Friday, February 17, 2012

Tale of 2 Libraries: Rego Park Edition


We are proud to feature an intriguing chapter of our neighborhood history by Historian Ron Marzlock....

Queens Chronicle, I Have Often Walked, "(Unintended) Book Burning"
Feb 16, 2012

The Rego Park Library at 91-34 63 Drive, left, with The Tavern on its right, and the expanded library, which grew after a fire at the bar. The library itself burned down years later.

Today’s Rego Park Library is not the same one that was first built, but sits right across the street from the original.

With the big buildup of apartment houses in the 1940s and 1950s, Rego Park found its schools overcrowded, and even worse, it had only a storefront library, established in 1938, according to Queens Library records. Then in 1956, the community got a branch library, located at 91-34 63rd Drive between Austin Street and the Long Island Rail Road tracks.

Directly next to the library was a bar named The Tavern. In 1960, after a fire at the bar, its second in several years, the library expanded into the space it had occupied. The branch had a very high circulation rate, and was managed by Aldona Grabuskas, who later transferred to the Richmond Hill Library to be closer to home. She passed away while still on the job. a few weeks before her 50th anniversary with the library.

But the 1959 fire wasn’t the only one to hit the short block on the east side of 63rd between Austin and the LIRR trestle, and to impact the library’s history. A bigger blaze engulfed the entire strip of storefronts, including the library on Feb. 20, 1972, destroying it. It was a major disaster for school children who depended on the facility, long before the age of the computer and Internet.

After a time with only a bookmobile serving Rego Park, the city bought the Shell gas station across the street, a mainstay of the neighborhood since the 1930s, and erected a new library in its place. The old location is now home to the Shalimar Diner. The library underwent major renovations in 1989, and remains a branch with high circulation figures.

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