History Of Richmond Hill
Anyone familiar with the history of Richmond Hill would know that 114th Street was formerly called Elm Street, back in the day, back in the more innocent day when people did things legally and lived in unison with one another.
Our story begins, in September 2005 when a beautiful house was purchased, only for the land it stood on, which was soon to be demolished, obviously an all too common practice going on here. The house was originally built for St. John’s Lutheran Church up the block in 1915, to house the Reverends who served the church. In later years, the 1950s, it was sold as a residential home which was a focal point in the community, known for its sprawling lawn and beautiful roses bushes.
Immediately after the sale of the house in 2005, the oversized driveway became a parking lot for large commercial trucks. This went on for quite some time though there were many complaints from the neighbors as this is a residential area, not a place to rent parking spots for trucks. The new owners claimed that they didn’t know that the trucks were there, though everyone had seen them unlocking the gates for them and collecting their fees from the drivers every Friday. We can only guess that they finally got caught and stopped.
Shortly thereafter, the rat poison signs were posted and the windows were being broken out, a sure sign that they’re getting the house ready for demolition. The neighborhood, along with the help of the Historical Society, the community board and the block association banded together to try to save, yet again, another beautiful house slated to be destroyed. Since it was not landmarked, the fight was all in vain but there was another very important factor that we all were aware of, that could affect everyone’s health. Asbestos.
After months of delays — including the Fire Department responding, stopping the crane as it began to take the house down — it was taken down illegally with the asbastos flying everywhere. You must realize that the scene is a half block away from P.S. 56 and many churches, not to mention all of the residential homes. Seriously, how many of us were contaminated? The new property owners aren’t concerned. As a matter of fact, the Queens Chronicle covered this story shortly after if happened in January 2006.
So here we are in the summer of 2007. It started out as a parking lot, then there was the illegal demolition and still to this day, with the house almost finished, nothing was done according to the law. There were stop-work permits issued, but they still worked. People were falling there when there was no sidewalk for months. Unlicensed “day workers” do most of their work. Other people’s property, as well as the road was destroyed during this whole operation. Were they ever held accountable for anything?
Call me old-fashioned but what happened to respecting others or at least have some sort of regard for your neighbors? Anyone who is a long time resident of Richmond Hill remembers it as a quiet town, where everyone got along. I’m sure there are others who’ve gone through similar scenarios as we are now and this could all have been avoided by landmarking. Hopefully something will be done to stop these disasterous situations from happening. Previously we all thought that once the house was finshed and the new owners moved in, that things would get better. We now all agree that it’s just the beginning of Another Nightmare On Elm Street.
(And others wonder why people are leaving Richmond Hill.)
Quality Of Life
Last week’s letter by Christine Klein unfortunately hit the nail right on the head in describing the deterioration of our housing stock and quality of life in Richmond Hill.
She cites that back in the day 114th Street was known as Elm Street and narrates the loss of historic and quality homes at that end of the community. I live on 114th Street in Ozone Park, a few blocks off Rockaway Boulevard. The same rush to buy and tear down beautiful old homes is happening here as well. Where we once had lovely homes with beautiful gardens and a sense of peace, we now have a neighborhood filled with ugly, cheaply constructed multifamily homes, with nary a flower, lawn or tree. We have plenty of concrete, ugly wrought iron fencing and concrete elephants, but no beauty, class or sense of place.
I too, mourn the loss of the magnificent old homes in Richmond Hill. Does anyone remember the historic interior of the Triangle Hofbrau Restaurant on Hillside Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard? It boasted walls and a bar from the Black Forest in Germany — well over 150 years old and warm, cozy and elegant. Remember the old Richmond Hill Inn on Jamaica Avenue and 114th Street? Gabled roof, stained glass windows, dark wood interior? How about the restaurants and businesses that populated Liberty Avenue? Karp’s with its homemade ice cream and toppings; Winther’s Ice Cream Parlor; Levinson’s Jewish Deli with great corned beef and a cream soda; St. John’s Restaurant — where businessmen dined and had cocktails; and Carlo’s Pizzeria on Lefferts Boulevard, a neighborhood staple. Then there were the shops: Perlous, for quality lingerie and sleepwear, with a staff that actually fitted you in the store; Irene’s Dress Shop, Nan Gray, Faye’s Hats, Goodman’s Dry Goods —businesses with owners who took good care of their customers. All sharing an atmosphere of cleanliness, friendliness and selling quality goods.
Now Liberty Avenue is a mess — filled with fast food, tacky shops selling the same cheap curtains, clothing, jewelry and DVDs, all hanging out on the street. Music blasting like a market in the Third World, accompanied by the smell of fish and rotting fruit. Oh, it’s just gorgeous.
Our historical society has tried, albeit way too late, our community boards are impotent, mere puppets of the politicians and developers who are wreaking this plague all over Queens. And we all know why. It’s called the “newcomer’s vote”. No one has the guts to place the vote on the line in defense of quality of life and decency.
I have lived here for nearly 50 years, and remember when this neighborhood was quiet, respectful and clean. The only time you saw a police car on your block was when there was a traffic accident. Now, the music blares day and night; parties spill out into driveways, onto stoops, and into the street; cars park with speakers blasting away; and 20 people inhabit homes made for a family of four or five. Do I remember and pine for the good old days? You bet your butt I do. If this is progress, I can live without it.
Photo from Richmond Hill Historical Society