Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Initiative to Re-Designate Elmhurst’s Jamaica Savings Bank as a Landmark

By Michael Perlman

The new Jamaica Savings Bank, Elmhurst, circa 1968
Queens has Jet-Age buildings that merit landmark status, but sometimes they are misunderstood and unappreciated. Locally, one of the most unique Modernist buildings is the former Jamaica Savings Bank at 89-01 Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. It was erected from 1966 to 1968, and was experimental and revolutionary in style, evoking the spirit of a 1964 World’s Fair pavilion. In 1968, the Queens Chamber of Commerce awarded the bank a bronze plaque for “outstanding excellence.” Today it serves the community as a branch of Bank of America.

In a rare move, after the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the building as an Individual Landmark on June 28, 2005, City Council voted to overturn its designation in November 2005. A majority of City Council was persuaded by the owner’s claim that the bank faced flooding issues, and at the time, City Council Landmarks Subcommittee Chair Simcha Felder and Council Member Helen Sears ultimately did not defend its landmark status. Nearly 15 years later, there is renewed hope and determination by preservationists to see the LPC re-designate a unique architectural work, as the faces behind City Council and the LPC have changed, in addition to the most recent tenant.

Most notably, Council Member Daniel Dromm serving Elmhurst said the bank merits landmarking and would support the vision of Elmhurst History & Cemeteries Preservation Society, according to Marialena Giampino, the organization’s president. She said, “Our organization firmly believes this building is one-of-a-kind with its cutting edge, innovative, and unique design. It resembles something out of the future, and yet we are in the year 2020! It truly is deserving of landmark status!” 

The new Jamaica Savings Bank, Elmhurst, 1968
The LPC’s designation report referenced the bank as “one of the most unique and memorable structures on this busy multi-lane thoroughfare.” Construction began in 1966, which marked the bank’s centennial, and it was designed by the William F. Cann Company, part of the Bank Building and Equipment Corporation of America, based in St. Louis, Missouri. It opened its doors in March 1968. The designation report explained that its form is reminiscent of an elongated saddle, better known as a hyperbolic paraboloid. The LPC stated, “To create this distinctive form, Cann used reinforced concrete and bronze glass, cladding the 116-foot-long roof with copper panels” and then referred to the building as “a bold expression of 20th century engineering recalling works by Eduardo Catalano, Felix Candela, and Eero Saarinen.” “This unusual design solution created not only a column-free banking hall, but a visually-distinctive form that stands out from neighboring structures,” the report read.

From local to out of state, preservationists call on landmarking while sharing their perspectives. Mitchell Grubler, Queens Preservation Council President had much to say about the LPC and City Council. “The bank was designated by the LPC, the body charged with the responsibility for surveying, researching and determining the significance of buildings and districts that require designation in order to ensure the protection of our architectural, historical and cultural patrimony. The problem is that the designation goes to the City Council, a political body, lacking the scholarly expertise of the Commission and its staff.”

He continued, “Its hyperbolic paraboloid form is not only unique, but reflective of its time and represents the optimism for a modernist future in post-World’s Fair Queens and the nation. We need to do more to educate the public and the members of the City Council that the best of Modernist architecture is as worthy of designation as the classical banks and Victorian houses that are so venerated.” 

Former Jamaica Savings Bank, back facade, Photo by Michael Perlman
Architectural historian Frampton Tolbert founded Queens Modern, with hopes of granting recognition and preservation of unappreciated Modernist treasures. He said, “While there is a significant amount of Modern architecture in Queens, most is done by regional architects. This bank is unique, as it was designed by an architect known nationally for cutting-edge bank design. Other Modern buildings in Queens designed by architects of this caliber were typically major projects for airports, and many have been demolished or badly altered. Its eye-catching design was to attract drivers and pedestrians along Queens Boulevard, and is evocative of how bank construction and design of the era embraced Modernism.”

Utah resident Kirk Huffaker, a Consultant for Kirk Huffaker Preservation Strategies, came across this building while researching the company. “So much to the contrary of coming upon it on the street, I was in a dark archive room looking at microfilm, and immediately saw its significance and a clear interpretation of International Style architecture.”

He feels that history does not stop in a certain year. He explained, “Historic architecture, as well as a community’s corresponding history should be viewed along a time continuum. The modern styles of architecture that became prevalent in America after WWII are no less significant to preserve than the more traditional styles. As the National Register of Historic Places tells us, they should be viewed equally.”

“It angers and saddens me that financial gains, land use, and development very often comes at the expense of removing the culture and diversity which makes our city unique, so any local legislator should have the best interest of the community when making decisions that impact its future integrity and honor its history,” said local resident Debby Dip. She compared the bank’s style to the World’s Fair experience. “That was instrumental in placing our lovely borough on the map, as a look to the future. These non-designated buildings and structures and the landmarked Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center at JFK now turned hotel deserve an equal place of honor and integrity, which only landmark status will achieve.”

NYC licensed tour guide Linda Fisher considers the bank to represent the Googie/Populuxe architectural style. “It represents the aspirations of the Space Age and echoes the style of the nearby 1964-65 World’s Fair, and stands as a reminder of the days when Queens was standing on the edge of the future. The modernist flair was uplifting and fun, ready to take off in flight and head for the heights!”

In reference to landmark status being overturned, she said “In 2005, Queens’ reputation was still that of a backwards town and landmarking was disdained. Queens residents were and many still are completely unaware that occurred.”

She feels it is essential to remember what principles were valued by a community. “Each style celebrates and incorporates a guiding value, whether it is the democratic values of the Greeks and Romans or the minimalist values of Brutalism. Modernist architecture tells the story of man’s reach in the modern age, which is a story worth remembering.”

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Rego Park Honored As A “Six To Celebrate” Historic Community

By Michael Perlman

HDC Six To Save 2020 Rego Park poster & HDC 50th anniversary pamphlet, Photo by Michael Perlman
Rego Park, founded in 1923 by REal GOod Construction Company, has been selected by a most influential citywide advocate non-profit organization, Historic Districts Council (HDC) as one of the 2020 “Six To Celebrate” communities. Annually, the Six To Celebrate program, launched in 2011, identifies six historic New York City neighborhoods that merit preservation as priorities for HDC’s year-long advocacy and consultation. Rego-Forest Preservation Council will collaborate with HDC and apply for Individual Landmark (fa├žade) and Historic District status via the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for architecturally and culturally significant properties and sections, respectively, as well as coordinate walking tours among other initiatives. 

Friends of the HDC, Courtesy of Ron Caveglia
On January 15, a launch party attended by over 100 guests was held at the landmarked National Arts Club, also known as the Samuel Tilden mansion at 15 Gramercy Park South, which offered an ideal setting to celebrate this special occasion with speeches, food, a PowerPoint presentation, and HDC’s 50th birthday. Even LPC Chair Sarah Carroll was in attendance. Besides Rego Park, the other Six To Save preservation-worthy areas are East Flatbush, Center Park Slope, Bronx Preservation Committee, Todt-Dongan Hills, and Landmarks of the Future Citywide. To date, the program helped create 13 NYC Historic Districts, 50 Individual Landmarks, 5 National Register districts, and 3 National Register properties. Additionally, it has leveraged over $130,000 in private and public grants for these community-driven projects. 

Guests from the 5 boroughs united on preservation, Photo by Michael Perlman

HDC President Daniel Allen, Photo courtesy of Michael Perlman
HDC President Daniel Allen said, “­­­­Over our 50th anniversary year, let’s think back of all that we have done together and all of what’s meant to this city. We all have stories and some documentation. HDC is still collecting, so get in touch with us.” 

CM Ben Kallos, Courtesy of Michael Perlman
Council Member Ben Kallos (5th District, Manhattan), who calls himself “one of the strongest preservationists on City Council,” said “You don’t necessarily know who you’re going to be before you get elected, and when I did, I discovered that I’m a preservationist.” He explained, “You have to keep on going, and the price of preservation and our history is having the HDC and everyone in this room continue to fight for it day in and day out, since all it takes is the wrong person at the wrong place being able to level all the history that our city has.” He continued, “There are not enough preservationists in elected office. For 2021, I am optimistic to elect preservationists to City Council and have people fight for the Landmarks Committee.” 

HDC Executive Director Simeon Bankoff,  Council Member Ben Kallos, HDC President Daniel Allen, Photo by Michael Perlman
He presented a proclamation to the HDC. He stated, “The NYC Council is proud to honor the HDC for 50 years of outstanding service to the community, and whereas HDC is dedicated to preserving historic neighborhoods, buildings, and public spaces across the 5 boroughs, to upholding the integrity of the Landmarks Law, and to further the preservation ethic. Representing a constituency of over 500 community organizations across all 5 boroughs, HDC works directly with people who care about our city’s historic neighborhoods and buildings.” Since 1970, five years after the Landmarks Law was founded, HDC has played a significant role in the creation and preservation of 149 Historic Districts and extensions. 

CM Ben Kallos, Courtesy of Michael Perlman
Rego-Forest Preservation Council, founded in 2006 by this columnist, advocates for landmark status for significant sites in Rego Park, Forest Hills, and nearby Queens communities, and documents local history. Currently, Forest Hills has three official landmarks, Remsen Cemetery (designated 1981), Ridgewood Savings Bank (2000), and Engine 305 & Ladder 151 (2012), but Rego Park has none.

“We look forward to helping Rego-Forest Preservation Council to develop proposals for meritorious sites, which we bring to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and hopefully get designated,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of Historic Districts Council. “We are hoping to help organize and better project their knowledge and enthusiasm for the area to a broader audience; not only the public but decision-makers.” 

Simeon Bankoff addresses guests, Photo by Michael Perlman
After naming some altered or demolished properties that HDC fought for, Bankoff stated, “Part of preservation is remembering things that we lost, so we don’t lose things in the future. We cannot forget.” He also cited examples of designations HDC helped obtain such as Sunnyside Gardens and most recently Tin Pan Alley. “Designation is not the end, but just the beginning. We now entered into an eternal compact of making sure that those buildings continue to improve, are use, and preserved.”

Reflecting on the event’s success, Bankoff explained, “It was wonderful to see such a diverse group from all 5 boroughs gathering together to celebrate the work of HDC and community preservation. We saw lots of old friends and met new ones, and best of all were people across the city connecting with sympathetic and like-minded activists.” He pointed out that listening to community board members from the Upper East Side and Crown Heights discussing many shared concerns was a fantastic observation.

Historically, Rego Construction Company acquired land in Forest Hills West and named Rego Park after their advertising slogan “Real Good Homes.” The firm was founded by two natives of Germany; president Henry L. Schloh and secretary and treasurer Charles I. Hausmann in partnership with builder Joseph F. Thone. The firm began by developing 525 eight-room single-family “Rego Homes,” railroad style Colonial frame houses between 63rd Drive and Elliot Avenue along Saunders, Booth, Wetherole, and Austin Street, which sold for an estimated $7,500. 

Three apartment houses accommodating 70 families each followed. They were the Tudor-style Remo Hall at 61-40 Saunders Street (1927) and the Spanish Mission-style Jupiter Court at 62-64 Saunders Street (1927) and Marion Court at 62-98 Saunders Street (1929), which were designed by award-winning architect Benjamin Braunstein, a Constantinople native. Novelty features are recessed facades and courtyards to maximize fresh air, light, and landscaping, once marketed as an advantage over the urbanized city. As a case in point, Marion Court residents experience was personalized with architectural features including terra-cotta reliefs of animals, castles in stained glass, and a roof garden where residents would once recreate. 

Rego-Forest Preservation Council Chair Michael Perlman & Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Sarah Carroll, Photo by Ron Caveglia
“Now more than ever, preservation is extremely important, as it provides a visual history for younger generations to understand and learn more about our borough’s origins,” said Forest Hills attendee Ron Caveglia. “Seeing a photo or drawing of a decades’ old building is fine, but the physical presence of an original residence, business, or place of worship provides more of an impact for the observer. Attaining landmark status for our local architectural treasures is an excellent, indispensable tool in turning preservation’s goal into a reality.” Commending the HDC, he explained, “I was most excited to learn that Rego Park has been selected to benefit from generous resources ranging from private and public grants to walking tour brochures, landmarking strategies, and public outreach programs. The occasion reached its pinnacle when Queens’ native son Michael Perlman, Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, was recognized for his spirited, dedicated work in furthering local architectural preservation.”

Eric Schreiber of Kew Gardens has followed Six To Celebrate for years, as a supporter of preserving important historic buildings and neighborhoods. He considers Rego Park a bastion of middle-class America and a historic, unique, and diverse community. He explained, “Perhaps the most significant and unique areas would be the Crescents, an upscale enclave featuring tree-lined, curved streets with lovely pre-war single-family homes. Within walking distance of shopping and public transit, it has a vibe that is more suburban than most other parts of the city. The homes feature well-manicured front and back yards.” He continued, “If not landmarked, the possibility exists that developers and new residents, with no interest in the historical significance of the neighborhood, could come in and raze these beautiful homes, forever destroying its character.”

Barbara Ann Rogers came from Prospect Lefferts Gardens, a previous Six To Celebrate community. She said, “Preservation is important for retaining a sense of history and honoring the architecture designed to make spaces livable and accessible to all, but most importantly, it keeps neighborhoods affordable. Preserving Six To Celebrate neighborhoods means preserving our way of life as true New Yorkers, with respect for all.” She expressed her love for Rego Park. “It was built for working class people, but with care and attention to architecture and open spaces that one doesn’t often find any longer. This is what is threatened by overdevelopment.”

The landmarked National Arts Club at the Samuel Tilden mansion

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

"Mayflower Maples" Taking Root To Preserve Trees, History, Community

By Michael Perlman

The Mayflower circa 1941

Mayflower Maples proudly pose at the Mayflower's new courtyard fountain, Photo by Michael Perlman

The Mayflower, a 155-unit Art Moderne apartment building at 69-10 Yellowstone Boulevard was a crowning Forest Hills achievement when it opened in 1941 at an estimated cost of $625,000. Mayflower Realty Corp. appointed architects Morris Rothstein & Son to design two-to-five-room apartments with novelties including terraces, a garage, and central and outer gardens in a developing community. Prior achievements were the 1936 IND subway and the 1939 World’s Fair, boosting demographics.

Fast-forward nearly 80 years, and the maple trees in the central garden are now six-stories high. “In August 2018, work began on a renovation project intended to restore our courtyard garden to its original well-manicured 1940s state, but shareholders and residents were unaware of the scope and timing of the plan,” said Elisabeth Grace, a 12-year resident. “I noticed that the trees were marked with red paint and asked our doorman why. I was told that the trees will be cut down in a matter of days!” Leading with her heart, she founded the “Mayflower Maples,” a group of shareholders and residents who successfully petitioned management through teamwork and neighborliness to preserve the trees.

The Mayflower Maples continues to meet every 4 to 6 weeks, in the spirit of “creating a more caring and connected community,” according to Grace. The group offers recommendations to the co-op board, which has responded positively to various suggested improvements. For example, members recently coordinated the first Halloween party, where residents brought their children. Crafts and games were provided, with a small stipend from the board. 

Maple trees rescued by Mayflower Maples & new fountain, Photo by Michael Perlman
As for the courtyard renovation, it was over two years in the making. Phase One encompassed removing the prior fountain and dead trees. In summer 2019, Phase Two introduced a new fountain. Grace said, “It is lovely and resembles a mountain stream.” Phase Three is anticipated for this year, where the landscaper will present a design to accommodate the spared trees.

Grace explained the challenging preservation process. “I live in an apartment that looks directly into the tree branches of another part of the building. I would be devastated by its loss and could imagine how my courtyard neighbors would feel about losing ‘their’ trees too. But contracts were presumably signed, and the trees were slated to be gone in days. Who was I to think I could stop it? I was just one person!” She posted the dilemma on social media and felt inspired by the immediate support. “Friends urged me to ‘call the management company! Petition the board! Rally your neighbors!’ So I took a deep breath and called a neighbor on the co-op board. When I asked why the trees were being cut down, she said ‘nothing will grow there.’”

Grace recalled, “I laid out a case for the benefits of mature trees; beauty, shade, reducing A/C costs, flood prevention, a haven for birds and other animals, air purification, noise reduction, privacy, and increased property values. From the bottom of my heart, I said ‘If you cut down those trees without asking for input from shareholders, you will never be able to undo it, and people are going to be very upset.’”

The following day, Grace approached neighbors in her lobby, with its picture window view of red-splotched trees. She said, “It seemed from their reactions that many were surprised to have a neighbor speak to them after years of walking by without saying hello. When I asked if they knew the trees were being cut down, most were horrified.” She then compiled their contact details. “It was resolved that we should write a petition to the board to stop the planned ‘TreeAsco.’ As I was in full-blown community organizer mode, I received a text from my board member friend that plans to cut the trees were ‘put on hold for the moment.’”

Nevertheless, the consensus was to meet as a group to further discuss the issue. She explained, “We are a delightfully international group, and some of us have served on other co-op boards. Our action plan was to write and distribute a flyer to all residents, letting them know about the plans for the courtyard and raising concern about management’s failure to solicit input from shareholders and clearly communicate plans. We also included a list of ideas for the courtyard’s use and invited residents to brainstorm.” They launched a gmail account and invited everyone to join the Mayflower Maples discussions. In response, the board held a Town Hall meeting and created one shareholder committee to make recommendations on landscaping and another to compile ideas for the use of a new common room, attached to the state-of-the-art gym that they funded last year. “They scuttled the plan to destroy the trees, and my board member friend apologized to residents for not soliciting input,” said Grace. 

New fountain in the Mayflower's inner courtyard, Photo by Michael Perlman
The 1941 Mayflower prospectus reads, “This building will contain a well landscaped center garden, affording a beautiful view. The garden will be well kept, and insures an inspiration for serene living.” It also states, “The Mayflower is in the original Forest Hills, where all buildings are planned and designed to blend in harmoniously with the surroundings, and give ample light, air, and comforts of living.” Grace responded, “Years ago, when I first read the prospectus, it made me sad. The garden was in a state of disrepair when the building went co-op in the 1980s and remained an eyesore until last year. It will be beautifully restored this summer and that feels great!”

Board President Janice Goldhaar, a thirty-year shareholder said, “I am happy that the plan has been revised to incorporate some of the trees into our landscaping plan. Trees certainly symbolize life. The Board invited the Maples to meet so we could share ideas. We welcome the input of all shareholders and for them to be more engaged.”

Treasurer Carolyn Harrs explained, “Our approach was to create a similar fountain to the one in our building’s front. In our landscaper’s original thought process, the huge trees were a problem. We needed sunlight for plants to grow. Now the design will have to change, so the type of plants can be accommodating to shade.”

Many improvements followed since the Mayflower Maples’ founding. Goldhaar said, “We discovered that many shareholders were looking for more communication, hearing about the process of running our co-op, and why we made certain decisions. The Board responded by forming committees, having monthly Town Hall meetings, establishing a gmail account for questions/comments to the Board. This is in addition to communication via Robo calls and paper notices that are sent to residents. We are also happy to have recently built the community room space.” It has accommodated meetings and activities such as CPR classes, the book club, and a knitting club.

Gathering on couches overlooking the courtyard, which would have been rare for residents in prior years, Mayflower Maples members had much to share. Twenty-four-year resident Iris Gretano said, “I love the feeling that our trees convey, which makes me feel refreshed. Communication brings people together and teamwork is very essential. This could not have been accomplished alone.”

Three-year resident Jenny Lugo lives in the Mayflower with her husband and baby. “When we were looking for an apartment, we first noticed the amazing courtyard and its trees, and the fact that you can see it from both lobbies is beautiful and a hidden jewel. When the Mayflower Maples was born, a new sense of community began growing with our trees. Now people are more mindful of one another and have a vested interest in the building, and hopefully we can think of more ways to harvest our Mayflower community.” She also shared her vision for the courtyard, drawing upon a point where some residents are retired. “Besides the community room activities, we are thinking about cost-effective ways of contributing to people’s well-being and happiness such as by developing a Mayflower community garden. Many of us are invested in nature, so why not provide an outlet for residents to do gardening, provide a healthy outlet, and beautify an area?”

“We can be seen as a microcosm for our interaction with life and the world, which starts at home,” said Lulu Brotherton, an 18-year resident. Citing warmth, understanding, and making new friends, she said, “Now my relationship to my building is very different from most of the time that I have been living here.” Revitalizing the courtyard further inspires her vision. “I am a big fan of public space. Everything would need to be agreed upon, but there may be ways to derive energy more efficiently such as with solar panels, a roof garden, and underground composting.”

“When my wife and I moved in 21 years ago, I was really disappointed to learn that the courtyard was off-limits,” said Phil Kalish. “Originally, the board did not release minutes and proceeded without building input, but the Mayflower Maples had an effect in encouraging the board to become more transparent. We did a survey to determine if residents would like to go outside and enjoy the courtyard, and the overwhelming response was yes. Our building has a landscaping committee, and by the time our courtyard is complete, it will be a real asset.”

The Mayflower has proven to be a quality address. Grace said, “I appreciate the warmth of our unique rose-colored marble lobby floors, decorative fireplaces, and other lovingly-restored details. Our apartments have high ceilings, arched doorways, built-in bookshelves, hardwood floors, large windows, and many closets. Rooms are generous in size.” She explained an especially meaningful perk. “Those residents who overlook the courtyard can sometimes spot Sam, our resident Cooper’s hawk, who often perches in one of the maples.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Rego Park Descendant Marion Legler Tells All

By Michael Perlman

Marion Legler, granddaughter of Rego Park developer Joseph Thone, points to Marion Court's 1929 terra-cotta relief & heavily encrusted archways, Photo by Michael Perlman
Signed photo of Real Good Construction Company developers circa mid-1920s, Courtesy of Bruce Powell
Back in 1923, the Rego Construction Company, also known as the Real Good Construction Company, acquired land in Forest Hills West and named “Rego Park” after their advertising slogan, “REal GOod Homes.” The typical story that is told is how the firm was founded by two natives of Germany; president Henry L. Schloh and secretary and treasurer Charles I. Hausmann, but now a piece of the puzzle long forgotten has been rediscovered.

In June 2016, Rego Park native Marion Thone Legler (born 1932), who resides in New Hyde Park, visited the neighborhood after 3 decades and explained the accomplishments of her grandfather Joseph F. Thone (1870 – 1955), another founding party and developer of the Rego Construction Company, who lived at 63-35 Bourton Street in Rego Park. Legler, who was raised at 61-30 Booth Street (now demolished), shared a detailed account of her childhood and early adulthood. She communicated with much passion and sentiment in the lobby of Marion Court at 62-98 Saunders Street (completed 1929), which her grandfather built 3 years before her birth. Legler was named after the building situated on Marion Avenue (now 63rd Avenue) and due to her grandfather’s interest in the name, according to her beliefs. 

Queens Blvd towards Remo Hall on Saunders St, Courtesy of Marion Legler & by Capitol Photo Service Commercial Photographers, 140 5th Ave
Rego Park homes, office, & stores to be erected circa mid-1920s, Courtesy of Bruce Powell
The firm developed 525 eight-room single-family “Rego Homes,” railroad style Colonial frame houses with porches between 63rd Drive and Elliot Avenue along Saunders, Booth, Wetherole, and Austin Streets, which sold for an approximate $7,500. Three apartment houses followed, which 70 families each called home. They were the Tudor-style Remo Hall at 61-40 Saunders Street (1927) and the Spanish Mission-style Jupiter Court at 62-64 Saunders Street (1927) and Marion Court. 

Marion Court, 1928 rendering, Courtesy of Queens Chamber of Commerce
Remo Hall circa late 1920s, Courtesy of Bruce Powell, Henry Schloh's grandson
Jupiter Court circa late 1920s by Times Square Photo Service, Courtesy of Bruce Powell, Henry Schloh's grandson
Designed by Benjamin Braunstein, they offer recessed facades and courtyards to maximize fresh air, light, and landscaping, which such developers considered an advantage over the urbanized city. Architecturally, Marion Court boasts terra-cotta reliefs of animals, leaded glass depictions of castles, and a roof garden where residents would once recreate and keep cool come summer. 

Terra-cotta reliefs of animals & florid vines, Photo by Michael Perlman
Other family members were active in civic matters. In 1928, her uncle named Joseph H. Thone of 62-87 Booth Street, became president of the newly founded Rego Park Tennis Club, and around 1929, became secretary of the new Men’s Club of Our Saviour Lutheran Church. 

Lutheran Church of Our Saviour circa 1936 photo from 10th Anniversary Book
 “Rego Park was a playground for children,” said Legler. “We used to sleigh ride down 63rd Avenue. We never had to worry about cars because there were very few.” On Queens Boulevard, her father William Thone owned a hardware store, which was one of a few shops concentrated on the south side, west of 63rd Drive. “On the other side, there were lots and swamps over where your big apartments are now,” she said. Small shops stood along 63rd Drive, as well as PS 139 (erected 1929), where she graduated from. She said, “We went from Kindergarten through 8th grade. They taught arithmetic, the sciences, English… grammar, and penmanship. In the upper grades, the boys took shop and the girls took home ed, which was learning how to cook, making beds; how to be a housewife and a mother.” Children went home for lunch. 

Victory gardening on 99th Street with Queens Boulevard Gardens complex in the background, June 1944
Victory gardening was prevalent during WWII and her school participated. “We grew carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, and celery.” Furthermore, she explained, “We would bring money and buy what was called stamps, which was like a savings account. You learned how to cook in the school, how to grow food outside, and how to save your money at the same time.”

She graduated from Forest Hills High School in 1950 and remained in Rego Park until her marriage in 1956 at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, which was followed by a reception at the popular Rego Park Community Club at 62nd Road and Wetherole Street. 

Legler reminisced Rego Park as a neighborly small town. “If you had a party, everybody was there. We would get home from school and drop our books, go outside and play. The parents all sat on the stoop at night, while we played Ringolevio and Running Bases until the street lights went on.” Other popular games were diamond ball and stick ball.

Legler explained the social scene. “On Queens Boulevard, there were several outdoor barbecue places that would play music, and we would be entertained for free.” Memorable spots included Lost Battalion Hall, Boulevard Tavern, Howard Johnson’s, White Castle, Fairyland amusement park, and the Elmwood, Trylon, and Drake movie theaters. As for a typical weekend, she said, “For 5 cents, you would go to the movies. You had to sit in the children’s section and a matron would walk back and forth with her flashlight to make sure you behaved.” Screenings included a cartoon, newswreels during WWII, and two feature films. “Occasionally, there was a contest between the films, such as a Duncan yo-yo contest,” she recalled.

The neighborhood children’s fixture was “Buddy, the Bungalow Bar man.” “We kind of chased Good Humor off the block,” she chuckled. Home deliveries were also the norm. She said, “Dugan’s and Krug’s were the bread people. In the beginning, they came on a horse and buggy. The ice man would also come and chop the ice, since you had an ice box.” Another necessity was a coal chute in the basement, since there was no gas heat. 

Marion Ave with Rego Homes development, May 29, 1925, Courtesy of Marion Legler
Legler’s mother was born in Norway, her father in America, and her grandfather in Germany. To this day, she reflects on her strong family values. She said, “Everybody had to be at the table. If you were late for dinner, you were in big trouble. Before we would leave the table, we would say, ‘takk for maten’ (thank you for the food).”

Sunday dinner was after church at 1 PM. The menu was mostly roast beef and sometimes turkey. She said, “The vegetables… you ate them. Most were creamed and were German or Norwegian style.” She continued, “Mom always made dessert. There was custard bread pudding, homemade pie, pineapple rice pudding from Norway, and Brown Betty.”

Employment was sometimes a challenge, such as when her father gave up his hardware store during the Great Depression. Legler worked a key punch machine for General Motors. She recalled, “In 1950, my salary was $33 a week, and that was before they took everything out.” Nevertheless, she explained, “We had food stamps, but they were good years. The families worked together.”

Today, Legler maintains an active lifestyle. “I am a computer programmer and I have 4 daughters and 11 grandchildren,” she said. She inherited her grandfather’s photo collection of “construction from day 1,” consisting of over 100 views including Queens Boulevard as a dirt road to its paving, early shops, homes, apartment houses, PS 139, and the ribbon cutting for the LIRR station on 63rd Drive.

Public School 139, Photo by Michael Perlman

Marion Court, Savoy Gardens, & Jupiter Court, Photo by Michael Perlman
Saunders Gardens on left & Jupiter Court on right, Photo by Michael Perlman

Remo Hall, Photo by Michael Perlman
Marion Court, Photo by Michael Perlman
As she toured Saunders Street and Booth Street, Legler felt preservation is essential. “Every effort should be made to maintain it. My grandfather knew how to build,” she said. Legler keeps in touch with her classmates. “I come back here and it’s my childhood. We played in these buildings, especially Marion Court, since it has an elevator, which was a big thing.”