Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Richmond Hill Video Narrative By The Late Great Nancy Cataldi, & The Absent Landmarks Preservation Commission - We Need A Richmond Hill Historic District ASAP!

Our Beloved Nancy Cataldi
This is a historic Richmond Hill narrative by the late great Historian Nancy Cataldi in 2007. She was a friend of mine and a very dedicated community leader. It was very sad and shocking when she passed away in 2008 in her mid 50s. Nancy Cataldi was the founder and president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, and a resident of the neighborhood. Her walking tour narrative is a primary source, and now stands as a great tribute to her remarkable legacy. 

* Michael Perlman's Memoir of Nancy Cataldi, A Community Leader We Can All Take Inspiration From, Nov 2009:

What May Be No More Without City & Continued Community Intervention
March 12, 2006 Rally of Queens residents, preservation, & civic organizations coming together on the steps of the Richmond Hill Republican Club, to call upon the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate a Richmond Hill Historic District. Historian Nancy Cataldi stands in the front center, wearing a black jacket, & Councilman Tony Avella is to her right.
 It is disturbing that our NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission has ignored the community & the Richmond Hill Historical Society's numerous requests for a Historic District, & they will not grant a public hearing since the society's first proposal in 1997, numerous letters from Queenswide preservationists and elected officials, petitions, and rallies. The LPC even visited the wrong series of blocks at one point. They claim the proposed Historic District is too altered. 
 On the contrary, a Victorian mecca is rare in Queens, and much of its historic integrity remains. This fine assemblage of homes also includes Italianate and Craftsman homes. Besides homes, the neighborhood is home to the Church of The Resurrection, the Andrew Carnegie-funded Richmond Hill Library, the Richmond Hill Republican Club, and the RKO Keith's Richmond Hill Theatre. Sadly, the early 1920s Jahn's Ice Cream Parlor shuttered in 2008, to be gutted for a generic fast food restaurant, which has since closed up. This is the Richmond Hill Historical Society's Historic District proposal with boundary lines:
  Where is our Democracy? No public hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission? Rather than seeing our Queen Anne gems demolished for the sake of Richmond Hill, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission needs to be restructured from the bottom up. They typically turn their back on garden communities, such as many found in Queens, with the exception of a Jackson Heights Historic District and Sunnyside Gardens Historic District. 
As time does not stand still, it is quite possible that a few of the Victorian homes showcased in Nancy Cataldi's 2007 video are not standing today, and will continue to fall without Historic District designation, which would be an asset to our quality of life, character, history and art, education, and property values. The downzoning that went into effect a number of years ago is not solid enough to preserve architectural character and the physical cultural history, but only limits the stories and size of new construction.
When a district in Manhattan gets calendared, heard, and designated every other week, and not the same in a borough outside Manhattan, that is a double-standard of our city government. It is a failure of public duty. Our city should pursue a Historic District in the name of the great Nancy Cataldi and her tireless efforts, and on the basis of Richmond Hill's outstanding architectural and cultural history. 
How You Can Help
*** To advocate for the preservation of Richmond Hill and learn more about its influential history, please visit the website of the Richmond Hill Historical Society. Their mission is Preserving the past & promoting the future of Richmond Hill, NY:

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.

Friday, February 10, 2012

One-Stop Lunch By A Choo-Choo in Rego Park - The Hamburger Train!

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Queens Blvd Storefront
The front of the Hamburger Train restaurant. Probably one of the most 
recognizable store fronts in Rego Park, right by the 63rd Drive subway.
Polished stainless steel slanted front in the Art Deco style, with a red & black terrazzo checkered floor. Peeking inside, one can see a large Hamburger Train animated sign , booths along the left, & a traditional counter on the right, where patrons were served hamburgers & other favorites on a toy train. Photo courtesy of

Who remembers eating at the Hamburger Train in Rego Park, and being served your meal from a mechanical toy train which operated on tracks from the kitchen to the counter? The ambiance was Art Moderne, and patrons sat elbow to elbow at a counter or at a booth. Some of you are too young or too new to the neighborhood to be offered this experience, but in a virtual world, you can hop aboard the Hamburger Train in spirit:

The website boasts the Hamburger Train as A NYC legendary luncheonette experience from the late 1950s through the early 1970s...the Hamburger Train. The website was conceived by the son of one of one of the original owners, Stephen Robert Lewis, in order to pay tribute to his legacy in a novelty family business. Hamburger Train was at 96-58 Queens Blvd, which today is the Photosonic custom framing shop near the subway entrance on the south side of Queens Blvd, 5 doors to the east of Ben's Best Deli; another famed institution which lines Queens Blvd since 1947.  Another location of the Hamburger Train was in Greenwich Village.

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Where the cargo was loaded!
Feeding the masses, the train picks up it's delicious cargo hot off the 
grill. This is where it all happened! :-)
The spot where history was made! The train tracks by the grill sure accounts for fast food! Craving crisp French fries at $.30? Image courtesy of

Those were the days when "fast food" was fast but less commercialized. I have been in Forest Hills ever since I opened my eyes (1982), so it is before my time, but as someone who grew up in the neighborhood & takes pride in history, it's always fascinating to hear who has memories of yesteryear, which are very much alive today. 

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The Menu
The Rego Park menu. Egg Cream... 20 cents! Anyone remember that?
Today, ordering a few meals from this menu wouldn't break your budget. Does The Train Beefburger & a treat from the Ice Cream Parlor Car fancy your appetite? Image courtesy of

In Forest Hills, an eatery which operated under the train delivery concept existed as Hamburger Express, is now the Austin House Diner at 72-04 Austin St, which has the same red terrazzo floors today. This outside of the box concept, coupled with the ice cream soda fountains & counters in pharmacies, made Forest Hills & Rego Park a more close-knit, creative, & personalized neighborhood in our heyday. Soda fountains existed at Sutton Hall Pharmacy on Austin St & Ascan Ave (Sutton Hall Apts), the Midway Pharmacy on the north side of Queens Blvd & 67th Dr corner, Woolworth's on Continental Ave & Austin St (2 entrances) as well as Queens Blvd & 63rd Dr, and at McCrory's at Queens Blvd & 63rd Dr (2 entrances).

Getting back to the Hamburger Train, anyone interested in reopening this intriguing eatery in Rego Park, and entertaining children of a new generation? E-mail

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Forest Hills Tennis Stadium Has Local To National Merit - Stadium Determined Eligible For State & National Register of Historic Places

Extra! Extra! Op-Ed by Michael Perlman, featured in the Queens Ledger on Feb 2, 2012. Please share & consider commenting here: Queens Ledger newspaper link

Golden potential at America's first concrete tennis stadium, Photo by Michael Perlman

 The legendary Forest Hills Tennis Stadium was almost sold for development, but now it is steps closer to being preserved.

On January 5, 2012, the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium and Clubhouse, and other historic features of the West Side Tennis Club property has been declared "NR-Eligible," or eligible for inclusion on the State & National Register of Historic Places by State Historic Preservation Office Specialist Daniel McEneny.

As Chairman of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, I nominated the property in summer 2011 on behalf of our membership, and a vast coalition of preservation, civic, tennis and music enthusiasts from the local to national level.

If the WSTC signs off on this opportunity, the office can move forward, and the property can be placed on the State & National Register of Historic Places. Besides commemoration, the Register would open the door to economic incentives for restoration and historically sensitive upgrades.

In addition, the New York Landmarks Conservancy non-profit, which is accredited as one of the largest preservation grant awardees, has a number of funding programs that a property may be eligible for upon placement on the Register. This would benefit the WSTC and a potential preservation-friendly partner.

Backtracking, a string of promising events has transpired since the stadium's endangerment in summer 2010. In October 2010, a plan to sell the stadium parcel to developer Cord Meyer to build “Anytown USA” condos was rejected by more than half of the voting-eligible WSTC members, and President Kenneth Parker expressed his disappointment.

On January 1, 2012, President Roland Meier took the seat of Kenneth Parker. President Meier has not made his views publicly known, but is believed to be pro-preservation. A case in point was when Cord Meyer Development proposed condos, and Roland Meier resigned in protest from his seat as Tennis Committee Chair in August 2010.

In November 2011, it was announced that the Stadium Arts Alliance non-profit envisions partnering with the WSTC, and restoring and revitalizing the stadium for tennis matches, periodic musical acts, and ice hockey and skating in the winter, to make the venue usable year-round for the WSTC and greater community.

The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium witnessed a series of firsts architecturally, culturally, and socially. It was the first concrete stadium in the U.S., and was designed by a foremost architect of public buildings, Kenneth Murchison.

It was also the first home of the US Open, and a plethora of tennis legends including Don Budge, Bill Tilden, Helen Jacobs, Tony Trabert, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, and Althea Gibson, played there. Forest Hills Music Festivals featured the likes of Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, and Barbra Streisand. The stadium put Forest Hills on the map.

Creative reuse would signify an educational, cultural and economic boost community-wide. It would improve our quality of life, preserve a historic site, increase business in Forest Hills, and create jobs at and near the stadium, while improving finances for the club in the long term. However, selling the stadium for the highest offer would be a one-time cash generator for WSTC.

No development in place of the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium can ever equal or exceed its value. Fading photos of the stadium which grace the walls of the clubhouse could never measure up to preserving the Real McCoy. How many times have we seen tribute plaques in place of historic sites which could have still been standing proudly? Do we wish to be remembered as a society that revitalized a world icon, or one that operated under a throwaway culture mentality, which destroyed it along the lines of the late great Pennsylvania Station?