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Jamaica

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Would you like to see how the Bowne House Restoration is proceeding? Or how about checking out the Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam, which is also known as the Hindu Temple Society of North America or the Bowne Street Temple? What about the TWA Flight Center, Smiling HogsHead Ranch, LIC Community BoathouseLouis Armstrong House Museum, Noguchi, and the newly renovated SculptureCenter?

The 12th annual Open House New York Weekend will take place this Saturday and Sunday, and there are 36 listed nook and crannies to explore in Queens (although tours are starting to sell out…so hurry!)

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Jamaica has been a jazz mecca for about 100 years. Count Basie, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Lena Horne are among the legends who have lived in the Southern Queens area. This tradition will be live and direct for the next seven weeks, as performers of this American genre will jam at the Jamaica AirTrain station’s concourse level every Thursday until November 20th. Greg Mays from A Better Jamaica, a cultural nonprofit that is organizing the promotion with the Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District, said that he hopes to create similar experiences to those in Caribbean countries, where musicians greet travelers in airports.

The Eric Lemon Trio (above) opened the series last Thursday. The remaining schedule is as follows: Bayo Fayemi Group, October 9th; Mambo Negro, October 16th; Freddy Dugard’s Hit Squad, October 23rd; Sage All Women’s Jazz Ensemble, October 30th; The Bill Jacobs Ensemble; November 6th; The Bartlett Jazz Ensemble, November 13th; and Michelle Marie, November 20th.

Details: The AirTrain Jazz Festival, Jamaica AirTrain Station’s concourse level (near the Air Bar  at 93-40 Sutphin Boulevard), every Thursday through November 20th, 6 pm to 8 pm (two sets with a break in between), free.

Photo: Sutphin Boulevard BID

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Dai Jian uses martial arts training and diverse world dance techniques to create improvisations, performance installations, and visual art. The CelloPointe Chamber Music & Dance Company specializes in salon-style concerts mixing contemporary ballet, choreography, and imaginative arrangements for string instruments. Meanwhile, 360° Dance Company, comprised of former principal dancers from the Martha Graham Dance Company, presents modern dance masterpieces juxtaposed with original contemporary works in order to preserve and develop a post-modern dance lineage.

These troupes and others will exhibit their art this Saturday at the fifth annual Making Moves Dance Festival, a two-part showcase at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center featuring varied and original works that span the globe and dance genres. More info and photos on the jump page.

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On September 17th, 1787, the U.S. Constitution was signed by a majority of delegates at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. One framer, Rufus King, had traveled to the Pennsylvania event from his family farm in Jamaica, Queens. The statesman’s career was only beginning at the time, and he went on to serve four terms as a U.S. Senator and seven years as an ambassador to Great Britain while also building a reputation as an ardent opponent of slavery. On September 17th of this year, the King Manor Museum, which is located on the grounds where Rufus once lived, will host a naturalization ceremony to welcome roughly 75 new citizens to their new country. These immigrants will take their oath in the shadow of a Founding Father’s home and swear to support the U.S. Constitution on the 227th anniversary of its signing. During a ceremony conducted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the new Americans will listen to the National Anthem, watch a color guard present Old Glory, and then proceed into King Manor to sign their names to a replica of the U.S. Constitution and take photos next to a life-size statue of Rufus King.

Details: Citizenship Day 2014, King Manor Museum, King Park, 150-03 Jamaica Avenue, Jamaica, free, BY INVITATION ONLY, contact Kathy Forrestal at Education@kingmanor.org.

Photos: King Manor Museum

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History repeats itself in Queens this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, the King Manor Museum — the former home of Rufus King, a signer of the United States Constitution, a senator from New York, and an ambassador to Great Britain — will host Craftsmen Days. With help from artisans dressed in time costumes, visitors will learn about 19th century crafts like broom-making, tin-smithing, and wood-turning, while also enjoying music featuring instruments such as a hammered dulcimer, fiddle, and banjo. On Sunday, the Vander-Ende Onderdonk House, the oldest Dutch Colonial stone house in New York City, will open Picnic Days. Visitors will be able to enjoy the beautiful architecture, gardens and picnic area, and take tours.

More information and three additional photos are on the jump page.

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As of the summer of 2014, Queens is in the unusual position of boasting two classic architectural treasures that were once home to the same now-shuttered high school. One, of course, was the classic Jamaica High School, a Georgian Revival masterpiece built in 1927 at Gothic Drive and 168th Street, noted on this recent Brownstoner Queens piece. The other is this forbidding Gothic Revival brick number on Haillside Avenue and 162nd Street.

When Jamaica High School was founded in 1892, students went to class in the now-demolished Jamaica Public High School, 161st Street just off Jamaica Avenue, which was still Fulton Street; 161st was then Herriman Avenue. That venue quickly became too crowded, and a new school in the Gothic Revival style was commissioned with prominent Brooklyn architect William Tubby (whose most prominent buildings still stand in Clinton Hill, including the Pratt University library building) at the helm of the project.

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Thirty-five years ago, Vincent and Patricia Chin relocated their business, VP Records, from Kingston, Jamaica to Jamaica, Queens. It was a good move as VP quickly grew to become the largest reggae company in the world. This Sunday, VP will add spice to the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival New York with a storyboard installation featuring a detailed map exploring reggae’s impact in every continent and an illustrative timeline covering each era. This seems like the perfect addition to this fourth annual event, which is now the biggest Caribbean food festival in the world, attracting roughly 20,000 visitors last year. They come for the tremendous cuisine, live music acts, shopping, and even a cultural stage, which will host folk dances, poetry readings, storytelling and creative fashions. Meanwhile, chefs will compete to win cash, bragging rights as the “Jerk Champion” and the coveted Dutch Pot Trophy as decided by a panel of distinguished judges.

More information and five additional photos appear on the jump page.

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Last week, 122-year old Jamaica High School, 168th Street and Gothic Drive, graduated its last class, in a phase-out that began in 2011 when the school ended admissions. As recently as 1985 the school was considered the best secondary school in America in 1985 by the U.S. Department of Education.

Dear Old Jamaica High, by Harwood Hoadley:

There is a certain High School out in old Jamaica Town

Of all the schools we’ve ever known she most deserves renown

Her boys are strong and manly and her girls are beyond compare

And Royal Red and Loyal Blue are the colors that they wear

In gym, on track, on diamond her honor we maintain

In oratory and debate for her fresh laurels gain

Her fame’s upheld by song and play, for loyal each and all

We rally to defend her name and gather at her call

Then cheer for old Jamaica High, the school without a peer

We’ll cherish long the memory of the days we’re spending here

Prosperity be always hers, courageous purpose high

And loyal love attend her and fame that shall not die

That’s from The Beaver Book, a fascinating history of Jamaica High School from 1892-1927. The book took its name from the now-filled-in Beaver Pond, just south of downtown Jamaica. The school mascot was also a beaver.

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The New York City Housing Authority owns more than 80 houses that are sitting vacant, many of them blighted and causing a nuisance for neighbors according to a story in the New York Post. Nearby residents have been complaining for years that the houses are infested with rats, that the yards are used as dumping grounds and people often break into them. Many of the houses are in Queens with several in Jamaica like the one above at 106-17 Remington Street. The city took the houses over from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1970s. After tenants moved or passed away the houses were left empty and many have been that way for decades.

A neighbor of one of these homes told the Post: “We live in a terrible situation. This is wrong. We’ve had people break in, do their dirty work and come out. Random people with trucks throw garbage in the back yard. It’s a dumping ground.” The neighbor of another said, “We have to deal with trespassing, garbage, mosquitoes, possums and rats. I call the city every year. Sometimes they come. They just sit here, eat lunch and leave. The Housing Authority abandoned this home.” Neighbors have cleaned up the yards, boarded up the buildings and shoveled the snow at these city-owned properties.

The housing authority is seeking permission to transfer the homes to non-profits that could fix them up and make sure they are occupied but many residents are skeptical saying they have heard those plans before but nothing ever happens.

NYC’s Housing Authority is Hoarding Filthy, Blighted Homes [NY Post]

Photo via PropertyShark

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Dollar vans popped up in New York City during the 1980 transit strike and they have stuck around ever since. The 13-seat vans make up a partially unofficial transit network in neighborhoods where subway and bus service is scarce. They are particularly active in Queens according to an article and interactive web feature in The New Yorker.

The writer spent a year riding the vans all across the city and found that Jamaica, Queens was the busiest dollar van hub of all. He’s created interactive maps of dollar van routes and and videos of drivers and passengers. The vans are licensed and regulated by the Taxi and Limousine Commission but illegal ones are common according to the story.

Aaron Reiss who wrote the story and created the maps wrote, “Queens is notable for how enmeshed vans have become in the borough’s transportation landscape. There are almost twice as many legal dollar vans in Queens as in Brooklyn and far fewer unlicensed, illegal vans. Vans in Queens have been afforded several loading and unloading spaces. In Queens, vans are starting to function like an official transportation system.”

Have you ever used the dollar vans? How was the experience?

New York’s Shadow Transit [The New Yorker]

Photo: Cap’n Transit Rides Again