Series: Queens Heritage Quest

From August to December 2010, Nicholas Hirshon wrote a seven-part series for the New York Daily News named “Queens Heritage Quest,” advocating for historic markers and trails to mark significant sites in the New York City borough of Queens.

First Installment: Hidden Gems

Published August 17, 2010

Queens, whose rich history can be traced from the Dutch settlers to the American Revolution to world’s fairs, has witnessed many moments of global significance through the centuries.

But a paucity of historical markers in the borough means that many notable sites exist in anonymity, with no visible indication of the trailblazing events that happened there.

As a result, residents stroll past these spots unaware of the momentous legacy of their neighborhoods – while Queens misses out on tourism opportunities that have proved profitable elsewhere in the country.

Shedding light on oft-overlooked treasures, Queens News starts a series today chronicling some of the borough’s most underappreciated historic sites.

Preservationists argue that Borough Hall, including new borough historian Jack Eichenbaum, can prove its commitment to local heritage by posting signage or creating brochures for the spots that will be profiled in these pages.

Eichenbaum sparked a debate over the role of a borough historian last month when he told The News that he wants to be an “educator” rather than fight to landmark buildings.

“I don’t see myself championing those types of causes,” Eichenbaum said at the time.

Eichenbaum was criticized but defended his approach, emphasizing his efforts to educate children about Queens history and vowing to refer landmarking causes to more “passionate” advocates.

The exchange spawned many ideas on how Eichenbaum, Borough President Helen Marshall and Queens tourism director Terri Osborne could honor local legacy even without landmarking.

For starters, historians say signage may encourage residents to take an interest in Queens’ past.

“It can be a very effective way of explaining to passersby the transformation in New York’s development,” said Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council.

Such efforts, advocates contend, may boost Queens tourism, inspire groundbreaking research and stir public interest in the borough’s past.

If the sites were grouped into themes, such as the popular Flushing Freedom Mile and Queens Jazz Trail, they might be even more successful in luring visitors.

“People are more likely to be advocates of preservation or conservation if they know what has been there before,” said Marci Reaven of Place Matters, which builds an online inventory of the city’s historic places, sometimes followed by signage.

But respecting such sites would not merely increase regional awareness of borough gems.

Experts say Queens tourism can also benefit from historical markers, accompanied by pamphlets or podcasts to link the notable spots.

It’s a mostly untapped means of pumping revenue into the borough’s economy. If visitors at airport hotels stay in Queens to explore historic sites, for example, they may eat and shop nearby.

“When you create experiences that will either draw people to your area or will encourage them to stay longer in your area, that’s bound to increase their expenditures,” said Amy Webb of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Jack Friedman of the Queens Chamber of Commerce admitted that the borough’s leaders “just don’t take advantage” of the potential for historic tourism.

In the weeks to come, Queens News will present several arguments that may help correct that oversight.

SIDEBAR: New Medium is Big

Sparking a media revolution at the 1939 World’s Fair, industry titan David Sarnoff unveiled television with his milestone broadcast from Queens to Manhattan.

But the spot where Sarnoff introduced a groundbreaking invention lacks a historical marker – its link to the momentous event going unheralded in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

“It was a turning point in the history of communications, and now we take it for granted,” said World’s Fair expert Pierre Montiel while roaming the park.

Preservationists want historical signage near the overlooked Sarnoff site – which is on the edge of the National Tennis Center.

They say that marking the spot would prove the borough’s commitment to noting its long-lost landmarks, while boosting civic pride and tourism in Queens.

“A plaque there would be nice,” said Alex Magoun, executive director of the David Sarnoff Library in Princeton, N.J.

Borough President Helen Marshall told Queens News last week that she would meet with signage supporters and park officials to discuss the proposal. “Have them come,” she said. “We’ll talk with them.”

Sarnoff, the president of the Radio Corp. of America, had been planning the unveiling for years before stepping to a podium with two microphones in 1939.

“Now we add radio sight to sound,” he said from the garden behind the RCA Exhibit Building. “It is with a feeling of humbleness that I come to this moment of announcing the birth in this country of a new art so important in its implications that it is bound to affect all society.”

Eight miles away, a crowd of about 100 in Radio City watched Sarnoff yield to remarks by other broadcasting pioneers – including Vladimir Zworykin, a famed television tinkerer.

A handful also witnessed the proceedings on experimental sets in their homes, according to Sarnoff biographer Eugene Lyons. The New York Times marveled the next day that “even the fleecy texture of the clouds” appeared distinctly on the sets, as did the fair’s towering centerpieces, the Trylon and Perisphere.

“You could actually see what was going on instead of trying to visualize,” said Geoff Bourne of the Museum of Radio & Technology in Huntington, W. Va.

RCA, of course, relished the publicity as a marketing tool.

Sarnoff said during the broadcast that NBC would “begin the first regular public television program service in the history of our country” days later on April 30.The Times reported that RCA’s sets would be available May 1.

In the months following Sarnoff’s landmark talk, the RCA exhibit continued to awe the public with television units in elaborate wooden cabinets, including a set with a 7-inch-by-10-inch screen.Sales would not spike until after World War II, but Lyons noted the “epochal date” in Queens.

He wrote, “Television for the home, though forced to linger in the laboratories some seven years more, was born that day and announced to the world by its proud and worried ‘father.’”

SIDEBAR: No Shortage of Artifacts

If Queens ever runs an exhibit on television’s debut, collectors vow to loan memorabilia such as an aging set that dazzled visitors to the 1939 World’s Fair.

An East Rockaway man said he would temporarily part with the antique TV, which has been a family heirloom ever since his great-grandfather bought it from RCA’s pavilion when the expo closed.

“I wouldn’t mind that,” said Chris Korzevinski, 46.That’s just one artifact available for a potential display on the long-demolished RCA Building.

Steve McVoy of the Early Television Museum in Hilliard, Ohio, said he would loan the chassis of another TV as well as a souvenir card given to the RCA exhibit’s visitors.

The unique card urged patrons to “tell your friends about what you have seen, and pass on to them some of your enthusiasm.”

SIDEBAR: Turned ‘Em Onto TV

Miss Television is on a mission.

A 94-year-old actress who introduced the public to television at the 1939 World’s Fair doesn’t understand why Queens never posted a historical marker by the site of the RCA Exhibit Building.

Phyllis Jeanne Creore has offered to loan one-of-a-kind photographs from her days as “Miss Television” at the RCA display for a tribute to the milestone broadcast that took place there.

“If they want any of them, if it’ll help them, it’s fine,” Creore said recently while admiring a mix of aging pictures and newspaper articles in her Manhattan apartment.

Creore cemented her place in TV lore after impressing RCA bigwigs during a casting call more than 70 years ago at the company’s headquarters in Radio City.

RCA picked Creore, described by an upstate reporter as a “vivacious young miss,” to help launch its television marketing campaign at the upcoming World’s Fair.

She regularly rode the subway in the summer of 1939 on her way to RCA’s building. Once there, Creore unveiled the corporation’s latest invention to the masses.

“I’d say, ‘Welcome to the RCA Building, NBC. You’re here to see all the wonderful new televisions we have,’” she recalled.

The job also required Creore to explain how the medium worked. “If anyone came and asked a question, hopefully I could answer them,” she said.

RCA even employed the attractive hostess in demonstrations of TV’s astonishing potential.

Standing in a garden behind the building, she interviewed governors, Broadway celebrities and movie stars who journeyed to the fair. She also asked strangers if they were enjoying the exhibit.

Creore’s chats were transmitted over 100 yards of coaxial cable to 20 indoor sets for a packed viewing audience, according to a 1939 article in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Though she earned just a “pittance,” Creore loved her work. “It was all new to me,” she said recently. “It was a wonderful job.”

Second Installment: A Living Past

Published August 24, 2010

Fading away on brick buildings throughout Queens, “ghost signs” advertise the businesses and products of yesteryear – a form of commercial art that preserves history with a vintage touch.

But the unique signs, some of which date to the 1930s, often go unnoticed by locals and tourists because the borough does not promote its own old-fashioned flair.

“They help paint the landscape you live in,” said Frank Jump, a Queens-bred blogger who photographs ghost signs. “We’re urban-dwellers. There’s not a lot of beauty in cities. It brings you back.”

To call attention to the classic ads, Jump is pushing Borough Hall to create a trail linking them with brochures or podcasts. Advocates argue that self-guided tours of the signs – clustered mainly in Jamaica, Long Island City and Woodhaven – may generate civic pride.

Tourism experts say the initiative would also lure visitors to Queens, capitalizing on a growing interest in the weathered ads.

“Ghost signs draw your attention to things that are often below the level of consciousness,” said Kathleen Hulser, an ad expert at the New-York Historical Society.

Queens borough historian Jack Eichenbaum called the trail a “good idea,” and said he can help. “But tourism may be a reach,” he added.

Still, supporters of the trail stressed the low startup costs of printing pamphlets, which could be placed at airports and hotels, as well as popular museums, malls and hotspots. Many also underscored the potential of podcasts or an iPhone application connecting aging ads.

Those might take more time to produce, but then the trail would always be available for download, supporters said – and printing costs could be eliminated. An Internet component would also allow trail organizers to track website hits and downloads, measuring the success of the effort.

The ads, though initially unassuming, help define the areas in which they remain – telltale evidence of a neighborhood’s industrial or commercial past. They hint where the borough’s most bustling downtown districts once were. Many signs are by elevated subway lines, where advertisers hoped to catch the eyes – and dollars – of straphangers.

“You realize things didn’t always look like this,” said Harriet Senie, a professor of contemporary American art at the CUNY Graduate Center. “Coming across real evidence of the past is extremely powerful.”

The signs also include references to long-lost Queens culture.

A Middle Village sign bills dining, dancing and bowling – and contains the bygone Havemeyer telephone exchange, used from 1930 into the 1950s.

A smokestack in Ridgewood, meanwhile, bears vertical lettering for Bohack, a chain of supermarkets that once boasted citywide stores but was shuttered in 1977.

“It is a contributing element in telling the history and design of a building,” said Cynthia Howk of the Landmark Society of Western New York. “It pulls people [in], gives an additional interest.”

Other ghost signs promote national brands – some defunct, some still powerhouses – like Imported Guinness in Long Island City, Norge Refrigerator in Jamaica and Rubie’s Costume Co. in Richmond Hill.

“Some people are reminded of the companies where their parents or grandparents worked,” said Erin Tobin, a regional director for the Preservation League of New York State.

While Jump noted an ad above nondescript Woodhaven shops, he reflected on the trail as a way to highlight the signs – undervalued glimpses into the borough’s past.

“It would definitely bring into light a side of Queens that might not necessarily be evident,” he said. “It’s kind of like a fingerprint on who first settled this area.”

SIDEBAR: How to Give ‘Ghosts’ Substance

Advocates of a ghost sign trail in Queens are already garnering kudos – and valuable advice – from experts who helped restore fading ads across the country.

Citing growing public interest in the ads, Tod Swormstedt of the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati said the jump to a Queens tour is “not a very big leap.”

“This is already a kind of movement that’s happening in attracting tourists,” he said.

Local tourism experts said that a Queens trail should follow successful models that pitch the city’s unusual attractions over its most commonly visited landmarks.

Tourism is “definitely trending towards ‘off the beaten path,’” said Gabriel Schoenberg, who runs a series of citywide graffiti walks.

While all ghost sign admirers contacted by Queens News supported the trail, there was some disagreement over how to preserve the ads. Many favor carefully repainting the ghost signs, allowing faint text to come alive again. That approach was embraced in St. Louis, for example, where fading ads pitching beer and flour regained their colorful vitality.

Appreciation for the signs also runs deep upstate, in Rochester. “These signs evoke a real sense of nostalgia,” said Rochester city historian Christine Ridarsky. “It’s a tangible way for people to look back on the commercial past.”

Elsewhere in New York, preservationists successfully relied on an ad’s maker to fund the restoration of a ghost sign in 1993. In Brockport, Procter & Gamble paid to repaint one of the corporation’s first marketing campaigns – a distinct 1880s sign for Ivory Soap, said the building’s owner, Darlene Trento.

Similarly, preservationists said, Queens could try to fund repainting of its ghost signs by contacting the companies with faint ads on the borough’s streets.

Others note that repainting a sign actually replaces it rather than conserving the original art, the faded look of which proved the sign’s age and made it unique. That camp argues for re-adhering flaking paint instead.

Though opinions differ on how to best respect the ads, an entry on the website of the National Park Service stresses their importance.

“Preserving historic signs is not always easy,” the website states. “But the intrinsic merit of many signs, as well as their contribution to the overall character of a place, make the effort worthwhile.”


SIDEBAR: Boro Prez Gets Behind Efforts

It’s a hit!

Borough President Helen Marshall hailed the Queens Heritage Quest series after Queens News ran its first installment last week – hinting she would help fund efforts to recognize overlooked sites.

“I love this idea,” Marshall said in a statement.“I will be happy to work with the Daily News, our borough historian and our local historical societies in a combined effort to preserve our history even more.”

Marshall spokesman Dan Andrews cautioned that installing historical markers requires startup cash and “a lot of cooperation” from property owners. But he also expressed willingness to work with Queens News and local preservationists.

The series began last Tuesday with calls for signage at the spot where RCA dramatically unveiled television to the American public during the 1939 World’s Fair.

Queens News outlined arguments for a marker to recognize the location of the long-demolished RCA Exhibit Building – at the edge of the site of the National Tennis Center in leafy Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Marshall seemed keen on paying tribute. “Perhaps, the site where the RCA building once stood would be a great jumping off location for this campaign,” she said.

Third Installment: Filmed in Our Backyard

Published August 31, 2010

Archie Bunker and Frank Costanza lived here. Queens’ largest park has hosted a wisecracking superhero and a funny, intergalactic showdown. Even comedy legends resided locally.

But the borough’s legacy of laughs on the small and big screens could adopt the catch phrase of Kew Gardens-raised comic Rodney Dangerfield: “I don’t get no respect!”

To call attention to Queens’ TV and film treasures, entertainment fans agreed that a trail of important sites would generate both civic pride and tourism.

After interviewing experts and combing through books and websites, Queens News compiled 16 sites that might form the trail – if Borough Hall can offer funding.

“Once you start making a list, you find there’s more in Queens than you actually realize,” said David Schwartz, the chief curator at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.

At Borough Hall, Queens tourism director Terri Osborne hailed the trail as a nice fit for the region. “It seems like a natural,” she said.

To create the best trail possible, Osborne said she might reach out to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the city Parks Department and local chambers of commerce to solicit their advice.

She also mentioned partnering with hospitality students at a local college to produce a podcast or an iPhone application for the trail. That would engage students in Queens history and allow them to hone their skills, while also saving Borough Hall some time and cash needed to make the tour, she said.

The trail could begin with an Astoria home used for establishing shots of the Costanza abode in the sitcom “Seinfeld.” Nearby are two prominent film studios: Kaufman Astoria on 36th St., where the Marx Brothers shot their first full-length picture, “The Cocoanuts” (1929), and Silvercup on 22nd St., home to the smash NBC show “30 Rock.”

Driving southeast to Elmhurst, the trail might lead to a Wendy’s that is best known to movie buffs as the McDowell’s fast-food eatery from the 1988 film “Coming to America” with Eddie Murphy. At the restaurant – a parody of McDonald’s – Prince Akeem Joffer (Murphy) of the fictional African nation Zamunda and his servant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) thwart a stickup man (Samuel L. Jackson).

Next, the tour could journey to Glendale for the famed “All in the Family” home, which appeared in the opening credits of the groundbreaking 1970s series.

The show’s producer, Norman Lear, was quoted in The New York Times as saying that he picked the home “because it exudes pride of ownership, though there’s no garden or picket fence.”

Next up are the former homes of Golden Age legends. Charlie Chaplin reportedly bought a Kew Gardens house in 1919, and the Marx Brothers resided in Richmond Hill in the 1920s.

Hungry tourists would eat up another stop: the Lemon Ice King of Corona, which was shown in the opening montage of the Kevin James sitcom “King of Queens.”

Blocks away is Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and the Unisphere, featured in “Men in Black” (1997) and “Iron Man 2” (2010). In the former, Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith play color-coordinated agents who elicit chuckles while chasing an alien up the New York State Pavilion.

The trail’s followers could end their journey on a more romantic note – with dinner at Valentino’s on the Green in Bayside, once the mansion of celluloid sex symbol Rudolph Valentino.

“It could be a great tour,” said Richard Alleman, author of the 1988 tome “New York: The Movie Lover’s Guide.” “I found more than I expected [in Queens] when I wrote the book.”

SIDEBAR: Reaction to News’ Proposed Ghost Sign Trail is Out of This World

We reported and you replied.

Readers flooded Queens News with phone calls, emails and Web comments after our Queens Heritage Quest stories last week on a potential ghost sign trail linking fading ads with brochures or a podcast.

Locals identified many ads that they believe should join blogger Frank Jump’s list of 16, which he envisions as the basis for a trail.

The staff at Lilien Hardware in Long Island City noted an ad for a pawn shop and another hawking TV sets on Queens Blvd. between 47th and 48th Sts. A few miles southeast, in Middle Village, Kathy Henn was letting her nails dry at a salon when she spotted a drugstore sign at 73rd Place and Metropolitan Ave. And Rob Hart of Long Beach, L.I., sent a cell phone photo of his favorite ad – billing Martin & Sons spice importers along the elevated tracks in Jamaica – but added that it since has been painted over.

It’s a reminder that ghost signs fade away gradually and are often painted over, advocates say, so passersby should appreciate them during their fleeting existence.

Proponents of a ghost sign tour soon may be able to pitch their plans to a powerful audience. Borough historian Jack Eichenbaum said he will invite Jump to an Oct. 28 conclave of preservation groups at Borough Hall.

Fourth Installment: Patriot Act in Hollis

Published September 28, 2010

Exactly 234 years ago this month, a Revolutionary War general died from wounds incurred during a defiant showdown with the British – a gripping tale of patriotism that began in Queens.

But the spot where Nathaniel Woodhull was mortally wounded in 1776 does not bear tribute to the first high-ranking colonial officer to become a prisoner of war and die in enemy captivity.

“It needs to be preserved as a reminder of his sacrifice,” said John Mauk Hilliard, president of the city chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. “We need these things to draw us together.”

A few weeks ago, Daily News reader Lavington Charles suggested the spot where Woodhull was fatally injured – at 196th St. and Jamaica Ave. in Hollis – as part of the Queens Heritage Quest series.

Now in its fourth installment, the series profiles places that preservationists feel deserve recognition from Borough Hall – such as signage or historic trails linked by brochures or podcasts.

A state historical marker citing Woodhull’s capture once stood at the corner. But the sign broke about a decade ago and has since been stored at the Queens Historical Society in Flushing.

Queens’ new borough historian, Jack Eichenbaum, did not rule out his support for historical signage. But he also suggested an iPhone application to link notable Hollis sites or Queens places relating to the American Revolution.

Locals agreed on paying tribute to Woodhull.

“What happened to him is a lesson for every one of us,” said Bob Singleton, president of the Greater Astoria Historical Society. “That dream that Woodhull stood for is alive and well whenever I walk around Queens.”

Woodhull, president of the Provincial Congress of New York, was assigned to steer cattle east to Long Island – and away from the British – when he stopped at a tavern in Queens on Aug. 28, 1776.

From there, the narrative gets sketchy.

Tradition describes a dramatic scene during which Woodhull encountered British forces and soon surrendered his sword. An officer then ordered Woodhull to proclaim, “God save the king.”

“God save us all!” Woodhull responded.

The officer, sometimes identified as Capt. James Baird, slashed Woodhull with a saber – delivering multiple blows that led to his death in captivity about a month later on Sept. 20.

But a different story emerged in 1951 when The New York Times ran a front-page article in which researcher W.H.W. Sabine doubted the compelling exchange.

Sabine cited a dusty scrapbook with Woodhull’s own account of the capture – apparently given to a lieutenant who was with him in a prison camp when he died.

Woodhull supposedly said that he surrendered his sword to – and was then struck by – an American Tory, loyal to the British, named Capt. Oliver DeLancey.

Whether Woodhull was fatally struck while defending himself or after surrendering also became a point of contention. Experts even question his memorable quote.

Regardless of the circumstances, historians insist that Woodhull’s death helped define a crucial period around the time of the famous Battle of Long Island.

His agonizing demise – and the apparent refusal by the British to allow medical care – reminded colonists of the brutality of their rivals.

“The fact that he died as a British prisoner, no matter how that happened, was an important one,” said Brooklyn College Prof. Edwin Burrows, the author of the 2008 book “Forgotten Patriots,” about early American POWs.

SIDEBAR: ‘It’d Be a Shame’ For History to Disappear

As a history buff, Lavington Charles took pride in the marker near his Hollis home that noted where a prominent Revolutionary War general was mortally wounded.

But his civic swagger took a hit about a decade ago when the sign that detailed Nathaniel Woodhull’s death vanished.

“I feel it’d be a shame for it to just disappear from the pages of history,” said Charles, a retired social studies teacher at Public School 75 in Ridgewood.
Charles, 63, emailed Queens News last month to propose the Woodhull site as part of the Queens Heritage Quest series, hoping media attention might push the borough’s leaders to replace the marker.

He insisted the sign was vital to alerting passersby to the general’s legacy.

“I don’t know if my neighbors know why we have a Woodhull Ave.,” he said, referring to a street that runs less than a block from where the marker once stood.

Charles joins a long line of patriotic citizens who have sought to pay tribute to Woodhull throughout the decades.

In 1848, a collection of Long Island notables hoping to honor the general formed the ultimately unsuccessful Woodhull Monument Association. They proposed erecting a “lofty and enduring” tower – about 300 feet high with a price tag of at least $50,000 – on the grounds of Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, according to a group pamphlet.

Inside the tower, they suggested, visitors would marvel at busts and statues honoring Christopher Columbus, pilgrims and many figures from astronomy and politics.

“It is not only a duty, but a privilege, for us who enjoy the fruits of the heroism and love of country which distinguished our Revolutionary Fathers, to unite in so solemn and affecting a tribute to their memory,” the group wrote.

It’s unclear why the monument never rose. But a cemetery official noted a street at the base of a hill there is named Woodhull Way.

SIDEBAR: It’s a Long Battle for War Hero Sign

Gen. Nathaniel Woodhull’s story drips with drama – and so does the saga of historical markers at the site where he was captured.

The state Education Department posted a cast-iron sign on Jamaica Ave. in Hollis in 1935 to note the important moment during the American Revolution.

The inscription read, “On Aug. 28, 1776, Gen. Nathaniel Woodhull was captured and fatally wounded by the British in Increase Carpenter’s house 200 feet north of this spot.”

But the tribute suffered a fate nearly as dreadful as its honoree.

By 1960, the marker had become so rusted that a local church asked the state to repair it. The state suggested the church contact a civic or historical group – a match that never materialized.

Then the sign cracked about a decade ago, and the Queens Historical Society kept it in storage. It still sits – in two pieces – at the society’s Flushing headquarters today.

John Mauk Hilliard of the Sons of the American Revolution estimated that replacing the sign may cost between $2,000 and $3,000 – funds he hopes to raise.

It’s not the first time that honoring Woodhull has proven tricky. Blocks away, on 90th Ave., debates once raged over a memorial cannon dedicated to Woodhull in 1904 in the yard of Public School 35, also known as the Nathaniel Woodhull School.

In 1951, the local school board became embroiled in arguments over whether Woodhull had been “wounded by a British officer . . . for refusing to say, ‘God save the king,’” as the monument states.

Woodhull’s moniker also graces a school in Mastic Beach, L.I., where he is buried. But perhaps the best-known site that bears his last name, the Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn, is named not after the general but for an early landowner, Richard Woodhull.

Fifth Installment: A Crown for Queens

Published November 16, 2010

The all-time Kings of Queens will soon have a throne.

Plans are nearing fruition for a Queens Hall of Fame, with events and exhibits honoring the most accomplished actors, musicians and athletes in borough history, Queens News has learned.

Borough President Helen Marshall is partnering with local business groups on the ambitious venture – set to start next year with an induction ceremony and museum-like displays across Queens.

Organizers said the project will rely heavily on research from two Queens News series on significant sites without city landmark status or historical markers, including the ongoing Queens Heritage Quest articles.

They hope to run the inaugural induction gala in May in conjunction with a festival – perhaps titled “Queens Week” – designed to lure tourists to events at parks, libraries and other borough spots.

By calling attention to Queens’ undervalued history, the hall’s planners seek to generate civic pride among residents. They also want to attract outsiders to the borough and pump cash into local hotels, eateries and shops.

“We don’t do anything in this borough to distinguish ourselves as a destination point,” said Jack Friedman of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, which is collaborating on the project.

Early visions call for a small memorabilia display at the Discover Queens Visitors Center in the Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst, as well as exhibits in at least three other neighborhoods.

The Hall of Fame is the brainchild of Laurence Christian, a marketing consultant who persuaded the Chamber of Commerce and the Queens Economic Development Corp. to back his concept. Then Marshall signed on.

Jamaica, which has produced rappers like 50 Cent, was chosen for a display on music. Flushing, which hosts the Mets and the U.S. Open tennis championships, was picked for a sports exhibit – possibly at the Flushing Library on Main St. And Long Island City, associated with movie studios like Silvercup, could house a display on the borough’s legacy in TV and film.

A fourth tribute is slated to honor famed Queens businesspeople, Friedman said.

Insiders said the first class of inductees may include St. Albans-raised rapper and actor LL Cool J and Def Jam hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who grew up in Hollis.

Other honorees will draw from the borough’s distant past. Christian said the hall may someday honor baseball legend Jackie Robinson or civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois, whose Addisleigh Park homes were profiled in The News’ History in Peril series in 2008.

The hall’s founders are still ironing out the guidelines for induction, such as how long the honorees must have lived or worked in the borough.

Seth Bornstein of the Queens Economic Development Corp. described the ideal candidate as being “inspirational now for the people of Queens.”

Sixth Installment: Monumental Fight

Published November 23, 2010

Blood spattered nightly during matches at Sunnyside Garden, a red-brick arena where boxers and wrestlers scrapped before the venue’s destruction in 1977.

Now burgers – not grapplers – are flipped there. A Wendy’s fast-food joint occupies the lot at Queens Blvd. and 45th St.

Decades after its last bout, fight fans hope to erect a monument to honor the 2,000-seat mainstay, which hosted Rocky Graziano, wrestler Bruno Sammartino and a campaign stop by John F. Kennedy.

But plans to honor its legacy are developing into one last battle royal.

Wendy’s has agreed to offset some costs of a monument on the edge of its parking lot – and yet the tribute’s design has emerged as an unlikely sticking point.

A prominent group of retired boxers wants to include the names of about 40 professional pugilists who once slugged it out at Sunnyside.

A splinter organization, meanwhile, envisions a cover-all inscription honoring the “men who fought and bled here.”

Both factions expressed confidence that the memorial – expected to cost about $7,000 – will become a reality by next summer.

But it’s unclear if the wording dustup will complicate plans for the marker.

“The project is not dead,” said Tony Mazzarella of the Queens-based boxers group Ring 8. “It is alive and well.”

A leader of the rival faction also vowed to finish the project.

“I will not let this die,” said Ring 10 founder Matt Farrago. “It will happen. And it will happen very soon.”

Farrago, who was Ring 8 president until what he called a “hostile takeover” by Mazzarella and others a month ago, said the monument’s construction was long delayed amid debates over which names should be included.

He figured excluding the names – and instead etching the monument with boxing gloves, the Sunnyside Garden facade and a general shoutout – will prevent any hurt feelings.

The Daily News’ Golden Gloves tournament regularly played Sunnyside Garden in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Former News boxing reporter Bill Farrell said the cards often featured heavyweight Tommy Carcone, dubbed the Astoria Assassin.

Other nights were highlighted by Henry Wallitsch – billed as the Astoria Adonis and Astoria Banger – who claims to have fought the most main events in the arena’s history.

Wallitsch, now 75, remembered Sunnyside Garden as an “old, dirty, broken-down place – but it was the place to be.”

Middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo provided a similar analysis in the 1998 book “East Side, West Side: Tales of New York Sporting Life, 1910-1960.”

“Sunnyside always reminded me of one of those old-time fight clubs you see in the movies,” he said. “The place was always noisy and thick with cigar and cigarette smoke.”

The arena also witnessed political drama.

During the fierce presidential race in 1960, then-Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy capped a whirlwind day of campaigning with a visit to Sunnyside Garden on Oct. 27.

The Democratic nominee planned a 10:45 p.m. speech there – just 45 minutes before he was set to depart the city from LaGuardia Airport. Days later, he defeated Richard Nixon in the election.

SIDEBAR: Boro Boasted Plenty of Arenas in Boxing’s Heyday

Neighborhood boxing arenas such as Sunnyside Garden once dotted the borough during agolden era that few fight fans recall today.

From the Roaring Twenties into the Cold War, Queens thrived as a hotbed for headlining scraps— though no historical markers denote the area’s pugilistic past.

Long Island City boasted the Madison SquareGarden Bowl, a 72,000-seat arena where James J. Braddock secured the world heavyweight title in 1935. The bout was immortalized in the 2005 movie “Cinderella Man.”

Near the Brooklyn-Queens line sat the Ridgewood Grove, which opened in 1926 at St. Nicholas Ave. and Palmetto St. The arena hosted champion boxers Kid Chocolate, Al Singer and Sandy Saddler before becoming a supermarket in 1956.

The venue reopened as the New Ridgewood Groves in 1982, with its promoter signing a20-year lease, but the arena’s second stint did not last.

Southeast Queens, meanwhile, boasted Jamaica Arena, where matches were regularly televisedin the 1940s and 1950s.

Among its brushes with wrestling fame was a 1966 contest pitting star grappler Bruno Sammartino versus a 375-pound Hawaiian named Prince Iaukea.

Sammartino’s young cousin Antonio Pugliese took the mat the same night against veterinarian Bill Miller, a former player on Ohio State’s 1950 Rose Bowl-winning team.

Seventh Installment: App-ropriate Way to Learn About Boro

Published December 21, 2010

Head southeast from the Frank Costanza abode, pass the “Men in Black” spaceship, arrive at Charlie Chaplin’s house.

Soon, a smart phone app could lead visitors from Kaufman Astoria Studios to the Marx Brothers’ home in Richmond Hill to dozens of famous TV and movie sites.

That’s one of many ideas being explored by Borough Hall in response to the Daily News’ five-month-long Queens Heritage Quest series, which concludes today.

The series included an Aug. 31 report in which historians advocated for a TV and movie trail. That concept impressed local leaders.

“That’s what started it off and got us talking,” said Queens tourism director Terri Osborne.

To realize the vision, Osborne is teaming with two professors at Queensborough Community College – drama instructor Mike Cesarano and Bruce Naples, who teaches website design.

Naples, 63, is testing an in-development iPhone app named Locacious that allows users to create and distribute walking tours.

Besides the movie and TV trail, Naples said he also wants to create similar tour apps for the Queensborough campus and his hometown, Richmond Hill.

“The beauty of that is people in the neighborhoods could create their own,” he said.

The same technology could be applied to a trail of “ghost signs,” or faded ads on brick buildings, which were also featured in the Queens Heritage Quest articles.

The series began in August after Queens’ new borough historian, Jack Eichenbaum, said he wanted to be an “educator” rather than champion efforts to landmark buildings.

His remarks sparked debates over the historian’s role and how Borough Hall could generate civic pride and lure tourists by honoring significant sites.

Activists proposed erecting historical markers and creating podcast-linked trails.

Apparently, Borough Hall was reading.

Osborne said she is considering a tribute for another series site – where television was unveiled with a milestone broadcast from the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Osborne and Eichenbaum are also backing visions for a Queens Hall of Fame lauding the borough’s greatest residents, moments and places.

Laurence Christian, the hall’s executive producer, hailed the series that “brought to light much of the great history that goes unrecognized.”

Christian said he wants to honor Queens’ film past with a “Men in Black” installation close to the New York State Pavilion, a key plot device in the 1997 film.

Borough President Helen Marshall, a former teacher, stressed the educational impact of historical markers and tours.

“You have a certain feeling of knowledge,” she said. “Many people [who grew up locally] are grownups and don’t realize what’s been next to them all along.”

SIDEBAR: Tribute to Glendale Lanes Right Up His Alley

It’s a strike for Queens history.

Two years after a historic Glendale bowling alley closed, the building’s new tenant has unveiled a memorabilia display to honor Woodhaven Lanes.

That caps an effort spurred in 2008 by the Queens News’ History in Peril series, which profiled the alley and other significant sites that were never made city landmarks.

The success of the Woodhaven Lanes campaign heartened preservationists, who hope for similar successes from the News’ Queens Heritage Quest series, which concludes today.

The alley’s latest occupant, Bob’s Discount Furniture, created a plaque honoring the site as home to the nationally broadcast TV game show “Jackpot Bowling” in 1959 and 1960.

“We’ve never really gone into a location that had this kind of history,” said chain owner Bob Kaufman, whose ubiquitous TV commercials have made him a minor celebrity.

The tribute near Bob’s café – which offers free goodies to visitors – boasts a 1980 bowling trophy, a bowling pin, a small section of a lane and a pair of red-and-blue, size-7 shoes.

Affixed to the case is a sign that heralds Woodhaven Lanes as “a gathering place that provided fun, support and stability for generations of families and friends.”

The 60-lane alley opened in July 1959 and closed in May 2008.

“You’ve got to be cognizant of the specialness of the place,” said Kaufman, who recalled bowling while growing up in Connecticut. “Clearly, it had a warm spot in lots of people’s hearts.”

Also on display is a Brunswick Imperial bowling ball loaned by Woodhaven regular Jim Santora, who lost battles to save the alley and protect it as a city landmark.

Santora, 58, of Middle Village, said he used the ball – a memento of his late father Richard – on his last roll at Woodhaven Lanes.

“I figured I’d preserve his memory. He loved bowling,” Santora said. “It’s a nice remembrance of a place where people had a good time and called their home away from home.”

Marisa Berman of the Queens Historical Society praised Bob’s for honoring the alley’s legacy. “Even though the history was lost, it wasn’t forgotten,” she said.

The History in Peril series scored its first triumph in January when another profiled site, the Ridgewood Theatre, won protective landmark status from the city.

Landmarks Chairman Robert Tierney hailed The News for its “crusading” report on the Ridgewood, the oldest continuously operated moviehouse in the country until its 2008 closure.

SIDEBAR: Fighting for Sign to Honor Lost Boxing Arena

Queens News readers are stepping into the ring to back a historical sign honoring Sunnyside Garden, a red-brick arena that long hosted boxing and wrestling.

After the venue was featured in the last installment of the Queens Heritage Quest series, fight fans replied with personal tales of the borough’s pugilistic past.

For John Busso, 73, of Jackson Heights, the article brought back memories of his late brother and the former lightweight contender, Johnny Busso, who died in 2000.

Busso won 42 of 51 pro matches during a career that began with nine fights at Sunnyside Garden, which also saw a campaign stop by John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Long Island Rep. Peter King, who grew up nearby, said the Queens News story, “certainly captured the mood and spirit of Sunnyside.”

The article covered several other unheralded neighborhood boxing arenas in Queens. Lavington Charles recalled his father-in-law, Bob (Killer) James, sparred in the 1940s and 1950s at Jamaica Arena on 144th Place.


Series: A Life Almost Lost Under Rockefeller Drug Laws

In July 2009, Nicholas Hirshon wrote a two-part series for the New York Daily News on the effects of the draconian Rockefeller drug laws.

First Installment

Published July 7, 2009

Three rocks of crack forever changed John Buckmon’s life.

A dealer at age 22, Buckmon was lounging by a sketchy Brooklyn apartment building in 1988 when police busted him for selling a gram of cocaine for $60 to undercover cops hours earlier.

Looking back, Buckmon, now 43, wishes he had been sent to a rehab center – like Samaritan Village in Jamaica, where he has lived since October – to conquer his addiction and learn job skills.

But that wasn’t to be under the stiff Rockefeller drug laws – enacted in 1973 to stanch a drug epidemic. The controversial laws were relaxed significantly this spring.

With the change, and a new focus on rehab programs, it’s possible that drug offenders now will have a shot at recovery – and to live well-adjusted lives in society.

But the Rockefeller laws have left their mark permanently on people who lived through them, including Buckmon, who is the first to admit he’s no angel.

Stringent state penalties required minimum prison terms for even the pettiest of pushers like Buckmon, who had sold a scant amount of drugs.

Unaware the rules were that strict, he rejected an offer of 1 1/2 to 3 years in prison – a sweetheart deal considering the harsh laws – because he believed he hadn’t sold enough to justify any prison time.

Buckmon soon recognized his gaffe. The district attorney upped the term to three to six years.

Buckmon took the three years in lockup, learning what he called “useless trades” that never earned him a job.

Had the legislation allowed for rehab, Buckmon believes he would have set himself straight and would now be living with his fiancée, Denise, and three children, ages 6 months to 7 years, in Wyandanch, L.I.

Instead, the Rockefeller laws put him through a “revolving door,” he said, leading in and out of prison for some two decades.

“I always thought it was more of a hindrance than a help,” Buckmon said of his prison time. He then added wistfully, “I might have been anybody in life.”

Now, his crimes are so numerous that he has forgotten many.

Working with limited databases, prosecutors in Brooklyn, Queens and Suffolk County – where Buckmon recalled being nabbed – confirmed eight arrests from 1985 through 2008.

But Buckmon, who used at least 10 aliases, according to state and local records, estimated he has been arrested 100 times and logged 17 years in prison.

Born in seedy East New York in 1966, Buckmon grew up largely with his mom and grandparents while his dad served in the Air Force.

He strayed when his dad returned in the late 1970s and the clan moved to Rochdale. Confused by his father’s belated return to his life, he said he began experimenting with pot as a kid and cocaine in his teens.

Buckmon said he notched his first arrest in 1979 after helping pals rob a kid’s wallet in Bayside, earning one year of probation.

That began a series of misdeeds in the early 1980s, including fights, a burglary and an armed robbery that totaled more probation and a few years in the slammer.

Once released, Buckmon started working for a dealer in Rochdale, eventually getting a beeper and dealing on his own.

That culminated in his 1985 arrest and 3-year term. He tried to stay clean after getting out but his rap sheet scared away potential employers.

“Once I got that arrest for drugs, that’s when it started showing up on my record,” he said, arguing his extended Rockefeller sentence – and subsequent gap on his resume – hindered his job search.

After an arrest for possessing cocaine and pot in February 2008, Buckmon jumped at an opportunity to enter rehab. He eventually came to Samaritan Village, where he must stay for 18 to 24 months under counselors’ watch.

Added Buckmon, “I’m glad I’m here. I’m learning so much about myself and the things that kept me out there for so long.”

SIDEBAR: Birth of the Rockefeller Drug Laws

The original incarnation of the Rockefeller drug laws, envisioned by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and passed in May 1973, was so harsh that even his close advisers bemoaned how it would lock up minor offenders and overwhelm jails.

Rockefeller wasn’t swayed. Troubled by the state’s drug epidemic, he had asked the chairman of a rehab program to go on a fact-finding mission in 1972 to Japan, which had the lowest addiction rate of any major nation.

The chairman credited Japan’s successful war against drugs to life sentences for sellers, said Rockefeller aide and biographer Joseph Persico.

The governor first mentioned the idea to his staff in the basement of his Westchester County mansion, Kykuit, in the fall of 1972. “On drugs, anyone who pushes gets life in prison,” Rockefeller said, according to Persico. “And I mean life – no matter what amount. No more of this plea bargaining, parole and probation.”

Ignoring a liberal counteroffensive, Rockefeller championed iron-fisted laws that forced judges to impose fixed minimum sentences to drug criminals, regardless of mitigating factors.

On top drug charges, the laws forbade pleas, parole, probation and suspended sentences.

Anyone charged with possession or sale of 4 ounces or more of cocaine or heroin faced a minimum of 15 years to life in prison, said attorney Jon Wool of the Vera Institute of Justice.

First-time offenders who sold less than 2 ounces had to serve at least one year to life. In the late 1970s, such crimes were dropped to a lower felony that carried a one- to three-year minimum.

In 2004, legislators eased the laws by doubling weight thresholds and lowering minimum sentences for top drug charges. And this spring, the state eliminated mandatory minimum prison terms on drug sales of less than 4 ounces for those with no prior convictions. Judges can sentence those offenders to probation with drug treatment.

Second Installment

Published July 14, 2009

About a month and 20 interviews into his job search, former drug dealer John Buckmon – once sentenced under the stiff Rockefeller drug laws and now finally getting an opportunity at rehab – was feeling hopeless and inadequate.

“It’s kinda hard out there,” he said in June to his counselor at Samaritan Village, a substance abuse treatment center in Jamaica. “In the back of my mind, I feel like I don’t have a chance.”

Buckmon, 43, who estimates he has been arrested 100 times and logged 17 years in prison, faces two key obstacles due to the harsh laws that he feels kept leading him to the slammer when he really needed treatment.

First, he must persuade prospective employers to look past his extensive rap sheet – littered with drug possessions and sales dating back to the mid-1980s – and subsequent résumé gaps.

Second, he has to overcome poor self-esteem stemming from alcohol and cocaine addictions that went untreated through his prison terms and that sometimes left him feeling like a failure.

They are roadblocks that haunt even minor drug criminals nabbed under the state’s 1973 Rockefeller rules – eased this spring to reduce sentences, offer rehab and allow judges to seal records for some offenders.

Certain nonviolent offenders can have their records sealed even if they were convicted long before the recent relaxing of the laws, as long as they have completed sentences and treatment.

But that doesn’t cover Buckmon – who began experimenting with drugs as a teen in Rochdale – since he has committed too many crimes, including burglary and armed robbery.

With an unsealed record, Buckmon is re-entering the workforce with the support of Samaritan Village, where he meets twice a week with vocational rehab counselor Nelly Lopez.

Queens News sat in on one of those sessions in June. When Buckmon told Lopez then that he feels hopeless at times, she offered comforting words.

“It’s normal to be scared,” she assured him in a soft, calm voice. “It’s normal to see a lot of people, especially now, applying for the same job. Somehow, somewhere, somebody’s going to hire you.”

Her faith rubbed off on him. “It kinda inspires me, because now I know I’m not the only one,” Buckmon said. “It is a recession, and everyone is affected by it.”

Buckmon also attends twice-a-month group sessions at which instructors show videos on how to find jobs, then answer questions.

At last count on Friday, Buckmon had gone to about 30 job interviews. Between lockup stints, he has worked as everything from a barber to a security guard – a job he eventually lost because he didn’t tell his employer about his criminal history.

Among his most attractive qualifications is a commercial driver’s license from North Carolina – where he lived in 2004 – that he hopes to switch to New York.

He has already met with reps from several paratransit and school bus companies, as well as corporations that operate delivery trucks, including Frito-Lay and Manhattan Beer.

Samaritan Village’s program director, Laurie Lieberman, applauded Buckmon’s tenacity.

“He doesn’t fit the stigma,” she said. “He’s very concerned about not being a negative role model. He’s willing to go through that transformation.”

Beyond securing employment, Buckmon plans to embrace a role he already has – being a father.

On a rare day off from job-hunting recently, Buckmon was allowed to visit his 23-year-old fiancée, Denise Roman, and three children, ages 6 months to 7 years, in Wyandanch, L.I.

“He’s changed a lot,” Roman said as the family’s brown-and-white cocker spaniel, Cuddles, scurried across the living room. “He’s not into drugs no more. He’s more into the family.”

Buckmon gently bounced his infant daughter Elizabeth on his lap while describing how Samaritan Village has helped him turn a corner in life.

“Now,” he said, “I don’t need to go out on the streets.”

SIDEBAR: Albany Leaders Spar Over Reforms

Before a Republican-led coup tossed the state Senate into chaos, Albany leaders were sparring over a new guideline that lets judges seal records of some rehabilitated drug felons to prospective employers.

Passed amid sweeping changes to the stiff Rockefeller drug laws this spring, the provision allows courts to prohibit rap sheet releases for certain non-violent drug offenders who complete sentences and treatment.

Access is still granted to law enforcement officials, agencies that issue gun licenses and honchos who hire police or peace officers. Papers would be unsealed if criminals are arrested again.

Previously, records could be sealed only with permission from a prosecutor.

“The goal is to provide every possible protection for public safety while allowing people who have successfully completed drug treatment to get a job,” said Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan), who crafted the reforms.

But Republicans, led by Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), are pushing a bill that would repeal the sealing provision.

They contend the current law allows drug criminals to work undetected at nursing homes, day care centers and schools.

“Conceivably, you could have someone become a teacher in a classroom having previously being convicted of selling drugs in a schoolyard,” Padavan warned.

Schneiderman argued Padavan’s bill doesn’t “make much sense,” but insisted he is open to other suggestions.

He pointed to another bill, introduced by Sen. Brian Foley (D-L.I.), that would extend access to drug records to any employer that fingerprints workers, such as educators and caregivers to the elderly and mentally ill.

Advocates for prisoners’ re-entry into the workforce urged patience.

“We’ve finally had a chance to do some meaningful reform,” said Glenn Martin of the Fortune Society. “Let’s give it a chance.”

Series: History in Peril

From March to June 2008, Nicholas Hirshon wrote a nine-part series for the New York Daily News named “History in Peril,” highlighting historic buildings that were in danger of demolition because the city had never declared them official landmarks.

First Installment: Landmarking on the Agenda

Published March 18, 2008

Queens, the city’s largest borough, historically has attracted an eclectic mix of iconic artists, athletes and thinkers.

But you wouldn’t know that by counting its landmarks.

That may change in the wake of a city-commissioned survey of 12,495 buildings in Queens, which has the fewest stand-alone landmarks – 69 – of any borough, just a tenth of Manhattan’s.

That survey could be vital in saving the borough’s heritage at a time when a building boom is sweeping across Queens.

“It gives us an opportunity to focus on more designations where they’re warranted, and also to get ahead of the curve on any buildings that may be endangered,” said Landmarks Commission Chairman Robert Tierney.

Queens preservationists have been critical of the commission, but remain cautiously optimistic about the survey.

However, they fear some noteworthy, at-risk sites won’t win designations, given the commission’s record of favoring architecture over historical significance.

With that in mind, Queens News is kicking off a “History in Peril” series – offering profiles of unlandmarked sites.

To be declared a city landmark, according to the guidelines, a structure must be at least 30 years old and possess “a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the city, state or nation.”

Once a landmark is designated by the commission and approved by the City Council, the building owner needs the commission’s consent to change the facade or significant architectural features.
Income-eligible owners can also apply for upkeep grants.

With such protections, landmark designation is the surest way to maintain a historic gem, preservationists contend.

“Areas throughout the city feel the development pressure,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “It’s crucial to get ahead of the game a little bit.”

Queens Historical Society President Jim Driscoll said the survey will lead to designations – but “maybe not the ones we want or as many as we want.”

He criticized the mayoral-appointed, 11-member commission – three architects, a historian, a Realtor, a planner or landscape artist and reps from each borough – for ignoring Queens.

Nancy Cataldi, president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, said the agency hasn’t been eager to consider local sites. “It’s very frustrating,” she said. “They’re not listening.”

Others gripe the commission relies too much on the City Council – perhaps by necessity, since the Council gets final say on designations.

In 2005, when preservationist Michael Perlman pushed for designation of the Art Deco-style Trylon Theater in Forest Hills, Tierney sought approval from local Councilwoman Melinda Katz.

But Katz didn’t take a position on the movie house, and the commission shot the effort down. Crews gutted and renovated the Trylon into a Bukharian Jewish center.

Recent years, however, have brought promise.

Since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, the commission has designated 661 Queens structures, including those in historic districts. In February, it landmarked a Corona synagogue and former Jamaica bank.

“The idea that some say we’re either neglecting Queens or something, Queens is not getting the attention the rest of the city gets, is not borne out by these facts,” Tierney said.

Moving forward, the best way to get a Queens site landmarked is to highlight its role in the community, said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council.

“Buildings don’t exist in a vacuum,” he said.

SIDEBAR: It’s a Pity! They Could Have Been Saved

Helen Keller made a home in Queens. So did pioneering photojournalist Jacob Riis. Legendary boxers and wrestlers even grappled at a fabled arena on the borough’s main thoroughfare.

But you can’t visit these historic structures: None had been landmarked and all were destroyed.

The Forest Hills house where the blind-and-deaf Keller spent two decades – at 71-11 112th St. – was demolished in 1962 to make way for a synagogue, said historian Jeff Gottlieb.

Three years later, the city created its Landmarks Preservation Commission. Had the home been landmarked, tourists might still be visiting what Keller wrote was an “odd-looking house” with “so many angles and peaks and queer windows, we call it our ‘castle on the marsh.’”

“This is her legacy and it’s just very sad, but hopefully we can learn and not do silly stuff like this again,” said Helen Selsdon, archivist for the American Foundation for the Blind.

And yet, even on the commission’s watch, the Richmond Hill home where Riis resided for 27 years and wrote his classic “How the Other Half Lives” was razed in 1973 – after being named to the National Register of Historic Places, an honor with no protection.

Experts said 84-39 120th St. offered a clue on an interesting tidbit of the muckraker’s career.

“The guy who was most identified with depicting the grim realities of tenement life and the immigrant poor didn’t even live in Manhattan,” said author Daniel Czitrom, who co-wrote “Rediscovering Jacob Riis.”

But Landmarks officials never considered Riis’ home, a spokeswoman said, because they didn’t receive public requests about it.

They also never looked into the storied Sunnyside Garden, a red-brick arena at 44-16 Queens Blvd. where boxing matches often devolved into race wars.

A sellout crowd of 2,000 turned violent after a March 31, 1967, bout between “Irish” Bobby Cassidy and Puerto Rican pugilist Carmelo Hernandez.

“I won, and the bottles started coming,” said Cassidy, 63, who fought in a record 26 main events at Sunnyside. “I hid underneath the ring. I couldn’t get back to the dressing room.”

Sunnyside also hosted wrestling stars like Bruno Sammartino and gargantuan hillbilly Haystacks Calhoun, who wore overalls and a horseshoe necklace.

Long after the 1977 demise of Sunnyside Garden, however, the bulldozers still haven’t let up on historic sites.

Scaffolding still stands where a developer leveled a Forest Hills mansion at 68-12 110th St. once owned by jazz singer Al Jolson.

“This was one of his myriad investments,” said Ed Greenbaum, a historian with the International Al Jolson Society. “It’s one of the reasons he died wealthy and did not get creamed by the Great Depression.”

SIDEBAR: Places in Boro’s Heart

We get no respect! With Queens lagging behind the other boroughs in the number of city landmarks designations, preservationists identified these five structures among the most worth saving.

1. New York State Pavilion
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park
Constructed for the 1964-65 World’s Fair, the pavilion features three towers and the “Tent of Tomorrow” rotunda, with a terrazzo New York State map and cable suspension roof. The towers exhibit cracks, and the cables appear bare without the multicolored panels they once held in place. The city has commissioned a $200,000 study of the roof and is overseeing restoration of some map tiles.

2. James Brown Home
175-19 Linden Blvd., Addisleigh Park
Cootie Williams, a trumpeter in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, sold the three-story, Tudor-style home to the thirtysomething Brown, who resided there from 1963 to 1968. Music greats Count Basie and Illinois Jacquet lived within blocks, but neighbors focused on the exuberant, up-and-coming “Godfather of Soul” – who erected a high fence to fend off sightseers, said Marc Miller, who helped create the Queens Jazz Trail map in 1998. The fence, reportedly emblazoned with “JB” monograms, is now gone. The house
is currently on the market.

3. Nancy Reagan Childhood Home
149-40 Roosevelt Ave., Flushing
The former First Lady’s first home was an unassuming two-story house – now with green aluminum siding. Edith and Kenneth Seymour Robbins lived there when their destined-for-fame daughter, Anne Frances, was born in 1921. The girl who grew up to become Nancy Reagan spent two years in Flushing before moving in with relatives in Maryland, according to a 1991 unauthorized biography by Kitty Kelley.

4. Pearl-Bullard-Eccles-Kabriski Mansion
147-38 Ash Ave., Flushing
Built as a summer retreat in the 1840s, this white wood mansion remains the oldest freestanding “cottage” left in Flushing, said historic preservation consultant Paul Graziano. After original owner Charles Pearl died in 1884, his daughter sold the home to the Bullard family – whose son, Roger Harrington Bullard, became a famous architect and may have renovated the mansion’s complex porches. Later owners were the Rev. George Eccles of St. John’s Episcopal Church and contractor Matthew Kabriski.

5. West Side Tennis Stadium
69th Ave. and Dartmouth St., Forest Hills
Home to the U.S. Open from 1924 to 1977, the 14,000-seat, horseshoe-shaped arena was where Don Budge completed the first-ever tennis Grand Slam in 1938, said Eugenia Frangos, an archivist for the West Side Tennis Club. Other notables to grace the court include Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Billie Jean King. The concrete venue also hosted the Beatles, the Doors, the Monkees, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Frank Sinatra.

Queens News will profile several potential landmarks in coming weeks in addition to these. Coming Next Week: A posh Queens home where one of the world’s most famous civil rights advocates wooed his future wife is for sale. Will it be destroyed? Read more on March 25 in Queens News.

Second Installment: Injustice to Du Bois Home

Published March 25, 2008

Dressed in a tuxedo, civil-rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois married an activist nearly three decades his junior on Feb. 27, 1951, in a posh house in southeast Queens.

The exterior of the Addisleigh Park home where Du Bois, 83, wed Shirley Graham, 54, is remarkably unchanged from what the couple’s friends would recall. But it also remains unlandmarked at a time when a building boom is sweeping across the borough.

“It’s a site that needs some recognition by the Landmarks Commission,” said NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, heaping praise upon Du Bois, the organization’s co-founder.

“They certainly ought to take note of it,” Bond added. “I’d advise them at least that a plaque be placed nearby.”

Jane Cowan, a research consultant for the Historic Districts Council, said she was combing through city finance records a few months ago when she found a deed connecting Graham Du Bois to 173-19 113th Ave.

Queens News matched the address to a photo taken of the home in the late 1940s. The photo was given by Graham Du Bois’ son, David Du Bois, to author Gerald Horne as he researched his 2000 book “Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois.”

The home’s current owner, Helen Baldwin, said her family moved there in the 1970s and has made only minor changes, like fixing the roof and adding a layer of stucco.

Baldwin said she wants to stay in the house, but developers keep calling unprompted to ask if she’s selling it. She also said she wouldn’t alter its look, adding, “I like it the way it is.”

Even if it’s sold, high-rise developers need not apply. Recent zoning changes restrict the area to one-family homes, said Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Community Board 12.

But only landmarking would prevent someone from knocking down the historic house.

“It deserves landmark status,” said Horne, an African-American studies professor at the University of Houston. “It’s not only redolent with black American history, but U.S. history.”

Guidelines require landmarks to be at least 30 years old and possess a “special historical or aesthetic interest or value” to the “heritage or cultural characteristics of the city, state or nation.”

The commission declined to provide its recent survey of 12,495 Queens structures to Queens News, so it’s unclear if the home is under consideration.

Historian Jeff Gottlieb said the commission is more likely to designate it if the state and national historic registers do so first.

Graham, a noted playwright and biographer, moved into the house in 1947, shortly after locals canceled a covenant that forbade blacks from living on the block, Cowan said.

At the 1951 wedding, guests dined on toasted sandwiches, canapes, ice cream and sparkling punch, as a news reel crew captured every move, David Du Bois told Horne.

In a letter to a friend, Graham Du Bois wrote she would sell the home because “it’s too far out from the center of our activities – takes too long to get back and forth,” specifically to and from Harlem.

The powerful pair soon moved to Brooklyn. He died in 1963; she died in 1977.

SIDEBAR: Movie Palace Shuts

From Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, through the advents of the TV and VCR, the Ridgewood Theatre never stopped showing films – until its streak ended this month, eliciting concern about the unlandmarked site’s future.

For the first time since its opening on Dec. 23, 1916, the ornate movie house was shuttered, after its March 9 screenings, ending an almost century-long run that made it one of the nation’s oldest continuously operated theaters.

The Ridgewood’s new owner, real estate agent Tony Montalbano, said there’s a “90%” chance the five-screen site will show movies again – though its two ground-floor theaters may be converted into a clothing shop.

Fearing significant exterior changes, some theater experts are calling on the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the Ridgewood, making it illegal to alter the facade without commission approval.

“People don’t realize what the theater is,” said Orlando Lopes, the New York director of the Theatre Historical Society of America. “It never missed a day.”

Despite being multiplexed in 1980 – from one screen to five – the theater retains its original upper facade, along with a terrazzo floor and ornamental dome, said Warren Harris, a biographer of film stars.

Montalbano, who said the Ridgewood “does mean a lot to me,” because he went there as a kid, vowed to spend $1.5 million to spruce it up – but wouldn’t say if he’d support landmarking.

It is unknown whether the Ridgewood was included on the commission’s recent survey of 12,495 Queens buildings. Landmarks officials refused to provide the survey to Queens News.

The theater’s long history began with glorious predictions in the Ridgewood Times on Dec. 22, 1916: “No more hurry and scurry on the part of our people to get to some downtown show . . . Ridgewood will be able to see the highest class vaudeville right in its own section.”

The next day, William Fox opened the Ridgewood – with some 2,000 seats – with tickets for a film and six vaudeville acts ranging from 10 to 25 cents.

Fox went bankrupt and lost the theater in the Great Depression. It later joined a chain that became United Artists, before being purchased in the 1980s by the family that sold it to Montalbano.

Filmmaker Edward Summer, who is pushing to create a New York State Movie Theater Corridor with a guidebook and commemorative plaques, has vowed to include the Ridgewood.

Montalbano also could buy a $290 yearly membership from the League of Historic American Theatres, which connects moviehouse owners to rehabilitation experts, said the league’s Executive Director, Fran Holden.

Third Installment: On the Road to Saving Two Kerouac Sites

Published April 1, 2008

Poring over books and maps in his mom’s Ozone Park apartment, Jack Kerouac planned the most famous road trip in literary history – and embarked on it in 1947.

But neither the walk-up where Kerouac plotted his cross-country exploits, nor a South Richmond Hill home where he worked on the classic novel “On the Road,” are protected with city landmark status.

“Without question, they should be city landmarks. No book has captured the public imagination like ‘On the Road,’ ” said Douglas Brinkley, a CBS News history analyst and Kerouac scholar.

To aid a landmark push, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay told Queens News he would consider loaning the original 120-foot “On the Road” manuscript – a unique, continuous scroll that he purchased for $2.4 million in 2001 – for display at the borough sites.

“You always consider putting it in a place where it’s conceived,” Irsay said. “The man has left the building, so to speak, but, at the same time, these places that are preserved, they mean a lot.”

It’s unknown whether the city Landmarks Preservation Commission has Kerouac’s homes on its recent survey of 12,495 Queens structures. The commission has repeatedly declined to provide the survey to Queens News, fearing its release would alert developers to the sites before they can be protected.

Writer Patrick Fenton helped put a plaque outside the apartment in 1996 – just after the Lindenwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps moved in and gutted the space, without realizing its link to Kerouac.

“The organization would have tried to save more of the history if we knew,” said Corps Chief Chris DeLuca. Still, the walls and door frames are original. “There’s a lot of history up there,” Fenton said.

In the early 1950s, Kerouac’s mom moved to 94-21 134th St. in South Richmond Hill, where the author lived on and off over five years, and wrote “Maggie Cassidy,” Fenton said.

The home’s current owner, Lester Holt, arrived in 1984 and oversaw a major renovation. When told landmarking would require him to consult the commission before making more changes, he said, “I ain’t interested in all of that.”

But the next spot where Kerouac lived – a cottage in Orlando, Fla. – offers inspiration to preservationists. A grassroots effort saved it from destruction.

Kerouac was living there in 1957, when the publication of “On the Road” made him the voice of the Beat Generation. Forty years later, despite the home’s history, it appeared destined for demolition.

Enter Florida book dealer Marty Cummins, who helped raise $10,000 for a down payment on the home in 1997. But he was short $100,000 to close the deal – until corporate titan Jeffrey Cole pledged the funds.

Now, the house is provided rent-free to writers for three-month stays. Cummins predicted a similar result in Queens.

“The key is finding an advocate or an angel backer who will step up to the plate,” he said.

That could be Cole, the former chairman of Cole National, who promised to look into Kerouac’s Queens homes. “It’s always a good idea if some of these artists’ and writers’ places can be saved,” Cole said.

SIDEBAR: Queensmark Committee Mulls Comeback

A decade ago, fearing Queens had become “Landmarks’ stepchild and the developer’s paradise,” historian Stanley Cogan helped create the Queensmark – a way of recognizing structures that weren’t landmarks.

By the time the program went inactive a few years ago – a victim of Cogan falling ill – some 100 plaques had sprouted in places like Richmond Hill, Jackson Heights and Whitestone.

Now, amid a building boom, the Queensmarks committee is mulling a reunion. But others fear the honors won’t win landmark designations – and may instead alert developers to historic places they’ll demolish before they can be protected.

“Signage is a perfectly fine thing, and it can be an effective public education tool, but it doesn’t save buildings,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council.

Still, four former committee members told Queens News they want to reactivate Queensmarks – last awarded in 2003 – with Jim Driscoll, the historical society’s new president, acting as committee chairman.

“If you telegraph your plans, developers will just move as fast as they can. But in the case of the Queensmarks, no,” Driscoll said, noting the honors often go to private homes, which the owners don’t want to sell.

For the first wave of Queensmarks in 1996, Cogan organized a six-member panel to find noteworthy sites, contact owners and ask them to affix a plaque provided by the society to the exterior.

Committee members would walk through neighborhoods and snap hundreds of photos. They debated each site’s merits based on its architecture, history and importance to the area.

“It was not our job to be ivory-tower types. It was our job to understand the community,” said Jeffrey Saunders, who specialized in pre-World War II architecture.

Architect Allan Smith recalled putting the photos into piles of definitelys, maybes and maybe-nots.

“Sometimes you’d take a picture of something, and when you went back for a final look, it may not be there,” he said of the task’s urgency.

Next, they had to convince owners to put up the plaques.

“Some of them were afraid that this will lead to landmarking and ‘I don’t want that,’ ” said architect Ivan Mrakovcic.

Their efforts put some hidden gems on the path to protection. A 1999 Queensmarks honoree, Tifereth Israel synagogue in Corona, was designated a city landmark this February.

But the Landmarks Preservation Commission said it weighs all public requests, including Queensmarks, on an equal scale.

“It would be a factor, but it’s not the factor,” said spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon. “The factors for us are whether the building is culturally, architecturally and historically distinctive.”

Fourth Installment: Jackie Robinson’s House Not Safe

Published April 8, 2008

Two years after breaking the Major League Baseball color barrier, Jackie Robinson settled into the tony Addisleigh Park home where he would live from his 1949 MVP season through one of his final years with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

But the pioneering athlete’s house was never designated by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, meaning a developer can legally buy and destroy a structure linked to one of the nation’s most indelible sports stars.

“We used it to move on to the next stage of our lives,” said Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow. “We had moved around and hadn’t been sure of anything – whether Jack would make it with the Dodgers, or if we could ever afford a home.”

Asked about the Robinson home, Landmarks Preservation Commission spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon said it’s “under review,” adding the commission is “looking” at the area as a potential historic district that would bar demolitions.

As Jackie negotiated a $35,000 Dodgers contract for the 1950 season – a deal that gave him financial stability – the Robinsons purchased 112-40 177th St. for $100 “and other good and valuable considerations,” according to a deed filed with the city.

Locals had recently canceled a restrictive covenant that forbade blacks from living in the area, so African-American stars like jazz great Count Basie and Herbert Mills of the Mills Brothers quartet moved in.

Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella – amid his own Hall of Fame career – liked the neighborhood so much that he recommended the Robinsons buy a house there, Rachel Robinson said.

While Jackie Robinson remains a national icon, the city is more likely to landmark his home and those nearby because of his role in integrating the area, said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council.

Jackie and Rachel hoped for a peaceful life in the house with their kids Jackie Jr., born in 1946, and Sharon (1950) and David (1952). But sightseers destroyed the tranquility.

“Well-meaning people constantly harassed us,” Jackie Robinson wrote in his 1972 autobiography, “I Never Had It Made.” “They would pull up in their cars, walk boldly into our front yard and start taking pictures.”

He recalled Rachel being thrust into a lose-lose situation: either accept the nuisance or insist on privacy and risk being labeled an ungrateful stuck-up. But Rachel had other concerns.

“When Jack started getting hate mail, we worried about the children and their playing outside,” she said, adding they eventually decided not to let the racist words affect them.

With the Robinson family outgrowing the home, especially after David’s birth in 1952, they sold it in 1955 to John and Gugurtha Dudley, acquaintances of the Robinsons’ real estate broker. The Dudleys resided there until 1985.

“It was a very big deal that we bought their house, because we were small people,” said Gugurtha Dudley, 87, now of Atlanta, Ga. “We weren’t high on the totem pole with the Robinsons.”

Jackie and his family moved to North Stamford, Conn. He died at age 53 in 1972.

SIDEBAR: Rally for Kerouac Homes

Emboldened by a Queens News profile on two unlandmarked Jack Kerouac homes, fans of the beat writer are planning a July get-together to discuss preserving his legacy.

Writer Patrick Fenton said he will take book dealer Marty Cummins and corporate bigwig Jeffrey Cole – who saved a Kerouac home in Orlando, Fla., from demolition – on a tour past Kerouac’s Ozone Park apartment and South Richmond Hill house.

Neither was included in the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s recent survey of 12,495 Queens structures, and the city never received requests to evaluate them, said commission spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon.

“There are a lot of very important people who lived in New York City at one point or another,” she said, noting not every location associated with a famous person can be landmarked.

“And we have very few cultural landmarks in the city,” de Bourbon said of the difference between architectural gems and those with only historical weight.

A plan to put the original “On the Road” manuscript – a 120-foot scroll – on display at the homes would be “unlikely” to influence the commission, de Bourbon said.

SIDEBAR: Sites Tied to Ballplayers Threatened

A Queens building boom is threatening the borough’s link to unforgettable ballplayers who lived and played here on paths to Hall of Fame careers, preservationists fear.

With Shea Stadium opening its final season this week – and destined for demolition at the end of 47 seasons of Mets baseball – the area’s ties to bygone superstars will remain largely in unlandmarked homes, as developers wait on deck.

“Preserving baseball history is absolutely essential,” said Roberta Newman, a historian of the sport who teaches at New York University. “It’s got deep roots in American culture.”

Months before Jackie Robinson moved into Addisleigh Park in 1949, his Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Roy Campanella bought a home at 114-10 179th St., after finishing his first Major League catching campaign. He stayed until 1956.

Dodgers historian Joseph Dorinson urged landmark status for the three-time MVP’s house. “If Jackie was the heart of the Dodgers’ resurgence in the late ’40s and early 1950s, Campanella was the soul,” Dorinson said.

But they weren’t the last greats to visit Queens. In the 1960s, Willie Mays often visited 108-01 Ditmars Blvd. in East Elmhurst, where his ex-wife Marghuerite lived with their son Michael, said biographer Mary Kay Linge.

Another agile centerfielder, the Mets’ Tommie Agee, lived near 29th Ave. and Butler St. in East Elmhurst. The two-time Gold Glover is best remembered for two spectacular catches in Game 3 of the 1969 World Series.

“He (Agee) was close to being what we call a five-tool player,” said 1969 Mets shortstop Bud Harrelson, now a co-owner of the Long Island Ducks independent baseball club. “We certainly couldn’t win without him.”

Agee’s heroics occurred at Shea, which will be dismantled two to three weeks after the Mets finish the 2008 season.

In 1997, when the Braves demolished Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, workers marked its foul lines and bases in the new stadium’s parking lot.

Will the Mets follow suit?

“All being discussed; nothing yet finalized,” said a team spokesman.

Other pieces of the sport’s past are already gone.

To build the U.S. Naval Hospital at Linden Blvd. and 179th St. in 1950, crews destroyed the historic St. Albans Golf Club, where Yankees icon Babe Ruth played regularly from the late 1920s through the 1940s.

The Veterans Administration took over the land in 1974 for a medical center, said agency spokesman Raymond Aalbue. But Ruth’s ties to Queens live on at the New Hampshire home of his 91-year-old daughter, Julia. A silver trophy the Babe won at St. Albans is on display there.

Fifth Installment: A Witness to World Events

Published April 15, 2008

Built for the 1939 World’s Fair, the New York City Building transformed several times over the years – into the United Nations headquarters in 1946, into another World’s Fair pavilion in 1964 and, in 1972, into a joint art museum and ice-skating rink.

As its use changed, so did its architecture. Now, with the museum embarking on a $47 million expansion project – also billed as a partial restoration – preservationists wonder what era the unlandmarked structure should be restored to.

“You have to make it look like it transcended all the time and spaces it met the need for – for some pretty important world events,” said Greg Godfrey, president of the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park World’s Fair Association.

Meanwhile, Queens Museum of Art officials are moving ahead with a design that architects say will maintain the building’s infrastructure without returning it to a particular time period.

The city-funded project will also double the museum’s size as it takes over the ice-skating rink’s 55,000 square feet.

“We’re not just choosing between the histories,” said Tom Finkelpearl, the museum’s executive director. “We want to respect the past and have an up-to-date institution in every conceivable way.”

And yet, for each historical and architectural stage in the building’s past, the museum is facing pressure about what to save.

Designed by Aymar Embury II for the 1939-40 World’s Fair, the classical stone-and-glass structure first featured exhibits on city agencies.

Seven decades later, it’s the only building of the era remaining on the fairgrounds – site of a deadly 1940 terrorist act.

Detectives Joseph Lynch and Ferdinand Socha were killed on July 4, 1940, when a bomb they were trying to defuse exploded.

Lynch’s daughter, Easter Miles, called the New York City Building the last standing tribute to her fallen dad.

“I would vote for it to be a landmark,” she said.

In the next chapter in the building’s history, the interior was radically gutted to create a home for the United Nations General Assembly in 1946. A vote that created the state of Israel occurred in Flushing Meadows on Nov. 29, 1947.

“It was one of the early UN buildings. There aren’t that many,” said Stanley Meisler, author of “United Nations: The First Fifty Years.”

As part of the upcoming expansion, scheduled for completion in 2010, the museum wants to put plaques at UN-specific spots in the building, including where President Harry Truman gave an important 1946 speech on isolationism, Finkelpearl said.

Plans also call for partial restoration of a colonnade, on the museum’s Unisphere side, that was intact at the 1939-40 fair and during the building’s United Nations years, Finkelpearl said.

For the 1964-65 World’s Fair, the structure again became a city pavilion – featuring a cross-section of cable from the Verrazano Bridge and a detailed panorama of New York City, said Bill Cotter, author of books about the fair.

During the expansion, the museum will remove bris soleil shading panels – attached before the 1964-65 fair – from its Grand Central Parkway facade, Finkelpearl said.

SIDEBAR: ’30s Theater Now Part of Film History

A Great Depression-era movie theater in Jackson Heights was recently torn down after a 70-year history that began with showings of star-studded classics and ended with a long run of X-rated flicks.

The Polk Theatre, at 37th Ave. and 93rd St., featured framework from its original 1938 marquee and numerous Art Deco-style elements before its demolition in February, preservationists said.

“It had the kind of style and character that you don’t have today – and you’ll never have again,” said architectural historian Barry Lewis. “It’s sad that this was torn down.”

Architect Charles Sandblom designed the 599-seat movie house. A 1960s switch from feature films to adult movies helped business but led to a period when the theater wasn’t maintained, said Warren Harris, a biographer of film stars.

While some preservationists seemed indifferent about the Polk’s demise, pointing out it was never a movie palace, others disagreed.

“Theaters, like churches, are anchors for a community,” said filmmaker Edward Summer, who is leading a statewide effort to put plaques on historic movie theaters. “When you lose that anchor, the community begins to drift.”

The Polk’s longtime owner, Harold Gussin, said he operated the theater from 1961 until he sold it in 2006. His wife, Eleanor, griped that business was undercut by DVD sales.

“I used to work night and day,” said Gussin, 82, who lives in Valley Stream, L.I. “Rain, shine, snow, I was there.”

The new owner, Henry Zheng, said he wasn’t yet sure what he’d build at the site. But Eleanor Gussin said she heard Zheng wants to put up a mixed-use building with apartments and stores.

Lewis, meanwhile, found the Polk’s descent in line with what’s happened to other old theaters. “Unless they find new uses for them, the market says they’re ready for the garbage,” he said.

SIDEBAR: HOFer Home on Radar

City officials are eying the home of baseball Hall of Famer Roy Campanella – featured in last week’s Queens News – as part of a possible Addisleigh Park historic district.

The designation would bar the demolition of 483 buildings in the tony Queens neighborhood, once home to many famed African-American music greats, said Lisi de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Asked if the commission would judge the area based on its history or architecture, de Bourbon said, “When you look at a historic district, there has to be a coherent streetscape and a distinct sense of place.”

She declined to predict if the commission would approve the district, saying only, “It’s still under review.”

Sixth Installment: A Malcolm X Memorial?

Published April 22, 2008

Asleep with his wife and four daughters in their modest East Elmhurst home, Malcolm X jumped out of bed and out the door at 2:45 a.m. on Valentine’s Day 1965 as Molotov cocktails crashed through the windows and exploded.

Unscathed but shaken, the civil rights leader moved out days later – and was assassinated on Feb. 21. But while the house served as Malcolm X’s sanctuary in his turbulent last years, the city has never protected it with landmark status.

“There’s a lot of history there, and there’s no reason to lose it,” said Ilyasah Shabazz, one of the black activist’s daughters, who was 2 years old when he died. The city would be “smart to preserve it,” she said.

A proposal by City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) – reportedly supported by the home’s residents – would place a Malcolm X memorial near the humble green house.

Monserrate, who didn’t return calls seeking comment, has previously said he’d like the Queens of Museum of Art to turn the Malcolm X house into a museum.

But Tom Finkelpearl, the museum’s executive director, said his budget wouldn’t allow for that plan. “We just can’t do it now,” he said. “That doesn’t mean in 10 years we can’t consider doing it.”

Malcolm X rose to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s for his controversial, militant civil rights stances as a member of the Nation of Islam, a powerful black Muslim organization.

Some believe city officials ignored his Queens home because of his ferocious image.

“He gets the short end of the stick because of the way he’s been portrayed in history as being militant and advocating violence,” said Kira Duke, education coordinator at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

In July 1960, at the height of Malcolm X’s run with the Nation of Islam, he and his family moved into the small Queens brick home, which was owned by the organization.

Ilyasah Shabazz – then an infant – said she often waited for her dad to come home so they could play and eat cookies her mom, Betty, made for them.

But Malcolm X’s changing ideology and controversial remarks on the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy led to a rift with the Muslim group’s leader, Elijah Muhammad.

The Nation of Islam soon threatened to evict the family. Malcolm X initially refused to leave, giving way only after the 1965 firebombing.

SIDEBAR: Dem Beep Hopefuls Eye Black History Trail

Leading candidates for Queens borough president said they support the idea of a black history trail, with sites from the Queens News’ History in Peril series, including the former homes of Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson and James Brown.

Proponents of the plan – seeking a funding boost from the borough’s next top official – reveled in backing from the four Democratic contenders: Leroy Comrie, Audrey Pheffer, Helen Sears and Peter Vallone Jr.

“They must feel it has merit,” said Clyde Bullard, who has run the Queens Jazz Trail tour for 10 years and is pitching the black history trail idea to his bosses at Flushing Town Hall, the home of the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts.

“The borough president could reach in and hand them the funds to do it,” said Marc Miller, who created the map that formed the basis of the Jazz Trail. “It’s probably the easiest source.”

The four Democratic contenders vowed to consider a trail centered on sites like the Addisleigh Park home where W.E.B. Du Bois got married in 1951 and the Forest Hills tennis stadium where Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson played.

“That would be wonderful,” said Pheffer, an assemblywoman who represents southern Queens. “Queens is a borough of neighborhoods and diversity, and any time we can bring it out, it makes everyone know Queens is so special.”

Sears, a city councilwoman in northern Queens, added she’d “certainly support the idea” of a black history trail.

Bullard estimated it would cost more than $100,000 to purchase a bus, pay for a driver and tour guide and print pamphlets detailing the stops.

He suggested walk-throughs – and bathroom breaks – at the homes of musician Louis Armstrong in Corona and inventor Lewis Latimer in Flushing, which are both museums.

Comrie, a councilman in southeast Queens, said the borough president has “some money to give to groups and programs that would make those types of things [like the trail] happen.”

And Vallone, a councilman in northwest Queens, said the trail is “something I would be very open to taking a look at.”

All four candidates said they would also work with the city to increase the numbers of landmark designations in Queens. No clear Republican contender has yet emerged in the race.


Here are the sites of the potential black history trail, with locations from the Queens News’ History in Peril series:

  1. Malcolm X home: 23-11 97th St.
  2. Louis Armstrong home: 34-56 107th St.
  3. West Side Tennis Stadium: 69th Ave. and Dartmouth St.
  4. Lewis Latimer home: 34-41 137th St.
  5. Jackie Robinson home: 112-40 177th St.
  6. W.E.B. Du Bois home: 173-19 113th Ave.
  7. James Brown home: 175-19 Linden Blvd.

SIDEBAR: Former UN Site Won’t Be Landmarked

A recent survey of potential city landmarks left out the former United Nations headquarters in Queens because its facade had changed too much over the years, a city official said.

As described in last week’s Queens News, the New York City Building – a two-time World’s Fair pavilion and current art museum in Flushing – is undergoing a $47 million renovation and partial restoration to be completed in 2010.

But Lisi de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, said the 1939 limestone-and-glass structure was rejected for landmark status in 2002 and is no longer under consideration.

Seventh Installment: Alley Bowled Over

Published May 27, 2008

As a crowd of 5,000 watched, Woodhaven Lanes in Glendale opened with revolutionary bowling technology on July 29, 1959, initiating a 49-year run in which it hosted Hall of Fame athletes and a nationally broadcast TV game show.

But the 60-lane alley – which closed May 18 – was never designated by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, and locals fear a developer will demolish the brick-box mainstay before its legacy can be saved.

“That history is absolutely important,” said Jim Baltz, curator of the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame in St. Louis, adding he wants to get Woodhaven Lanes’ memorabilia put on display.

Workers are now removing floorboards and machines from the alley to make the interior “spotless” before handing it over to the landlord at the end of the month, according to a manager.

All that will remain is the shell of the alley, established by boxing promoter and bowling center operator Emil Lence, who also owned the 5,000-seat Eastern Parkway Arena in Brooklyn.

Woodhaven Lanes opened in 1959 with innovative “telescore” screens installed on a dropped part of the ceiling, so they’d blend in when turned off.

“Anyone you talk to who’s been around for a while will remember Woodhaven as being the most modern when it opened,” said veteran bowling writer Chuck Pezzano, 79.

In late 1959, Woodhaven Lanes began hosting the NBC game show “Jackpot Bowling,” which aired on Friday nights.

Pezzano, then a columnist at the Paterson (N.J.) Morning Call, said he was hired to prep the show’s host, famed sportscaster Mel Allen, before each episode.

Bowlers on the show had nine frames to get six strikes in a row. Bowling icon Don Carter had the right stuff on Dec. 18, 1959.

“I think I was the first one to hit six in a row and win the jackpot,” said Carter, 81, of Miami. “It was very exciting.”

Bowling Hall of Famer Bill Bunetta, 88, remembers trying to put on a “good show for the audience” when he appeared on May 27, 1960, said Bunetta biographer Danny Ayers.

The game show ended its 15-episode run at Woodhaven on June 24, 1960, with legends Billy Golembiewski and Andy Varipapa on the lanes.

In Sept. 1960, “Jackpot Bowling” moved to 44-lane Hollywood Legion Lanes in California.

But Woodhaven maintained a presence with bowling aficionados. Among those to bowl there in recent years was Kelly Kulick, who in 2006 became the first woman to qualify for the Professional Bowlers Association tour.

“You hate to see something of your pastime torn down,” said Kulick, 31. “I’m sad to see it closing.”

SIDEBAR: ‘Historic’ Race to Fill Councilman’s Seat

Four candidates vying to replace ex-City Councilman Dennis Gallagher pledged support for historic districts in Richmond Hill and Ridgewood during a unique debate last week that focused on preservation in Queens.

The contenders also listed historic sites they’d help landmark if they win the June 3 special election to take over for Gallagher (R-Middle Village), who resigned in April after pleading guilty to sexual abuse charges.

Democrat Elizabeth Crowley singled out Transfiguration Catholic Church in Maspeth and the Woodhaven Post Office among sites she’d help landmark, preventing developers from altering or demolishing them without city approval.

“The list could be endless,” Crowley said, proposing signs at the landmarked spots to detail their history.

Republican Anthony Como heralded his bid to save Woodhaven Lanes, a Glendale bowling alley open since 1959 that was recently shuttered, and proposed yearly public forums on potential landmarks.

Democrat Charles Ober and Republican Tom Ognibene said they would reach out to local history experts to determine which sites need saving.

One of the debate’s more memorable moments occurred when moderator Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, asked if the candidates would help restore $300,000 for landmarking in the city budget.

Como and Ober vowed they would. Crowley went a step further, saying she’d look for funds from wealthy donors who typically don’t view Queens as a historic area.

Ognibene, however, said he would only support increasing the budget of the city Landmarks Preservation Commission if its members promised to focus more on Queens sites.

“If they tell us they don’t know if they can do it, they can only save buildings in Manhattan, I won’t. That’s the only leverage we have,” Ognibene said.

Ober was the only candidate who vowed to hire a zoning and historic preservation expert to his Council staff.

Under city law, the June 3 special election will decide who holds Gallagher’s seat only through the end of the year.

In November, voters will cast ballots for someone to hold the seat starting in 2009. And in the fall of 2009, voters will pick someone for the seat’s normal four-year cycle.

Eighth Installment: Du Bois Getting His Due

Published June 17, 2008

Alongside a hardware store in Great Barrington, Mass. – population: 8,000 – a graffiti mural contains a quote by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “History cannot ignore W.E.B. Du Bois.”

But a review of sites linked to Du Bois in his New England hometown – and 140 miles away in Addisleigh Park, Queens – indicates otherwise.

Partly because Du Bois was controversial – he left the U.S. for Ghana in 1960, and became a Communist at age 93 – efforts to preserve his homes have historically met with ambivalence.

Only now are moves to pay tribute to Du Bois picking up steam at his boyhood homesite in Great Barrington. And a sorority is pushing the city to landmark the Queens home where the NAACP co-founder was married in 1951.

“It’s surely part of the NAACP’s history, but it seems to me it’s part of American history, too,” NAACP Chairman Julian Bond told Queens News in March when asked about the ritzy home at 173-19 113th Ave.

Bond went to Great Barrington in 1969 for the dedication of a boulder where Du Bois’ boyhood home once stood. He returned a decade later when a roadside plaque went up near remnants of the home’s chimney.

Since then, the homesite has been hidden amid tick-infested weeds and poison ivy. But after decades of prodding by preservationists, the University of Massachusetts – which owns the land – is finally taking action to memorialize Du Bois there.

Plans call for grounds crews to create a small gravel parking lot and information kiosk at the site by summer’s end, said Jay Schafer, the university’s director of libraries in Amherst, Mass.

Bernard Drew, a member of the local historical society, figured the move may mark the end of a period when Great Barrington ignored Du Bois because he was “lower class.”

That progress is inspirational to Delta Sigma Theta, an African-American sorority that wants to save the Du Bois wedding home in Queens.

There, on Feb. 27, 1951, Du Bois, 83, married activist Shirley Graham, 54, with family, friends and a newsreel crew in tow.

The city included the house in a recent survey of potential Queens landmarks, said Lisi de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission. But it has not yet been designated, so it could legally be demolished.

Merle Capello, Delta Sigma Theta’s Queens president, said sorority members will press elected officials to save the home before it falls victim to a building boom.

She also envisioned a petition drive to raise awareness of the historic house – and to prove Queens has its fair share of unique buildings.

“All of Queens would understand there are historic locations in their own borough that should not be neglected in order to focus on Manhattan,” Capello said.

Having gained ground in Massachusetts, the Great Barrington preservationists are imparting words of wisdom to the Queens sorority.

“All I can say is you just have to persevere. Don’t give up. The people who are doing this really have to be passionate about it,” said Elaine Gunn, committee chairwoman of the Friends of the Du Bois Homesite.

SIDEBAR: Library Offers Up Rare Wedding Invite

A Massachusetts library that owns an invitation to W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1951 wedding is offering to send it to Queens to help landmark the home where the ceremony was held.

Randy Weinstein, founder of the Du Bois Center in Great Barrington, Mass., figured a display of the note – handwritten by Du Bois’ wife, Shirley Graham – might aid a push to save the posh Addisleigh Park house.

“That’s what the mission of the center is – to share,” said Weinstein, adding he’s “up for almost everything” that will achieve landmark status for the home, at 173-19 113th Ave.

The two-page penciled invite – sent by Graham to black sociologist E. Franklin Frazier – asks him to “stay over after the dinner, and be with us for our marriage” on Feb. 27, 1951.

Graham wrote that invitations were sent to “only our immediate families and a few cherished friends.”

Weinstein said he’d give the historic papers to the Queens chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, an African-American sorority that is urging elected officials to save the Du Bois home from destruction.

“That would be very helpful,” said Merle Capello, the sorority’s president in Queens.

She proposed using the invitation as part of a photo op to gain momentum for landmarking.

Delta Sigma Theta began its campaign after reading a Queens News profile of the Du Bois wedding home in March.

Ninth Installment: Hopes Pinned on Landmark

Published June 24, 2008

A month after Woodhaven Lanes closed, the former bowling alley in Glendale sits vacant, its equipment removed, its block-letter signs discarded and its fate uncertain after five decades of strikes and spares.

But preservation-minded locals are pushing the city to save the brick building – host to a national TV game show in 1959 and 1960 – by making it the first bowling alley landmark in the five boroughs.

“It’s just fitting. It has been an [unofficial] landmark. It was the lifeblood of a community,” said Jim Santora, a Woodhaven regular who submitted a landmark request to the city after reading a Queens News profile of the alley.

To evaluate its merit, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will visit the alley, research its history and expedite the process if demolition is near, said spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon.

After the Brunswick-operated lanes closed May 18, owner Woodhaven Realty put the building’s lease on the market. Agent Robert Corroon said he did “not foresee this building being torn down,” though he expected renovations.

Buildings Department records show no demolition planned. But Corroon said Brunswick has taken all floorboards and equipment from the alley, so landmarking isn’t a “viable option.”

Still, former bowlers there believe the alley’s link to “Jackpot Bowling,” a Friday night TV show hosted by sportscaster Mel Allen, makes it worthy of a designation few alleys have attained.

Only the country’s oldest known operational bowling center – three lanes built in 1899 and recently restored at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, N.J. – has achieved status as a national historic landmark.

Brunswick shelled out $50,000 to help restore the center. Adrian Sakowicz, president of Brunswick’s philanthropic foundation, said he’d hear out backers of Woodhaven Lanes if they need help.

And they might, because the odds of getting landmark status – national or local – seem stacked against the bowlers.

National designation hasn’t been accorded even to Milwaukee’s Holler House bar, which contains some of the nation’s oldest sanctioned alleys – two 1908 lanes still set by pin boys.

Woodhaven Lanes supporters feel the time has come for it to get its due at the city level.

“When you analyze it, how many places have that kind of background?” asked Hall of Fame bowling columnist Chuck Pezzano, offering to write letters advocating city landmark status.

Jeff Bojé, president of the U.S. Bowling Congress, the sport’s national governing body, agreed it’s high time to pay tribute to bowling history in general.

“Bowling really is America’s sport,” he said. “It just has never gotten the value, the recognition that it should.”

SIDEBAR: Bowling Hall of Fame Eager for Woodhaven Mementos

Even if bowlers lose their bid to landmark Woodhaven Lanes, the memory of the 60-lane Queens alley may live on – at the sport’s highest institution in St. Louis.

The International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame – eager to add memorabilia from the Glendale alley to its archive – has its pick of photos, trophies and other items to choose from.

Woodhaven Realty, which owns the brick-box building that housed the alley for 49 years, proposed sending a 1950s brochure with shots of Woodhaven Lanes to the Hall of Fame.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Woodhaven Realty agent Robert Corroon. “We’re really happy to send it to them.”

Others also stepped forward with mementos for the hall.

Linda Raia, 47, who began bowling at Woodhaven when she was a kid, said she would part with a patch-laden, royal blue bowling shirt and trophies that date to the early 1970s.

She also snapped photos in the weeks before the alley closed – and swiped two bowling pins after Woodhaven shut its doors May 18.

No items have yet surfaced from the popular NBC game show “Jackpot Bowling,” which aired live from Woodhaven Lanes from December 1959 through June 1960.

But veteran bowling writer Chuck Pezzano – who used to prep “Jackpot Bowling” host Mel Allen – promised to sift through his Clifton, N.J., home for memorabilia, including a script with Allen’s scribbled notes.

In The Land of French Fries

By Nicholas Hirshon
Published April 14, 2007
The Montreal Gazette
Distributed by Columbia News Service

Restaurateur Martin Beaudoin wanted to try something different with the menu at Red Dot when it opened last year in Milwaukee. So the Quebec native offered his customers a treat from back home: poutine.

Some called it a gamble. But Beaudoin thought selling the dish at $4.25 was a risk worth taking.

“It’s been getting fantastic results,” he said. “There are actually three or four restaurants in town that have copied it. They just saw we were getting publicity with it and it was selling well, and they put it on their menus.”

As poutine turns 50 this year, a smattering of restaurants across the United States have added the dish of french fries and cheese curds smothered in gravy to their menus. It’s being served in small towns in New Jersey and North Carolina and in major cities like New York and San Francisco. It has been offered as an appetizer, side dish and main course, with the gravy either poured on top or left on the side. Sometimes it’s served in a bowl and other times on a plate. The one constant is the rave reviews.

Few would have predicted the popularity of a high-calorie dish at a time when more and more Americans are adopting healthier diets. But culinary experts say poutine is winning fans because it capitalizes on an American favourite, french fries, while adding ingredients that make it much more flavourful.

Poutine might even become the snack of choice for future generations. Andy Ford, a food trend analyst for an American marketing firm, calls it a perfect fit for American chain restaurants like Applebee’s, Chili’s and T.G.I. Friday’s.

“I see it as something that has real legs in this country,” said Ford, who works for the Missouri-based Noble agency, which offers menu advice to Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and other major chains. “This is one of those products that is simple enough in its execution and dynamic enough to have a long-lasting effect.”

Not bad for a dish created by accident. Legend traces poutine to Quebec restaurateur Fernand Lachance. In 1957, a trucker asked Lachance to mix french fries with some cheese curds he spotted on a nearby counter. Lachance warned the mix would make a mess, or “poutine” in joual, but he took the order anyway. The trucker liked the dish, so Lachance put it on the menu. Within a few months, poutine had become a regional hit. Lachance added gravy to the recipe in 1964 to help melt the curds.

Oddly enough, poutine did not spread much beyond Quebec until a few years ago. Some fans tie its emergence as a Canadian dish to George W. Bush’s first run for the White House in 2000. On the campaign trail, comedian Rick Mercer, posing as a journalist, convinced Bush that the Canadian prime minister’s name was Jean Poutine and that he was endorsing Bush’s candidacy. The prank aired on CBC-TV’s “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” and Mercer’s special “Talking to Americans” and pushed poutine into the national limelight.

The cooks now serving poutine in the United States are trying a range of strategies to sell the dish. On advice from the bartender at Rat’s Restaurant in Hamilton, N.J., Peter Nowakoski touts his poutine as something great to nosh on with beer or wine. At The Inn LW12 in Manhattan, Andy Bennett only uses the best cheese curds imported from Canada. Perhaps the fanciest presentation goes to Doug Washington and the Salt House in San Francisco, where servers bring fries and curds to customers’ tables, then carefully ladle short-rib gravy over it.

Health concerns haven’t slowed down sales at any of the restaurants. Though poutine sounds particularly fatty – and it is, with at least 40 grams of fat per serving – Nowakoski says it’s no different from what many Americans eat every day.

“Americans sort of perceive themselves as more health-conscious,” he said. “They kind of say, ‘I could never eat that: french fries with cheese and gravy? I’m just going to have a big hamburger with mayonnaise.’ ” Customers at Rat’s are not that naive, he says, and they know better than to miss out on poutine.

There are some tough customers elsewhere, though. Scott Ritchie, co-owner of Milltown in Carrboro, N.C., said he received harsh criticism from Canadian expatriates. They complain the cheese curds aren’t as good as what they get back home, or that the presentation is different. But he hears their stomachs growl louder than their words.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone complain so much that they didn’t want to finish it,” Ritchie said with a laugh.

The future for poutine in the U.S. seems bright – unless it becomes a victim of its own success. Some fast-food chains in Canada began selling poutine with what Washington identified as “frozen french fries and fake cheese” that tarnished the dish’s good name. McDonald’s, which offers poutine at many of its Canadian franchises, said through a spokesman that it does not plan to offer the dish in the United States. Many pray they never will.

“I hope fast food down here doesn’t jump on it, because when it’s not made right with really good ingredients, I think it’s pretty foul,” Washington said. But he pointed out that pizza is served at both fast-food and world-famous restaurants. Is poutine in the same category?

“As long as you use first-rate product, and it’s food that people love, and it’s done in a creative way,” Washington said. “Everything in that dish is the best you can get.”

I Went to a Historic Ballgame…And All I Got Was This Lousy Ticket

By Nicholas Hirshon
Published March 12, 2007
Arizona Republic
Distributed by Columbia News Service

Sometime during the 2007 season, San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds is expected to hit his 756th career home run, breaking Hank Aaron’s all-time record set in 1976.

The bat he uses will head to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The ball he hits, if caught by a fan, is expected to sell for millions of dollars at auction. But sports memorabilia experts predict that tickets for that game will be nearly worthless to collectors because of recent changes in ticket design and how tickets are purchased.

The value of tickets to historic sporting events has plummeted in recent years, thanks in large part to the rise of technology and the fall of the artistry that had made each ticket unique. Over the last decade, ticket makers have opted for cheaper, blander designs that simply print the names of the teams. Stadiums have also begun scanning tickets instead of ripping them, making full tickets more common and therefore less valuable.

With Bonds on the cusp of breaking one of the greatest records in all of sports–he is just 21 home runs behind Aaron–the new era of sports tickets is about to face its first true test.

“There are a lot of things that are going to happen in the memorabilia world based on that curious event,” said T.S. O’Connell, the editor of Sports Collectors Digest. “It’ll certainly be one of the more significant opportunities to look into the relative values of tickets. There hasn’t been a more historic or monumental game that I can think of.”

Chris Nerat, an associate editor at Sports Collectors Digest and avid ticket collector, said full tickets to the game where Bonds breaks Aaron’s record will start out selling for about $300 but quickly fall to $100 or less within a few months. Compare that with $200 for a stub or $500 for a full ticket to the 1974 game where Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s record.

To be fair, there are some unique factors that will drive down the price of the Bonds ticket. His pursuit of Aaron’s record has been marred by allegations of steroid use; collectors are typically attracted to memorabilia from fan-friendly superstars, not controversial ones like Bonds.

But the general decrease in historic ticket prices can be traced to more widespread causes, including shrewder fans. For example, few in attendance thought to save their stubs when Lou Gehrig retired and made his inspirational “Luckiest Man” speech at Yankee Stadium on July 4, 1939. The rarity of those stubs–like one soon to go on the market at Maryland-based Huggins & Scott Auctions–makes even slightly damaged ones worth as much as $500.

Stephen Dickler

But today’s fans are an “Antiques Roadshow” bunch, with a penchant for buying and saving their tickets. Stephen Dickler (left), the vice president of consignments for Huggins & Scott, thinks tickets to events like the Bonds game won’t have much value because the supply will outweigh collectors’ demand.

“They won’t be worth anything,” Dickler said. “They’re going to be buying blocks of tickets. Someone may go in and buy a thousand bleacher seats, let’s say, and speculate that people will want the ticket to the game where he broke the record.”

Lawrence Davis, the vice president of Steiner Sports, a memorabilia company in Long Island, N.Y., agreed that shrewder fans–combined with bigger stadiums–reduced the value of tickets. “If you’re going to be in the collectible business, it’s an easy equation here,” he said. “In any one of these stadiums, there’s 30, 40, 50,000 people. That’s not a collectible.”

The lackluster design of today’s tickets also makes them less desirable. Most tickets from the early 1900s through the 1970s had aesthetic features, like intricate drawings of a stadium or mascot. But as more tickets were printed by computer beginning in the 1980s, tickets began to have fewer and fewer unique elements, and nothing so extraordinary to make collectors pine for them.

“They started losing their character,” said Wayne Nochta, 52, a sports memorabilia dealer from New Jersey. “The eye appeal has something to do with the value. You take a ticket from the turn of the century and a ticket from today, it’s like night and day. One of the things people like about tickets is they can connect to the event, but they want something that looks good, too.”

The boring designs can be linked to the rise in Ticketmaster outlets and online services that produce tickets even blander than the ones fans buy at the stadium. Also, most stadiums scan tickets instead of ripping them, eliminating the aura of the once coveted full ticket.

“That’s changed the business,” said Steve St. Clair, 44, a buyer and seller of sports memorabilia from Binghamton, N.Y. “Everyone gets to keep them now.”

Well, not everyone. Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre is just six touchdown passes away from the all-time National Football League record, and it just so happens that the Packers’ stadium, Lambeau Field, is one of the few sporting venues where ushers still rip tickets. If Favre breaks the record at home, most fans will end up only with stubs, leaving collectors like Nerat scheming of ways to leave the game with a full ticket.

O’Connell couldn’t resist offering one idea. “If it’s buying a ham sandwich for an usher and getting through the turnstile without getting it torn,” he said, “people are going to do it.”

Inside the NHL: Bon Voyage, Captain Gorton

By Nicholas Hirshon
Published November 7, 2006
The Hockey News

The Buffalo Sabres took a lot of flak in the off-season for their new jersey and logo, mockingly dubbed the ‘Buffaslug.’ Despite that, the sweater has been the No. 1 seller on Did fans come around to the uniform, or has the team’s success made the difference? One team who may have some insight on the issue is the New York Islanders.

Next spring marks the 10th anniversary of the last time the Islanders wore their infamous “fisherman” logo, during a 6-2 loss to Washington at USAir Arena on April 12, 1997. And no one’s expecting any ceremonies to recall a design that many list among the worst in NHL history.

“Everyone knew if the team succeeded, everyone would buy into the new logo,” said Pat Calabria, who headed the Islanders’ communications department at the time. “But if the team didn’t succeed, it would be a lightning rod for all the team’s failures.”

And when the Isles started the 1995-96 season at 4-14-4, criticism started pouring in. Team legend Clark Gillies told the New York Times the change was “a blow to me and every other guy who wore that (original Isles) jersey for so many years.” Many fans cancelled their season tickets. Perhaps most famously, the design drew comparisons to the Gorton’s fisherman, the mascot for a brand of frozen seafood. Rangers and Devils fans started chanting “We want fish sticks!” at games.

Management put a final nail in the coffin in March of 1998, when fans were invited to bring caps and shirts with the fisherman logo to Nassau Coliseum in exchange for a shirt with the original logo. The clothing was donated to the American Red Cross of Gloucester, Mass. – home of Gorton’s frozen fish.

Lance Elder, Nassau Coliseum’s general manager at the time, was among the many happy people when the original design returned. His staff was often summoned to pick up fish sticks that fans threw onto the ice.

First Director of Latimer House Has Vision for the Future

By Nicholas Hirshon
Published December 30, 2004
New York Amsterdam News

Katrina Miles

Katrina Miles stood in the attic of the Lewis Latimer House in Flushing last week, sifting through photographs documenting the life of arguably the greatest Black innovator ever.

In one picture that Miles held, Latimer was with his fellow officers in the Union Navy during the Civil War. In another, he was standing among the 28 original Edison Pioneers, an elite group that had participated in the early years of the electric light industry.

Suddenly, Miles noticed a trend developing.

“He’s the only African American in all of this stuff,” she said. “He really truly was a pioneer.”

Miles, who officially became the Latimer House’s first executive director two months ago, has two main goals: to raise the house’s profile and collect enough money to open it full-time to the public.

Before coming to Queens, she was the director of marketing and public relations at the John G. Riley House Museum in Tallahassee, Florida. Using the same methods, Miles hopes the Latimer House will someday earn the recognition it deserves.

While many of Latimer’s inventions are still used today, most New Yorkers and Queens residents do not know who he was, let alone the fact that he lived in their town. When Miles first came to visit the Latimer House after applying for her current position, she found that almost everyone she encountered had misconceptions about its famous owner.

“What I started doing was asking people in the neighborhood, ‘Do you know about this house? Do you know about Lewis Latimer?’” Miles remembered. “Lots of people had seen the house but they’d not been in it. They kinda knew who Lewis Latimer was, but not really. Some people didn’t know at all.”

Although Latimer was never a household name, he certainly should be, Miles said. Born to runaway slaves George Latimer and Rebecca Smith in 1848, Lewis Latimer began his post-Civil War career as an office boy for the patent lawyers Crosby and Gould in Boston. After eleven years of watching other workers draw inventions, he was finally named head draftsman.

In 1874, Latimer helped patent a device to improve the quality of bathrooms on trains, and two years later he assisted Alexander Graham Bell in patenting the telephone.

But Latimer’s most famous achievement came in 1881, when he invented a process to manufacture affordable, long-lasting carbon light bulb filaments. His techniques brought electricity to cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Montreal and London, and they remain the basis of contemporary electric lighting.

Since Latimer’s carbon filament had an international effect, Miles believes the house should be promoted to tourists across the globe.

“Without him we wouldn’t have lighting, electrical engineering,” she said. “Can you imagine what the world would be like? Dark.”

Actually, in the late 1980’s, the prospects for saving Latimer’s Queen Anne-style home seemed dim. Originally located at 137-53 Holly Ave., the house had fallen into disrepair and was going to be torn down to build an apartment complex.

But former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman and former City Comptroller Harrison Goldin helped relocate the building to its current address at the corner of Leavitt and 137th streets. The house that Latimer had lived in for 20 years was saved, and renovations began in 1999.

Miles feels she has an obligation to promote Latimer as a role model for African Americans. “We kinda get short shrift,” she said. “We have Black History Month and then we have a section here and there in your history book, but I’d like to see us just become part of the American history canon.”

Miles is not the only one who thinks Latimer’s story has the power to inspire the Black community. Winifred Norman, Lewis Latimer’s 90-year-old granddaughter, has spent most of her life promoting his inventions.

“It’s important for African Americans in Queens to know the role that African Americans played in history, in inventions,” she said. “If you have a famous inventor, that inspires people who like to invent or are interested in it to go into it as well. So I’m sure he was an inspiration to a lot of people.”

Miles already has plans for Latimer’s home if she can raise enough funds. She would like the house, which is now only open by appointment and for a few hours on Thursdays, to be open six days a week with a full staff to give tours. If possible, she someday hopes to hold a Science Olympics for students in the neighboring field.

Norman, who remembers playing in the house with her brother, thinks Miles is the perfect person to publicize the house.
“Even though she’s new, she’s done a beautiful beginning job,” Norman said. “She’s accomplished quite a bit. We’re very encouraged by that.”

Lewis Latimer helped give light to the world. Now Katrina Miles hopes to shed light on him.