Sergey Kadinsky

Photography

The following photographic essay was created as a local history project for Forgotten-NY, a website dealing with the hidden aspects of New York City history. Launched by Kevin Walsh in 1999, it has since been published into a book.

FORGOTTEN NEW YORK
HarperCollins,
ORDER from Amazon: paperback or hardcover
FORGOTTEN NEW YORK T-SHIRTS and more!

 

The name Rego Park suggests that a park exists somewhere in this neighborhood. But unlike its neighbor Forest Hills, this neighborhood is a park mostly in name only. For parks, local residents get by with schoolyards, playgrounds, and sitting areas. But no large parks. The only other New York City neighborhoods I can name that have a park in their names, but no large parks within them- are Morris Park in the Bronx and Borough Park in Brooklyn.

Lost Battalion Hall, at the western edge of Rego Park, marks the beginning of our tour. A recreational facility run by the Parks Department, users have to register to use its athletic equipment and programs. The two-story brick building was completed in 1939, as a WPA project. The building was initially operated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion. The former group still has an office on the second floor of the building.

"This recreational center is named for the heroism of the United States Army’s 77th Division, honoring its service in World War I (1914-1918). Stationed in France, this New York division fought in the Battle of the Argonne." -Parks Department historical sign.

Lost Battalion Hall is on a busy stretch of Queens Boulevard, as it approaches the Long Island Expressway. Across the boulevard stand apartment buildings from the 1940s. Below are two memorial plaques to the namesake, found in the entrance lobby.

George U. Harvey (1881-1946) was a captain during World War I, in command of Company A, 308th Infantry, 77th Division.

A foe of Tammany Hall and communism, he served as Queens Borough President from 1925 to 1941.He was brought to power following the ouster of Maurice Connolly, who was embroiled in a sewer scandal.

Harvey was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for his capture of a machine gun nest during the Argonne offensive.

AT&T Telephone Exchange

In 1976, the city granted AT&T permission to build its austere telephone exchange next to the recreation center. In return the communications giant paid for a new playground behind the recreation center, atop a former Department of Sanitation repair shop. In 1971, the company initially planned a 320-foot tower, but local opposition took it down to size.

   The windowless telephone building made the AIA Guide to NYC, and perhaps in 50 years, local preservationist Michael Perlman will ask for it to be landmarked. I especially love raised embankment, making AT&T workers feel as if they're on an island, rising above the boulevard. A narrow alley connects the street to the playground behind the recreation center.

   Lost Battalion Playground is one of the least used parks in the area, tucked behind the recreation center, isolated from nearby apartments by Queens Boulevard. It is surrounded by truck parking lots, highway noise, and the telephone building. Few parents know about this playground. Even fewer on a snowy winter day.

Few people know about the whimsical public artwork on the back wall of the recreation center. But then again, few people know about this playground. The playground funnels into a narrow alley leading to the Rego Park Mall expansion, scheduled for completion in summer 2010. A semicircle of pines also serves as a memorial to the Lost Battalion. Pine trees remind me of my birthplace. In Latvia, they grew in such density, entering a forest felt magical, with the trees' pleasant smell, amber deposits, and the near darkness of the forests.

 This playground also marks the site of the Horse Brook wetlands, which I wrote about before. The ancient stream was mostly gone by the late 1930s.

 

Two blocks further east, we have...

 

Horace Harding Playground doubles as a schoolyard for PS 206, which is also named after the highway builder, who lobbied for the construction of the Long Island Expressway. The school was built in the postwar modernist style, in the H shape. As the school expanded, its legs would grow longer. To accommodate a growing student body, one of the legs has trailer classrooms attached to it.

The lights of this playground are ugly, wearing black turtlenecks and Devo-like caps on top. In recent years, the Parks Department has gone retro, bringing back more ornate designs, instead of the cotton swab you see to the left.

In the background are the Park City Estates, a 1950s co-op complex, in all of its Eastern Bloc blandness.

 

The Gateway

Michael L. Radoslovich served as the chief architect of NYC public schools between 1952 and 1969. His defining signature is usually a central gateway in in the middle of the H-plan. Rego Park has a number of these gateways, including PS 206 (left), PS 175 (right), and JHS 157. Nearby Forest Hills has my alma mater, JHS 190. Radoslovich later went on to design skyscrapers at Emery Roth & Sons. The famed firm ceased operations in 1996.

 

Unhealthy Playgrounds

The kindergarten of PS 206 faces the Long Island Expressway, as does the Real Good Park on 99th Street. While most of the highway's route is buffered from the surrounding communities by thickly-planted shoulders, the section in Rego Park runs at grade, replacing Nassau Boulevard that predated the highway. To shield children from noise and pollution, the city could easily build noise barriers, as is often done in suburban communities. Because this is an interstate highway, federal money could pay for these walls.

 

Real Good Park

 

Highway builder/parks commissioner Robert Moses attempted to create a barrier between the highway and neighborhood with a series of playgrounds, see map above. But a few homes held out (above right). These homes are a remnant of Annadale Park, a cluster of small homes dating to early Rego Park, when Chinese farms occupied the area, and Horse Brook flowed where the highway runs today. By the late 1920s, Annadale was absorbed into the larger Rego Park neighborhood, an acronym of Real Good Park, which came from the Real Good Construction Company.

The creativity of names ranges from the self-defining Handball Heaven to Playground Sixty-Two. If only we still had Henry Stern as Parks Commissioner. He would give these parks much more memorable names. The triangle on the right marks the beginning of Yellowstone Boulevard, which snakes its way through Forest Hills. Without a statue or sculpture, the triangle appears incomplete.

 

Twin Schools

Stephen Halsey (JHS 157) and the Lynn Gross School (PS 175) are separated by a block, but were built around the same time, sharing the H shape. Between the legs of the H, students planted a garden. As Halsey's student body expanded, there was no room to stretch the school's legs, so a new wing was built above its schoolyard. Which is why students from its rival, JHS 190, on the other side of the neighborhood, often made fun of this school. Their schoolyard is a joke.

On a side note, the connection between JHS 157 and its namesake predates the local street number grid. 102nd Street was once a winding farm lane, known as Astoria Lane. It connected Queens Boulevard and North Hempstead Plank Road (62 Drive) At both ends, there are street triangles to mark the intersections. Halsey founded the village of Astoria, today a bustling Western Queens neighborhood.

Annadale Playground doubles as the schoolyard for PS 175. It straddles the Rego Park-Forest Hills border, and preserves the old name of the neighborhood.

On Oct. 28, 2007, a murder took place here. Dr. Daniel Malakov was shot by his former uncle-in-law, in fornt of his 4-year-old daughter.. Malakov was in the midst of a custody dispute with his ex-wife.

The murder shocked the tight-knit local Bukharian Jewish community. The court determined that his ex ordered the hit. Both were found guilty, and sentenced to life without parole.

 

Sitting down...

Plaza 67 is the name for the sitting area at 67th Avenue and Austin Street. There may have once been plans to extend the avenue over the Long Island Railroad, but the plan was reduced to a pedestrian overpass.

Between 1922 and 1925, the railway had a station here, Matawok. It was one of the shortest-lived LIRR stations. Matouac was one of the native names for Long Island.

Today, the 67th Avenue subway station serves the area. Matawok seems like a more imaginative name for the park than Plaza 67. Before Henry Stern, it had the more repugnant moniker "Austin Street Sitting Area"

The Montessori school on the left was once a yeshiva. Stars of David decorate the entrance stair railings.

Rego Park Triangle

By a geographic quirk, a small section of Rego Park, does not have any streets to connect it with the rest of Rego Park. Physically, this section belongs to Forest Hills.

In blue, the Rego Park triangle is physically separated from Rego Park by an active and an abandoned LIRR line. In orange is Plaza 67. 67th Avenue marks the eastern border of Rego Park.

Green line marks the abandoned Rockaway Branch, which ended its run in 1962. Since then, there have been debates on whether to reactivate it, or transform it into a park trail. Local precedents for this include the High Line in Manhattan, and the Putnam Branch in the Bronx.

I feel that you can have both a park and a rail line, by burying the rail line and building a park on top of it. Precedents for this include Manhattan's Park Avenue and Riverside Park.

The yellow area is Forest Hills Little League, which in recent years, fenced off their land, to keep non-members out. In a neighborhood starving for public parks, I propose that this lot be restored to the city as a limited-access public park.

In purple are dead-end stubs for Dartmouth Street and 64th Avenue. Many old maps show the two roads going through this green space, but these connections were never built. in the past, residents of the Rego Park Crescents would make a trail through the property. But a few years ago, a girl was attacked here by a loon, and so the dead-end streets were fenced-off, to prevent shortcuts.

 

In light red on the map above, is the old Whitepot Road, a colonial-period lane today taken up by 66th Avenue, Fleet Street, and Yellowstone Boulevard.

In dark red is the one-block Dane Place- a grid-defying remnant of this ancient road. A tiny street merits a tiny Greenstreets park.

Note the solar-powered parking meter. An earth-friendly way for the city to generate revenue.

Where Horses once Ran

At the southern tip of Rego Park, are remnants of a road from the mid-19th century, that once led to a horse racing track in Woodhaven. Playing on the theme, mapmakers assigned Polo Place to fill in the space. The Parks Department expanded on this with a horse-themed traffic triangle.

 

These hitching posts are more likely used to park bikes than horses. These three photos and the one below, are by Kevin Walsh.

A Cemetery Park

The southern tip of Rego Park was once the domain of the Remsen family, one of the early European settler families. They went on to serve in the American Revolution, burying heroes of the French & Indian, and Revolutionary Wars on their land.

By the 1920s, developers gobbled up and subdivided the Remsen property, leaving just a tiny sliver where the family cemetery remains. The local American Legion post took care of the cemetery, which was declared a city landmark in 1980.

Since then, there has been a movement to take over the cemetery from the veterans group, and make it a city park. It took some 20 years of paperwork to get this done.

Queens has many pocket cemeteries, the repository of historic local figures. Often, these cemeteries are in decrepit shape, tended by volunteers. The city appears reluctant to take over these precious few green spaces. Also missing in action- descendants of the colonial-era deceased.

A notable exception to this is Cate Ludlam, the leading force behind the restoration of Jamaica's Prospect Cemetery. Her ancestor Henry Ludlam is buried there.

 The Painter's Playground

When the Rego Construction Company got its hands on the land south of the LIRR tracks, it could have followed the boring rectangular grid that was planned for the borough. Instead, the developers put crescents on the map, with alphabetical naming sequence, and a mixture of Tudor and Georgian architecture.

The school serving this area is PS 174, named after William Sidney Mount (1807-1868), an artist of the Hudson River School. Fittingly, the Parks Department named the adjacent park as The Painter's Playground. Before Henry Stern it had the bland moniker Mount Playground, which provided no hint of its namesake. Below, a compass rose in concrete has the shape of a palette.

When I was child, many local playgrounds still had wooden structures and hanging tires for swinging. Those tires made kids very dizzy, and the wood gave them splinters. After a few costly lawsuits, the city installed some ergonomically-friendly equipment. If your local playground still has tires hanging on chains, send your photos to Forgotten-NY.

Fleetwood Triangle

Here's a shot of Fleetwood Triangle, the .27-acre park, at the intersection of 63rd Drive, Woodhaven Boulevard, and Penelope Avenue, where Rego Park meets Middle Village. This triangle was once the site of a pond, before development reached the area in the 1920s.

Along the Rails

Before 1962, the LIRR had a Rego Park station at 63rd Drive. In the summer season, it served travelers heading to Rockaway beaches. In 2008, the newly-created Rego Park Green Alliance beautified the underpass with this mural. Imagine if every train underpass in Queens had a mural.

Near the underpass, in the parking lot of Shalimar Diner, is a wooded area, where the northbound tracks of the LIRR Rockaway Branch merged with the Main Line. This area could become a much-needed park, but for now, the MTA is simply fencing it off, to keep trespassers away. A service trail makes its way into the woods (see aerial photo below)

The Village Green

Our Saviour Lutheran Church dates back to the founding days of Rego Park, appearing as a countryside church in the city. Its lawn is often used for outdoor activities. The church also offers services in Chinese. A few years ago, it also housed a Jewish missionary congregation, targeting the large Jewish population of Rego Park. They did not succeed, their stay at the church was brief. After 2,000 years, you'd think they'd get the idea, my folks just aren't interested.

PS 139 (Rego Park School) dates back to 1929, when U was the preferred shape for school buildings. As the student body grew, it expanded on the legs of the U. My first teacher in America was Mrs. Vernice Pitt of Jamaica. I thank her for being so tolerant of my classroom antics.

The Beaux arts doors dismissed me every day at 3pm, and my grandfather awaited on the sidewalk below. My 1997 graduation coincided with the retirement of the coal boiler. The boiler was the same age as my grandmother, dating back to the founding of the school.

The Schoolyard

The PS 139 schoolyard was where I learned handball, football, and how to withstand bullying. Recently one of my former elementary school tormentors tried to friend me on Facebook. I'm sorry, but my memory runs long. Request denied.

Since my graduation, the blacktop schoolyard was given a playground, some trees, and a mural by Rego Park Green Alliance. I helped paint the mural in August 2009, and reported on it for Queens Tribune.

Continue to see more Rego Park

Start new photography search

Go to Forgotten-NY

Photography Collection

Written Works

Home