Community Board 11, and secretary of the Douglaston Civic Association. He passed away on May 28, 2010. Another plaque honored Nancy Cataldi, who passed away on October 29, 2008. She was a Historian and President of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, an author, a highly regarded civic leader, and also a member of the Queens Preservation Council. Despite resistance from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, she and the society never abandoned the cause to acquire historic district status for a section of Richmond Hill, which is Queens' Victorian home mecca. The plaque was presented to Marjorie Ferrigno and her late husband, Nicholas Ferrigno, co-founders of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Association, who have been leading the cause to secure historic district status for the Broadway-Flushing neighborhood despite resistance from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. They are one of many preservationists who take inspiration from our beloved community leader, Nancy Cataldi.

After the speech-making portion of the agenda ended, borough and citywide advocates had more time to network over food, with longtime and newly found friends, to ultimately strengthen the historic preservation ethic for a more beautiful community, as our neighborhoods increase in population over time. It was an event to remember!

For more photos, visit the photoset of the event on flickr:

To contact Queens Borough Historian Jack Eichenbaum, e-mail

Contact preservationist & writer Michael Perlman at 

To join the Queens Preservation Council, please send an e-mail with your interests to or call (718) 591-0361.

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