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College Point

Here on the eve of Thanksgiving, is another look at a story about one of the great philanthropists of Queens. His regard for his workers and his community should be a model for us today. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

In these days of the “one percenters,” and the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, it’s easy to make comparisons to the days of the Robber Barons of the late 19th century. That time was very similar to ours, in many ways. The late 19th century was a time in American history when consumers first began to show their power. Manufacturers of all kinds always produced what people needed, but for the first time in American history, they were now producing not just what was needed, but was wanted. The American obsession with consumer goods had begun.

The ability to purchase those things came from other societal changes, especially the rise of the middle class. It was now possible to work and make enough money to be able to afford some of the finer things in life. Entrepreneurs and inventors met those consumer needs, and great fortunes were made in producing all kinds of goods. Today, it seems that everything gets sent overseas to be manufactured, but 150 years ago, American factories were the lifeblood of cities and towns. Sometimes, an idea or product grew so large that an entire town grew up around it.

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One of the borough’s most historic houses has announced plans for a revamp. The Poppenhusen Institute will undergo an elevator installation in early 2015, according to Executive Director Susan Brustmann, and its façade will be restored the following spring or summer, depending on city funding. The elevator will make the College Point venue, which was built in 1868, more accessible to the general public and will facilitate events, such as weddings and film shoots, in the grand auditorium. The exterior work will restore windows, while saving as much of the original wood and glass as possible, and cover the brownstone with a protective sealant. Brustmann informed that the ability to hold events is imperative to the institute’s survival as it lost state funding a few years ago, while the façade work is necessary because the structure is constantly being smacked by salty winds, due to its location on a peninsula between Flushing Bay and the East River.

More information and more photos are on the jump page.

In 1854, Conrad Poppenhusen moved his Enterprise Rubber Works plant to College Point from Manhattan. At the time, this small peninsula on Flushing Bay was three small separate neighborhoods, one of which was already called College Point. It was named after the short-lived St. Paul’s College which was located here for twelve years, between 1836 and 1848.

Mr. Poppenhusen was another of New York’s many successful German immigrants. He came to the United States in 1843, and began his career in the whalebone business, processing the flexible straining bones from the baleen whale. The whalebone was strong but flexible, and was used for many applications, including women’s corsets, something worn by millions of women in the Western World. But the baleen whale had been hunted almost to extinction by the mid-1800s, and a new source of whalebone-like material was needed. Poppenhusen turned to Charles Goodyear’s vulcanized “hard” rubber process.

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It’s time to modernize a Queens spot where youngsters play a sport whose history dates back to before the 14th century. The Shannon Gaels Gaelic Athletic Association’s home field, Frank Golden Park in College Point, recently received $580,000 in public funds for an upgrade. The money — an $80,000 allocation from City Council Member Paul Vallone and a $500,000 allocation from Borough President Melinda Katz — will go to resurfacing the playing and scrimmage fields as well as installing an eight-foot fence around the park and a 30-foot retractable fence behind each goal post. With several hundred members who trace their heritage to all 32 counties on the Emerald Isle, the Shannon Gaels fields boys, girls and co-ed teams in various age groups that compete throughout the world. The association, which also organizes competitions involving other Irish sports such as hurling, was founded in 2002 with no home. Members practiced on sections of Forest, Juniper Valley, and Sunnyside Gardens parks until 2009, when they signed a 15-year lease with the NYC Parks Department for rights to seven acres of Golden Park, just south of 14th Avenue.

Information on the sport and more photos on jump page.

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With about 130,000 residents, Queens is home to more war veterans than any other borough in New York City. This weekend various neighborhoods honor their war heroes with Memorial Day parades, including biggest one in the country (Little Neck/Douglaston).

The Maspeth Memorial Day Parade (Sunday, May 25th, at 1 pm) is always an emotional display of patriotism and gratitude. This year, it honors local veterans and women. Retired Capt. Laura Zimmermann is the speaker, and other honorees are Leo J. Wasil, who flew 35 combat missions as a radio operator, mechanic and gunner in World War II; Anthony Simone, who fought in the treacherous Mung Dung Valley during the Korean War; and Jane Crowley, who joined the United States Marine Corp Women’s Service in 1943. The parade begins at 1 pm at Walter A. Garlinge Memorial Park, 72nd Street and Grand Avenue, and proceeds down Grand to the Frank Kowalinski American Legion Post 4 and Knights of Columbus on 69th Lane, where there’s a memorial service at 2 pm.

Information on the other parades follows:

  • Broad Channel, Sunday, May 25th, 1 pm, Cross Bay Boulevard.
  • Forest Hills, Sunday, May 25th, noon, starts at Ascan and Metropolitan avenues, proceeds to Trotting Course Lane, ending at St. John Cemetery. Grand marshals are Monsignor John McGuirl, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Church; Community Board 6 Chair Joseph Hennessey; and Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs Commissioner Terrance Holliday.
  • College Point, Sunday, May 25th, 2 pm, starts at 28rd Avenue and College Point Boulevard and heads to 5th Avenue and 119th Street. State Senator Tony Avella is the grand marshal. Poppy Queen is Isabella Joan Hollaway.
  • Howard Beach, Monday, May 26th, 9:30 am, begins with Memorial Day Mass at Our Lady of Grace Church at 101st Street and 159th Avenue. The parade kicks off at 11 am in Coleman Square and takes its time-honored route through Old Howard Beach, visiting the Vietnam War memorial at 99th Street and 157th Avenue, the World War II memorial at Assembly of God Church at 158-31 99th Street and then St. Barnabas Church at 159-19 98 Street.
  • Laurelton, Monday, May 26th, 9 am, Francis Lewis and Merrick boulevards to the Veterans Memorial Triangle, 225th Street and North Conduit Avenue.
  • Little Neck-Douglaston, Monday, May 26th, 2 pm, Northern Boulevard between Jayson Avenue and 245th Street, 2 pm. The closing ceremony is held in the parking lot of Saint Anastasia School, Northern Boulevard and Alameda Avenue, where awards are given, honorees are acknowledged, and refreshments are served. World War II heroes are the grand marshals, including Rocco Moretto and John McHugh Sr., who stormed the beaches of Normandy during D-Day; Thomas Dent; John W. Peterkin; and Lucy Salpeper, who joined the Navy Waves and cared for injured soldiers.
  • Ridgewood-Glendale, Monday, May 26th, 11 am, starting at the Ridgewood Memorial Triangle at Myrtle and Cypress avenues and ending at the Glendale War Monument at Myrtle and Cooper avenues. Charles Dunn, a member of Glendale’s VFW Sergeant Edward R. Miller Post 7336, is the grand marshal.
  • The Rockaways, May 26th, noon, steps off at Beach 121st Street.
  • Whitestone, Monday, May 26th, noon, starts at Whitestone Memorial Park, 149th Street and 15th Drive and proceeds on 12th Avenue. Dr. David Copell, a Korean War vet, is the grand marshal.

Photo: The Whitestone Memorial Day Parade

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Motorists getting a fillup or an oil check at Farrington’s Service Station at 15th Avenue and 126th Street in College Point may be interested in knowing that the station has been in operation since 1868, long before there were any automobiles to service.

“Farrington” is an old name in Flushing and College Point; the first Farringtons arrived in Flushing in the 1640s. Farrington Street, which now ends at the Whitestone Expressway, was formerly a main route between the two communities. The road traversed the former Farrington’s Meadows. A Farrington married a descendant of John Bowne, a Quaker who spearheaded a battle for religious freedom in 1640s Flushing when he refused to convert to the Dutch Reformed Church and eventually forced Peter Stuyvesant to allow diversity in religion.

In these days of the “one percenters,” and the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, it’s easy to make comparisons to the days of the Robber Barons of the late 19th century. That time was very similar to ours, in many ways. The late 19th century was a time in American history when consumers first began to show their power. Manufacturers of all kinds always produced what people needed, but for the first time in American history, they were now producing not just what was needed, but was wanted. The American obsession with consumer goods had begun.

The ability to purchase those things came from other societal changes, especially the rise of the middle class. It was now possible to work and make enough money to be able to afford some of the finer things in life. Entrepreneurs and inventors met those consumer needs, and great fortunes were made in producing all kinds of goods. Today, it seems that everything gets sent overseas to be manufactured, but 150 years ago, American factories were the lifeblood of cities and towns. Sometimes, an idea or product grew so large that an entire town grew up around it.

The more enlightened industrialists realized that providing for their workers’ basic needs led to more productive workers. It was a win-win for both concerns. Queens was home to several workers’ “towns” that grew up around industries. The best known is Steinway Village in Astoria, built by the Steinway Piano Company for its workers. Here in College Point, the local captain of industry, Conrad Poppenhusen, also built a town for his workers, and in doing so, left a legacy that remains today.

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Way up in College Point, the dead-end Boker Court curves around a quartet of newish tract houses. As it turns out, Boker Court was laid out like that circa 1900 to angle around the Koenig-Boker Mansion, which formerly stood on the right side of the street. Only the dead-end Boker Court is left as a reminder of it.

In the mid-1800s, Frederick Koenig, a German banker and a partner with Conrad Poppenhusen, built a large, wood-framed, hip-roofed mansion with a wraparound porch colonnade at where 120th Street north of 14th Avenue would be. After Koenig returned to Germany he sold it to another German businessman, Frank Boker. The short driveway to the mansion from 120th Street was named for him. The mansion became a hotel, the College Point Clubhouse, was divided into apartments, all the time falling into greater and greater decrepitude. At length, it was razed in 2004.

 

The old mansion stood in the middle of 120th Street: it was in a bad position when cross streets were cut through early in the 20th Century, and unlike other houses in this circumstance, it was never moved. When the tract houses were built around 2005, 120th Street was newly straightened.

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14th Road and 119th Street was the location of an undeclared landmark in College Point, Queens for 127 years ­before most of Queens was even settled. Flessel’s was there when Queens was double its current size ­including all of Nassau County ­and before it was a part of New York City. It was built during the Ulysses S. Grant administration and was there before the Brooklyn Bridge connected Long Island to New York City.

But Flessel’s didn’t make it into the 21st Century.

I had long known about Flessel’s, even before I moved to Queens in 1993, from its description in Willensky and White’s AIA Guide To New York City, and always admired its out-of-time quality. After moving to Queens, I had always talked about getting up to Flessel’s for a drink or a meal.

But it never happened. Flessel’s closed for good in December 1998, the property was sold, and the building was demolished.

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The philanthropy and good will of 19th Century rubber manufacturer Conrad Poppenhusen was, in good measure, responsible for the development of College Point. The neighborhood is in northern Queens on the East River, and was effectively cut off from other Queens neighborhoods by the construction of the Whitestone Expressway in the 1930s. The Poppenhusen Institute, pictured above, built in 1868 at what is now 14th Road and 114th Street, featured the nation’s first free kindergarten, as well as a justice of the peace, the first home of the College Point Savings Bank, German singing societies, the first library in the area, a courtroom, the sheriff’s office with two jail cells, and a grand ballroom.