Before the consolidation of the City of Greater New York, the center of the world in Queens was in Hunters Point. This was where the docks were, and where the LIRR ferries discharged passengers coming from Manhattan. These passengers would ostensibly board the east bound trains, but an entire industry of saloons, bars, and hotels had sprung up in the area around the LIRR yard to keep them in the neighborhood. Now… remember that we’re talking about the 1870-1900 period here. Your best point of reference, from a modern point of view, for what such such establishments offered is fictionalized in Cowboy movies and the Boardwalk Empire television series. There was gambling, women, and lots and lots of liquor. This was, in effect, a frontier town – one which was ruled over by a clique of politicians whose antics would have made Boss Tweed blush. Notorious even amongst his fellows, the last Mayor of Long Island City was Patrick Jerome Gleason. He was called Battle Ax Gleason by friend and foe alike.
Gleason was personally responsible for the construction of the exquisite P.S. 1 school house pictured in the next shot, a terra cotta masterpiece which nearly bankrupted LIC – amongst other imbroglios. Dogged by claims and accusations (and at least one conviction) of corruption – Gleason used to sit in a barber chair outside the Miller Hotel – known today as the LIC Crabhouse – and hold court with constituent and passerby alike. This was his favorite spot by all reports, directly across the street from the LIRR train and ferry terminal.
He instructed those he met to avoid addressing him as “Mayor,” instructing them to instead to “Just call me Paddy.”
Long Island City, which existed as an independent municipality that stretched from the East River to Woodside and from Newtown Creek to Bowery Bay for just 28 years, was hardly a candidate for the good government award prior to Gleason. For some reason, he raised the ire of press and political player alike. Remember – this is during the golden age of Tammany Hall over in Manhattan. Bribes and graft were a matter of fact in this era, a part of doing business. Liquor and gambling were commonplace, along with prostitution, and this turpitude raised the ire of do gooders all over the state and nation.
Enter the assassin of joy.
Long Island City never ceases to amaze. As its name suggests, it was formed as a city in 1870 before incorporating into the Big Apple 18 years later. For much of the early 1900s, the Western Queens neighborhood was a commercial hub with bakeries, factories and a Pepsi bottling plant. Fast-forward 100 years, and LIC is one of the city’s hottest real estate markets with high-rise luxury residential complexes competing for East River views. Mitch Waxman never ceases to amaze, either. The Newtown Creek Alliance historian can discuss everything from LIC’s derelict smokestacks to its great coffee shops. Waxman, who blogs at The Newtown Pentacle, will lead a two-hour tour of LIC’s Modern Corridor this Saturday. He will discuss the area’s industrial past, modern luxuries and extensive rail system and share the sordid story of its last and most infamous mayor, “Battle Ax” Gleason. Details: Modern Corridor Walking Tour, meet at Albert E. Short Triangle Park, corner of Jackson Avenue and 23rd Street, LIC, July 13, 10 am, $20.