History Hidden in Plain Sight

 "And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you
because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.
                   Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."
                                                                                ― Roald Dahl

GREEK HOTSPOT / Sunrise & Fourth

Renowned restaurateur owned Tulsa Diner 

99 Fourth Street
Valley Stream, NY 11580

written June 2021 / revised September 2023

John Livanos, the son of a commercial fisherman, was born in 1935 on the Greek island of Lesbos. He arrived in NYC in 1957 after jumping ship (he was a Greek Merchant Marine). Livanos found employment as a dishwasher at his uncle's midtown coffee shop. Other short stints followed. In 1960, he bought an Astoria luncheonette, which he successfully ran for three years. 

Next stop: Valley Stream! 

In 1963, Livanos applied for a job at the Tulsa Diner where he was hired on the spot. After three months, he was offered a partnership. Livanos eventually moved on and opened the Golden Eagle and Lindenwood - diners in Huntington and East New York. He lived with his wife and children in Garden City.  

The Tulsa burned down in 1965. In 1967, the Flagship opened, followed by the Concord in 1971. The Concord closed in 2014, after the death of co-owner Athanasios Cheliotis, another Greek immigrant. 

Rewind to 1935 

In 1935, years before the Tulsa graced Sunrise & Fourth, the Parkside Diner & Lounge, a stainless steel boxcar diner, stood in its place. The diner was owned by Peter Delyanis, also a Greek immigrant. And, in 1938, Alfred "Kiki" Daires opened his Gulf Refining service station to the west of the diner, now a collision shop. (Originally the site of Anton Brun's ca. 1870 Valley Stream Hotel, and later, Christmann's Hotel & Bowling Lanes.) Kiki’s station, with additions, and minus the pumps, still stands. The diner and station created a profitable synergy. Parkside was named for the sliver of park that remained after a larger park was demolished to make way for Sunrise Highway. https://www.liherald.com/valleystream/stories/a-pocket-parks-forgotten-past,92547 

Truck stop and duck hub 

Until the mid-1930s, the intersection of Sunrise Highway and Rockaway Avenue was a well-known game hunting hub. The land south of Sunrise was heavily wooded. The landscape drastically changed when William Gibson built his eponymously named community. Charles Miller operated the Central Hotel, advertised as a “gunning and fishing resort,” on the southeast corner of Rockaway and Sunrise Highway/Brooklyn Avenue. Hunters hitched their horses and flung their pelts over the wrap-around veranda that encircled the building. It was the official meeting place of the Nassau Rod and Gun Club.

Live ducks from Suffolk County duck farms also passed through Valley Stream on a daily basis. And those truckers, along with those transporting more traditional commodities such as produce, eggs, lumber, and paper products, needed a place to eat and refuel. Their habit was to stop at Kiki's station, fill their tanks, leave their parked vehicles (a true truck stop in every sense of the word) and head to Delyanis' dining car (as boxcars were sometimes called) for a sandwich and a cup of coffee. The ducks, being ducks, “made the nights hideous with their quacking,” complained the village residents in August 1935.

By 1941, Delyanis' Parkside Diner & Lounge was owned by James Forman, who previously operated a lunch wagon in Valley Stream. Forman got into many legal scraps, as he operated an illegal "pinball gambling racket" on the premises. 

Fast-forward to 2021 

John Livanos and his three children own five restaurants: Ousia on W. 57th; Molyvos on 7th Ave.; Oceana on W. 49th; Moderne Barn in Armonk; and Citi Limits Diner in White Plains. 

If perchance you are lucky enough to dine at one of the Livanos' establishments, be sure to mention the Tulsa Diner! 

https://www.livanosrestaurantgroup.com/livanos-family/

1935 - Pete Delyanis' Parkside Diner

 

1951 ca. photo of Tulsa Diner

1950 Nassau County aerial

August 11, 2004 Newsday article excerpt

August 11, 2004 Newsday article photo

1965 ad from Gibson at a Glance 


From Galway to Green Acres

The Mary McDowell Story - includes postscript

November 2022

Amy Bentley

FROM GALWAY TO GREEN ACRES - The Mary McDowell Story


Clear Stream Pumping Station

April 14, 2022 - LI Herald
Amy Bentley 
PDF - Clear Stream Pumping Station

The six ponds that dotted Merrick Road from Jamaica to Rockville Centre had a strong start and a weak finish. Up until the 1880s, they had done a splendid job of keeping Brooklyn hydrated - such a good job, in fact, that the borough’s population grew exponentially from 266,000+ souls in 1860, to 566,000 in 1880. After that, however, the ponds had a hard time meeting their daily quotas.


New water sources needed to be found. Suffolk would not permit the pumping of the Pine Barrens, so instead of going east, the water works went south - purchasing land in southern Queens (now Nassau County) to sink driven wells. From 1881 through 1897, 18 pumping stations were added to the water supply. Valley Stream’s Watts Pond (Mill Pond at Edward W. Cahill Memorial Park) and Clear Stream pumping stations opened in 1881 and 1885. 

Clear Stream’s station, located north of Target on modern-day Sunrise Highway, was designed by Alfred D. F. Hamlin (1855-1926). Born in Turkey (his missionary father was a first cousin to Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln’s vice president), Alfred came to the States at 15 to study history at Amherst College and architecture at MIT. He completed his education at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. A professor, and later, the director of Columbia University’s Architecture Department, Hamlin consulted on many public buildings, designing only a few, Clear Stream Pumping Station one of them. According to Architect Kate Sherwood and Building Conservator Lori Aument, both who specialize in historic preservation, the pump house style was Richardsonian Romanesque, named for H. H. Richardson (1838-1886). Identifying features: picturesque rooflines, round-topped arches, rusticated stone, decorative masonry banding, asymmetrical façades. 

From the January 6, 1886 issue of The American Architect and Building News: "The Clear Stream station is faced with Croton brown brick. The woodwork is oak, except for the roof. The walls are painted a delicate salmon color, relieved by bands of dark red at the window arches, and a wainscoting of enameled brick, while the ceiling is a shade of turquoise between the trusses.The masonry and roof were built by day labor. The cost of the building was about $9,000 to $10,000."

The pumping station’s 152 wells were laid out in two rows, spaced eight feet apart. A railroad spur, located at the foot of modern-day Midwood Street, made its way into the watershed each day. It carried the coal that fueled the steam-powered pumping engines.

In 1898, Brooklyn became one of five boroughs. Their water system was transferred to the City of New York. By then, Clear Stream Pond was shut down because of pollution and sea water invasion. Other ponds were abandoned, too, but were re-purposed as infiltration galleries - horizontally placed wells that collect groundwater from the top of the upper glacial aquifer. Galleries are safer from surface contamination than wells.

In 1900, Frederick Reisert, who owned what is now the Green Acres Mall and the community of Mill Brook, filed a $60,000 claim with NYC. Reisert’s farm bordered the nine acre watershed. Clear Stream and its springs ran vertically through his property. Through relentless pumping, the stream and springs dried up - Reisert could no longer irrigate his fields. His case made it to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. A few times. The last trial awarded Reisert $6,000 for injury to his property and $8,000 for the city’s right to maintain its pumping station.In 1907, with much opposition from Nassau County, a 72-inch steel
pipeline was constructed from Ridgewood to Massapequa - its easternmost pond. Did the plan not consider that by the late teens, Brooklyn would receive its water from the completed Catskill Aqueduct/Ashokan Reservoir, making the infrastructure obsolete? By 1917, water from upstate was flowing into the five boroughs. The conduit lies under Sunrise Highway.


During World War I, the watershed was protected by soldiers; the perimeter surrounded by a wrought-iron picket fence. Fencing, however, did not stop the local children from finding their way into the watershed. “We wandered about, picking berries for mother,” recalls Madeline Kappauf in a 1987 oral history recording. The youngsters would inevitably get caught and reprimanded by the soldiers. All was forgiven when they returned with freshly baked pies.

In late 1939, the city’s water supply was at a record low: drought the culprit. Should the wells be reopened? In 1940, to brace for a disaster that never came, the Dept. of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity built three nearly identical brick pump houses. A new station at Clear Stream replaced Hamlin’s masterpiece; it was located southeast of the original, in Target’s parking lot. A new Watts Pond Pumping Station also replaced an existing one. And, lastly, the Hook Creek Pumping Station was erected on the northeast corner of Sunrise Highway and Hook Creek Blvd.

In 1953, when the watershed was shuttered for good, NYC granted an easement to Valley Stream, allowing the Village to use the property as parkland. This was the scenario that transformed Watts Pond, Valley Stream Pond (Arthur J. Hendrickson Park) and Clear Stream Pond (Arlington Park) into the parks they are today. The Clear Stream Pumping Station, however, was not a suitable location for a park; it bordered Sunrise Highway, one of the busiest arterial thoroughfares on Long Island. The property was rezoned for commercial use.

In 1964, NYC sold the watershed to developers Nathan Sirota and Ike Elias for $2.3 million. The Village of Valley Stream received 40% of the sale and a revenue stream was created. This was not a smooth transaction, however, and like the Reisert vs. the City of New York Supreme Court case, legal entanglements followed. The Nassau County Planning Commission was against the sale and appealed the re-zoning. The county wanted to preserve the watershed. They lost the appeal. Disharmony persevered. Irwin Chanin, developer of the Green Acres Shopping Center, was incensed that the land was sold to a competitor. He built a spite fence separating the two properties.

In 1965, the Clear Stream Pumping Station was torn down. If you are interested in seeing what it looked like, you can visit Watts Pond or Hook Creek - both are still standing. In 1967, Alexanders Department Store celebrated their grand opening. Several unusual design features: a heliport for management sat atop the building, there were no windows, and artwork graced the façade. George Farkas, principal of Alexanders, and art patron, commissioned the Polish-born artist Stefan Knapp (1921-1996), a Siberian gulag survivor living in England, to create abstract art on a series of steel canvases.

In 1987, developers Donald J. Trump and Steven Roth were in negotiations to buy Alexander’s as partners, which by then was on the brink of bankruptcy. Together, they owned about 40% of the common stock. Negotiations, however, broke off when they individually tried to purchase shares to gain control of the company. The impasse ended in 1990, when Trump was forced to turn over his stock to Citicorp as forfeited collateral for a loan guarantee he could not meet. By then, Alexanders started selling off its properties; the value of the land was worth more than its brand.

In 1995, Vornado Realty Trust, a Roth enterprise, bought the interest formerly owned by Trump from Citicorp and took control of Alexanders, which by then, was operating as a real estate concern. Roth sold the building lease to Caldor Corp. who demolished the building and built a smaller structure. It has been said that during the demolition, construction crews reputedly offered Knapp’s art to passersby as souvenirs. Caldor went bankrupt, and the property was sold to Target in 2000. 

The pumping stations are long gone. Neither building was replaced; instead, roadway covers each plot of land. On the north side of Target there is a white picket fence that borders the parking lot. If it’s late enough, the lot will be empty. A beautiful void. The Japanese have a name for this: yohaku no bi. The beauty of empty space. The lot’s blankness, its nothingness, can transport us back in time. If you squint hard enough, you just might see the pump house, the neatly lined up wells, soldiers protecting a watershed, children picking berries, and a wrought-iron fence that looks much like the one that stands today.

 

 


Clear Stream Pond
March 31, 2022 - LI Stream Herald
Amy Bentley 
PDF - Clear Stream Pond 
LI Herald article
  

 

By the early 1850s, Brooklyn was desperate for water. The borough’s wells contained too many particles of solid matter per gallon. It was unsafe to drink. Manufacturers also needed water to power their steam boilers and engines. In 1855, after years of failed committees, schemes, and company formations, the New York State Legislature passed an act allowing the incorporation of the Nassau Water Company. The NWC was granted the right to take water from Long Island ponds, springs, streams, and eventually driven wells via a system of underground conduits (the original design was open-air canals). The NWC board was reorganized a few years later into the Nassau Water Works of the City of Brooklyn. Most folks, however, referred to the NWW as the “Brooklyn Water Works,” an unofficial but widely used title.

In 1858, a small plot of land on Merrick Road (between Arlington and Guenther avenues) that contained a subterranean spring, was purchased for $1,010 by the water works. The plan was to turn the spring into a pond. Cornell’s Pond (Arthur J. Hendrickson Park) and Watts Pond (Mill Pond at Edward W. Cahill Memorial Park) were also purchased. The three sites comprised Valley Stream’s contribution to Brooklyn’s unquenchable thirst.

Fine sand and gravel covered the triangular-shaped plot. Although pervious materials, they retained impressive amounts of water. After a good rain, some of the water replenished the aquifer; the balance flowed along the sand’s surface, temporarily creating a spring that disappeared during droughts. Once excavated, the spring-turned-pond held 800,000 gallons of water. The Brooklyn Water Works christened the one acre reservoir Clear Stream Pond. “It pours a stream as clear as crystal,” boasted The Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1859.

In addition to rainwater, the new pond was fed from the north by two short and narrow headwater streams that formed a V at the center of the northern rim. The western stream ran along Arlington Avenue; its headwater was at the juncture of Hunter Avenue and Fenwood Drive. The eastern stream, named Clear Stream, ran between Lyon Street and Guenther Avenue; its headwater was near the intersection of Shipley and Countisbury avenues.

Valley Stream lies south of the Ronkonkoma Moraine, which was formed during the Wisconsin glaciation 21,000 years ago. The south shore is made up of outwash plain valleys, created by streams during the melting of the moraine’s glacier. A dry valley refers to a valley that no longer has a preserved stream channel. The western stream that was once attached to the northern rim of Clear Stream Pond is now a dry valley; as is the headwater of Clear Stream. 

Clear Stream, back in the day, was a lively, viable water source filled with trout and pickerel. It passed under Merrick Road, meandering its way through the West End, the mall, and the Mill Brook community. Today, the stream is a dry valley through the West End and the mall. It re-emerges, however, between Riverdale and Southgate roads in Mill Brook and joins Hook Creek at Rosedale Road, before entering Jamaica Bay.

A gate house was erected on the southeast corner of the pond. The house protected the sluice gate, which controlled the water’s flow; and the spillway, which redirected excess water. A branch conduit was installed at the pond, releasing a minimum of 750,000 gallons of water into the pipeline each day. The conduit ran south, parallel to Clear Stream’s path through the West End. Since the land below the moraine is glacial outwash, it slopes downward; ideal topography for gravity-fed conduits.

George Bradford Brainerd (1845-1887), a Connecticut-born civil engineer, photographer, writer (he penned The Water Works of Brooklyn in 1873), inventor, and historian, is best known for his photography of public works projects. During the summer of 1874, Brainerd traveled by horse-drawn wagon to Valley Stream to photograph Clear Stream Pond. He used the collodion silver glass wet-plate process of photography, a complicated technique that required photographic material to be coated, sensitized, exposed, and developed within 15 minutes. Brainerd set up an outdoor darkroom (a tent) on site to develop the negatives. His death in 1887, some say, was hastened by his exposure to the toxic chemicals he used.

The conduit ended near Fir Street, close to where the rail stands today. (The rail didn’t exist at the time; it was built a few years after the construction of the water works.) There it joined the Ridgewood Aqueduct, which ran east to west. The aqueduct, over nine feet in diameter, transported the water to a pumping station in Brooklyn. Steam-powered pumps forced the water up through a tube to the man-made Ridgewood Reservoir that sat atop the Harbor Hill Moraine - the northern moraine of Long Island. The elevation of the reservoir was important, as it had to be well above the highest buildings in order for the water to flow down through the pipes via gravity.

By 1877, the pond began to fail. From The Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “The water did not look as clear as the other lakes, being spotted with green scum.” And, the spring-turned-pond, it was found, did not replenish sufficiently after a drought. “It is only with the greatest difficulty that the water can be got through the weir at all, and at present the city derives little or no benefit from its supply.” In 1944, “A Map of Valley Stream about the Year 1880” was created by local gentry for a history piece included in a church publication. The pond was labeled with a racially inspired nickname; named so, it is believed, after the reservoir’s dark and murky water. The pond was in a downward spiral. 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
      

100 YEARS AGO THIS MONTH
July 1, 2021 - Valley Stream Herald 
Amy Bentley  
 
Minutes from 6/21/1921 Special Meeting
“Public Education in Valley Stream, New York During the Twentieth Century” by William P. Stris
 
  Postcard
  School Thirteen, eight-room wooden school, built 1905; Sinner’s Hope Chapel, built 1872

   


 Thursday, June 17, 2021 - Valley Stream Herald
 Amy Bentley 
 200 Years Ago this Month

 

 Abstract of Annual Reports of Trustees of Common Schools in the Town of Hempstead in June 1821
 Town of Hempstead's Clerk's Office
 Courtesy of William Stris' "Public Education in Valley Stream, New York During the Twentieth Century" 
 

Thursday, December 21, 2019 - Valley Stream Herald

Amy Bentley

WATER

It is probable that this photo, circa 1874, is the oldest image we have of Valley Stream. 

The image was taken at Cornell’s Pond, the original name of the Valley Stream Pond, located in modern-day Arthur J. Hendrickson Park. The Cornells, Wrights, and Fowlers owned grist and saw mills along the eastern edge of the pond and the land and streams north of it. The gristmills passed out of existence before the Civil War; the sawmills lasted a few years longer. Corona Avenue was once named Mill Road. 

By the early 1850s, Brooklyn needed water. The city could not sink wells into the aquifer because it contained grains and other solid matter. In 1862, the initial phase of the Brooklyn Waterworks was completed. The waterworks, a system of underground conduits (originally designed as open-air canals), brought Long Island water to Brooklyn via reservoirs, ponds, and driven wells. Cornell’s Pond, one of three Valley Stream ponds was tapped into service. Clearstream Pond (Arlington Park) and Watts Pond (Mill Pond) completed the trio. 

“Cornell’s is a large expanse of water covering 80 acres, and is certainly the clearest and cleanest of the six ponds visited. It has a bottom of beautiful white sand, and is perfectly free from any impurities.” October 16, 1867, “Brooklyn Daily Eagle” 

George Bradford Brainerd (1845-1887) was a Connecticut-born civil engineer, photographer, writer, inventor, and historian. He is best known for his photography of public works projects throughout New York State. In the mid-1870s, Brainerd traveled by horse-drawn wagon to Valley Stream to photograph the waterworks. He used the collodion silver glass wet-plate process of photography, a complicated technique that required photographic material to be coated, sensitized, exposed, and developed within 15 minutes. Brainerd set up an outdoor darkroom (a tent) on site to develop the negatives. 

Brainerd took the photo from the east side of the pond where the playground stands today—looking south towards Merrick Road. The brick gatehouse protected the working gear of the sluice gate. An unidentified gentleman stands on a timber footbridge that connects to an eight-foot embankment made of Connecticut granite. 

“Mr. Pearsall Cornell, an intelligent miller and farmer is living on the pond’s bank. This gentleman corroborated the generally expressed opinion that the reservoirs were never so dry and so low before, and that if Cornell Pond was a criterion to go by, the people of Brooklyn had good cause to be alarmed for their water supply.” February 16, 1871, “Brooklyn Daily Union” 

By 1896, Brooklyn’s thirst outstripped Long Island’s water and an alternate source was needed. In 1917, Brooklyn started receiving water from the Catskill Aqueduct and Cornell’s Pond was decommissioned. (Brooklyn eventually transitioned to the Delaware Aqueduct.) In 1924, The Long Island State Park Commission (LISPC), under the auspices of Robert Moses, began acquiring defunct waterworks. Two years later, Valley Stream State Park opened to the public. The pond was transformed into a chlorinated pool, complete with slides, diving boards, floats, docks, and a sandy “beach.”

The influx of day-trippers visiting the park became a source of grief for Valley Stream residents. The crowds, traffic, garbage, and noise put a huge strain on the local population and village infrastructure. In 1948, the pond and the southern portion of the park were shut down. In 1958, Valley Stream purchased the pond and surrounding land from the LISPC for $103,000. (The northern section of the park, north of Hendrickson Avenue, remains in the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.) In 1960, the Valley Stream Pool opened for Village of Valley Stream residents only. The park was renamed Arthur J. Hendrickson Park in honor of the former mayor and philanthropist. 

Brainerd’s image is a technological triumph. What elevates it to art, however, is the subject—water. The photo is visually and conceptually compelling, and historically relevant. The export and exploit of Valley Stream’s natural resource changed the area’s physical and cultural landscape forever. Farms began to fail—there was not enough water to irrigate fields. The waterworks sounded the death knell for an agrarian way of life. Folks who care about the environment, history buffs, and those with an affectionate connection to Valley Stream will find the current water situation tragically ironic. 

Brainerd’s 1,900 glass plate negatives are archived at the Brooklyn Museum. Although his negatives were never turned into prints during his lifetime, you can view many of them online: https://brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/collections

Location: Arthur J. Hendrickson Park, 123 West Merrick Road, Valley Stream, NY 11580

WATER—History Hidden in Plain Sight

Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection, 1996.164.2-42  

Thursday, September 20, 2018
Amy Bentley
 
Lord Stites—the man, the murals, the mystery

It’s a steep climb up the ancient oak steps to the third floor of the Pagan-Fletcher Restoration.  Rewards abound, however, once you reach the top. Not unlike a stroll through a museum, canvas-like vignettes cover the walls: mythical creatures breathing fire, villas perched on ocean cliffs, tropical flowers spilling over stone walls. The illustrations wrap themselves around wall corners, visually propelling you into the mural-filled hallway. Open the door to the charming Victorian bathroom—it’s a psychedelic profusion of color and content. Donald Stites Fairchild, a member of the third and final family that lived at 143 Hendrickson Avenue created some of these murals.

Before the Fairchilds there were the Pagans and Fletchers. In 1838, Robert Pagan and his family moved into a smaller version of the present-day house. In 1929, the Fairchild Publishing Company purchased the Fletcher estate, which was built where the original house stood. In 1929, the Fairchild Publishing Company purchased the Fletcher estate. Edmund and Louis Fairchild, two brothers, married Catherine and Jessie Boyd, two sisters—granddaughters of the Pagans.

Edmund, Louis, and their four brothers were born in Flushing. In 1890, Edmund founded Fairchild Publications; in 1910, “Women’s Wear Daily” (WWD) hit the newsstands. All the brothers eventually joined the business. (John Fairchild, Edmund’s grandson, took over WWD in 1960. He transformed the garment industry trade paper into the “bible of fashion.”) Louis and his family summered at the “cottage” on Hendrickson Avenue. In 1943, Louis’ family moved out and Emil Fairchild, the youngest brother, moved in.

Emil (1879–1947) and Martha had three children: Donald, Gordon, and Martha. Donald (1904–53), the oldest, attended Columbia University where he acted in theater and wrote poetry. He dropped out and moved to Paris during the time known as Les Années Folles, “the crazy years”—a free-spirited interlude between the two world wars. There Donald met his wife Mary Inloes, also a writer, another expatriate from the States. In March 1927, Fairchild, who was only 22 years old, published “Intimate Acrobatics” under the nom de plume Lord Stites. (Stites was his paternal grandmother Chloe’s maiden name.) “It is a story of Paris and New York, of Long Island and a country estate on the Seine. Dinner parties, casual erotic passages, hints of impropriety, and even inversion,” reported the April 10, 1927 issue of the “New York Times.” The main characters were Llewelyn Smith (the same initials as his pseudonym) and Anastazia Pomeroy—privileged young adults without a care in the world. Donald and Mary married in Paris five months after the book’s publication. Mary’s family was in attendance, Donald’s was not. Their sons Michael and Anthony were born in 1928 and 1930. By 1935, Donald and Mary were living apart; they divorced not long afterward.

Gordon Fairchild (1908–94), and his daughter Nancy visited the Restoration on May 2, 1992. They taped an oral history recording for the Valley Stream Historical Society that day. Gordon explained that his family—his wife, daughter, son, and parents, lived on Hendrickson Avenue from 1943 to 1948. Nancy knew little regarding her uncle, she erroneously identified Donald as the younger sibling. Gordon, age 83 at the time of the recording, acknowledged his brother’s murals and mentioned that his presence at the house was transitory. He shared nothing else. Although divorced by then and living in New York City, Donald’s 1944 New York Guard Service Card lists Hendrickson Avenue as his home, too.

An educated guess dates these crayon and chalk murals to the mid-1940s. A wide range of subject matter, talent, and style grace the walls. Finely drawn scenes are juxtaposed alongside wild, bold strokes of color. The complex composition of a farmer tending his fields is in stark contrast to the child-like skyscrapers. It is doubtful that all the murals were created by Donald.

Emil passed away in 1947, and the house was sold to the Lynwood Housing Corporation the following year. Donald died in 1953—he was 48 years old. His death certificate stated chronic alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver.   

Edgar H. Leoni, whose intellectual pursuits included both the occult and gay prose, published “The Homosexual in Literature” in 1959. Leoni, like Fairchild, assumed an alias for his book—Noel I. Garde (an anagram of his name). Within the book’s bibliography, Garde lists the titles of 14 gay novels. Next to each title is the writer’s pseudonym and legal name. “Intimate Acrobatics” is number 11 on that list. Donald was posthumously outed.

In 1977, the Village of Valley Stream purchased the old Pagan homestead. In the late 1990s, Marshall C. Anderson, a Valley Stream resident since 1940, and a member of the historical society restored the murals. Anderson, a graduate of Cooper Union and a commercial artist, added his own illustrations to the bathroom. The Staten Island Ferry, the Statue of Liberty, seagulls, and a rainbow with a pot of gold are Anderson’s handiwork.

I reached out to many Fairchild descendants hoping to learn more about Donald. Elizabeth (Beth) Fairchild-Ammons, Donald’s granddaughter, was the only one to respond—but she had no information to share. Her late father Anthony did not pass on any photos or stories. “Thank you for introducing me to him, even if just on paper,” Beth replied. “It has filled a void that has existed for a long time.”

“Intimate Acrobatics,” despite its shallow and frivolous plot, lingers in one’s mind long after the novel is finished:

Llewellyn secured passage aboard the Rotterdam and sailed from Boulogne-sur-Mer to New York. The ship is anchored and Llewellyn recognizes his father, who was there to meet him. There was almost nothing to say after the greetings were over; each had grown into a strange shell, almost unrecognizable. He followed the chauffeur down the long pier and down the stairs and got into the staid, gray-upholstered limousine and shut the door. Masked in small talk, they rode home.

Location: 143 Hendrickson Avenue (between Lynwood Drive and North Corona Avenue)

Lord Stites - the man, the murals, the mystery
 
 
 
     

Thursday, July 19, 2018
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
The Rise and Fall of Rockaway News

It would be natural to think that Rockaway News Supply Company, Inc. (Rockaway News) was named so because of its location on Rockaway Avenue—but it wasn’t. The company, which purchased, sold and distributed wholesale newspapers and magazines to newsstands and stores, was founded in Far Rockaway by John Somyak. In its heyday, Rockaway News delivered many New York papers: The New York Times, New York Herald Tribune, Daily News, Daily Mirror, New York World-Telegram and Sun, New York Post, Nassau Daily Review Star, Long Island Daily Press, The Wave, New York Journal-American, and Newsday.

Somyak (1889-1960), a native of Baltimore and the son of Jewish Hungarian immigrants, moved to the Lower East Side as a young child. The family summered in the Rockaways where John sold newspapers, which upset the veteran newsagents in the area. By the time he was 18, he had his first newspaper franchise. In response, the agents formed the Long Island News Company (LINC), a newspaper agency to protect themselves from interlopers, in this case, a teenager. Somyak was fiercely independent and would not affiliate with LINC. However, in 1901, Somyak reluctantly joined forces with them to ease mounting discord. This arrangement proved short-lived; about a year later he separated from LINC, eventually forcing the agency to leave the Rockaways.

In 1922, Somyak erected a building on Barry Place (the street no longer exists), between Beach 84 and Beach 85 streets, in the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Hammels. He owned a fleet of 30 delivery trucks and employed approximately 100 men. He lived close by with his wife Anna (née Gordon) and their three children: Arthur, William, and Alice. In 1924, the Somyaks moved to Beach 131 Street in Belle Harbor—the West End. Rockaway News incorporated in September 1925 and in September 1931, Somyak applied for a permit to erect a five-car garage on Barry Place. Residents objected to the proposed building, and the zoning board denied his application.

The wheels were soon set in motion to relocate the business to Valley Stream. In February 1933, Somyak incorporated once again—this time using the name “Valley Stream Associates” in anticipation of his move. “A site for a two-story garage, office and warehouse building has been sold to the Rockaway News Supply Company,” reported the July 5, 1933, edition of The New York Times. Located on the west side of Rockaway Avenue near Fifth Street, the plot of land measured 100 by 186 feet. The structure, designed by the architect Joseph Gunther, cost $35,000.

This vintage photo doesn’t much resemble the building today—but one subtle hint confirms that it is. Although the top of the building is not visible, cast in the street is a shadow—a battlement that adorns the right side of the roofline. The crenellation has miraculously remained intact, surviving multiple renovations. Ron Marzlock, a Queens historian, was consulted regarding the identification of the vehicles. Trying to date automobiles during the 1940s can be tricky because models did not change much during the war years. Ron believes that the two panel trucks on the left were 1940 Fords, and the two on the right were 1939 Chevrolets. The squat white building on the left with the “Sandwich Shop” signage belonged to Harry Borow. In 1941, Borow added a second floor, so we know that this photo predated that time. Another detail worth noting are the two gas pumps on either side of the garage door. Rockaway News executives are standing alongside the aproned members of the Newspaper and Mail Deliverers’ Union of New York and Vicinity (NMDU).

NMDU, founded in 1901, was a horse-and-buggy newspaper delivery service in New York City, born out of the newsboy strike of 1899. During the Depression, when jobs were scarce, the union books were closed to new members to protect the livelihoods of drivers and their families. Closed shops mandated that only sons of members could join and only allowed outsiders to get union cards if there were unclaimed openings after a long period of “shaping”—the practice of appearing at the workplace and taking any extra work that was available. Unaffiliated to this day, never joining forces with the powerful International Brotherhood of Teamsters, NMDU’s story is not a sensitive narrative on human rights—it’s a story of strikes and slowdowns, violence, coercion, racketeering, conspiracy, corruption, and intimidation.

By the time Somyak moved his business to Valley Stream he was 44 years old and well into his career. Both sons were active in the company and in 1941, Somyak announced his first retirement, naming his eldest son Arthur president; this allowed him more time to pursue his many interests and hobbies. Somyak, who loved the water, owned a luxury cruiser, the Alice II, which he docked at the Rockaway Park Yacht Club on Beach 116 Street and Jamaica Bay. (The Rockaway Park Yacht Club came into existence in response to the “No Jews” policy at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club on Beach 126 Street.) During WWII, Somyak lent his boat to the Navy, who used it to patrol local waters.

Perhaps Somyak’s greatest passion was his involvement in the Democratic Party, and through the years he was president of three clubs: 1924, Ocean City Democratic Club; 1931, West End Democratic Club; 1933, John Somyak Democratic Club. Somyak established his club the same month and year that he moved his business to Valley Stream. “The first meeting was attended by more than 180 people and full of enthusiasm,” stated the July 20, 1933, The Wave.

In January 1946, Rockaway News and the union executed an agreement officially recognizing Rockaway News as a closed shop. Although the majority of employees were members of NMDU, there were a number of non-union workers that filled open positions.

On Christmas Day 1946, a fire broke out at Rockaway News; the cause was said to be a delivery truck’s faulty wire connection. The flames were difficult to extinguish because of the smoke from burning truck tires. The blaze destroyed two vehicles and damaged the garage and office. The destruction could have been much worse—there were 30 delivery trucks on the premises that day, full of fuel. The cost of the damage was estimated to be $75,000.

In April 1947, the union forced Rockaway News to dismiss ten non-union workers—men who would have willingly joined the union if given the opportunity. The non-union employees, with the help of legal counsel, petitioned the New York State Supreme Court in Mineola to enjoin the company from discharging them. In May of that year, the court ruled in favor of Rockaway News and the union, stating that they were “powerless to act, as closed shop practices are not prohibited by any statute, state or federal.” The attorney representing the ten men swiftly filed an appeal to contest the Supreme Court decision.

The Labor Management Relations Act, better known as the Taft–Hartley Act, was enacted on June 23, 1947 and outlawed many closed union practices. In December 1947, the Appellate Division in Brooklyn reversed the Supreme Court decision that denied the non-union employees employment at Rockaway News. The men received permission from the court to challenge NMDU’s closed shop agreement, and in May 1948, the case went to trial. A new contract between Rockaway News and the union was executed later that year, but without an official election authorizing a union shop. The agreement stipulated only hiring union workers, but if none were available, positions could be temporality filled by non-union personnel. Benefits such as overtime, vacation pay and raises were given to union employees only.

In 1950, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charged Rockaway News with discriminating against non-union workers and ordered them to reimburse the workers for back pay. NLRB, created in 1935, is an offshoot of the National Labor Relations Act. An independent agency responsible for enforcing US labor law in relation to collective bargaining and unfair labor practices, NLRB instructed Rockaway News to abrogate their contract with the “uncertified” union.

In March 1950, Charles Waugh, a Rockaway News delivery man was fired. Waugh, a member of NMDU, refused to cross a picket line set up by the typographical union at the Nassau Daily Review Star in Rockville Centre. Waugh was there to pick up newspapers for distribution. In May 1951, NLRB ordered Rockaway News to reinstate Waugh and to reimburse him for lost wages. Rockaway News did not comply. In May 1952, the US Court of Appeals reversed NLRB’s order to reinstate Waugh and instead, upheld Rockaway News’ decision to dismiss Waugh. The decision was made based on an interpretation of the Taft-Hartley Act. While the Taft-Hartley Act exempts the crossing of a picket line from its list of unfair labor practices, it only applies to an employee doing so on their own time. If an employee refuses to cross a picket line while working, then his employer has the right to fire him for failing to perform his regular duties.

On January 30, 1953, the union went on strike for nine days, demanding a pay increase and “fringe benefits,” according to the February 6, 1953, edition of Newsday. In addition to halting delivery of newspapers that NMDU had contracts with, the union also forbade Rockaway News drivers from delivering papers for Newsday, which did not have a contract with the union, but whose papers were delivered by Rockaway News since the newspaper’s inception in 1940. The Supreme Court stepped in when union workers used violence to stop Newsday’s circulation department from delivering the papers themselves. A Newsday employee was run off the road and beaten. Supreme Court Justice Cortland Johnson stated that “violence and intimidation will not be tolerated.” Two days after the strike began Newsday’s circulation office in Lynbrook burst into flames. On February 10th, a new agreement granted the union a 37-hour a work week, a $2.25 weekly wage increase, and a paid holiday.

On August 16, 1957, Somyak retired (again) and appointed sons Arthur and William, president and executive vice president, respectively.

In many ways, the 1958 19-day strike mimicked the nine-day strike of 1953. On November 28, 1958, nine newspapers decided to cut ties with Rockaway News, citing accumulating difficulties with the company as the reason for the split. John Somyak defended himself by saying that the publishers pulled out after he raised his rates. NMDU promptly went on strike, objecting to the pullout and claiming a loss of contractual benefits. Consequently, Rockaway News had only one account left—Newsday. And once again, as in the 1953 strike, the union had issues with this arrangement and refused to allow Rockaway News to deliver Newsday’s papers. This time, however, instead of Newsday delivering the papers themselves, another independent trucking company with non-union drivers was hired. The union applied pressure, insisting that Newsday sign a contract directly with them. When Newsday refused to negotiate, the union picketed the paper’s Garden City office, and acts of violence broke out. “Four men jumped from a car, menaced the drivers with ice picks and slashed their tires,” testified Alan Hathaway, Newsday’s managing editor, at a hearing before the Senate Rackets Committee in Washington, DC. The strike ended on December 29th. The union’s new contract included wage increases, sick leave and holiday pay.

On December 16, 1958, Rockaway News entered into receivership and in April 1960, the building sold at public auction. John Somyak passed away on May 9, 1960. All the New York dailies reported his passing; the same papers that chronicled, often in excruciating detail, the rise and fall of Rockaway News.

Location:  518 Rockaway Avenue

The Rise and Fall of Rockaway News

   
Early 1940s 
photo courtesy of Brian Merlis
1932 — John Somyak
sketch by Harry Palmer for "The Wave"

Wednesday, May 9, 2018Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Valley Stream Courthouse has Storied History

It would be unjust to chronicle the history of 195 Rockaway Avenue, or the village for that matter, without first highlighting the impact that the railroad played in its development. Prior to the rail coming to Valley Stream in 1867, the center of Valley Stream was in two locations: first, the corner of Hendrickson Avenue and Henry Street, where Robert Pagan opened his general store and post office; second, the newly-planked Merrick Road and Central Avenue. A third location, however, would soon come into play. Between 1867 and 1870, three local railroad routes were established, which in turn, started a slow but steady migration south. The railroad was the catalyst that created the village of Valley Stream.

In 1867, the South Side Railroad built its first route on the south shore of Long Island from Jamaica to Babylon. But the train made no scheduled stops in Valley Stream because the village did not exist at the time. If a passenger wanted to board a train, they had to flag one down. In 1869, the Far Rockaway Branch Rail Road Company opened a second local route from Valley Stream to Far Rockaway. And in 1870, the Hempstead Branch made its first run from Valley Stream to Hempstead. That same year a depot was built south of the tracks on the west side of Rockaway Avenue, and the timetable finally included Valley Stream.

In the fall of 1868, not long after the Jamaica to Babylon train route opened, Electus Backus Litchfield (1813-1889), a wealthy railroad magnate and land speculator, purchased the J.N. Brush 80-acre farm in Valley Stream for $20,000. Litchfield’s family owned large swaths of land in Brooklyn, including what is now Prospect Park (“Litchfield Villa,” his brother Edwin’s 1853 estate, still stands on the western edge of the park). On March 5, 1870, Litchfield filed a map with the County of Queens (Nassau County was part of Queens at the time) entitled “Plan of Property at Valley Stream, owned by E.B. Litchfield, by Olmsted & Fosgate, 50 Wall Street, N.Y.” Litchfield hired the renowned architect William Belden Olmsted (1808-1880), who laid out the streets and designed the “French-roof cottages” in the newly-created village. Olmsted built himself a house on the southwest corner of Rockaway Avenue and West Valley Stream Boulevard. Olmsted was a cousin of Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), the landscape architect of Central and Prospect parks. In 1871, Litchfield sold his land, divided by then into 400 lots, to Sylvester Hickey, another land speculator, making $100,000 from the sale. E.B. Litchfield’s tenure in Valley Stream was brief, but his connection to the village has endured, his name still appears on land records and maps – an unexpected yet treasured nod to the past.

In 1910, George Schramm moved to Valley Stream with his wife Minnie and their two daughters. Schramm opened a bakery in a two-and-a-half story wood-frame house with a gracious wrap-around porch that stood on the northeast corner of Rockaway and East Jamaica avenues. The bakery was in a prime location, as the Long Island Traction Company trolley ran from Jamaica to Freeport along Jamaica Avenue (hence the avenue’s name). The railroad too was only two blocks south of the bake shop.

In 1925, the Bank of Valley Stream was formed, and in 1926 the bank purchased the land that E. B. Litchfield once owned – the same land that was also home to Schramm’s Bakery (which was torn down as a result of the sale). “The Bank of Valley Stream is building a handsome structure on the east side of Rockaway Avenue to be completed by April 1 at a cost of $175,000. The upper floor is to be occupied by a branch of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company,” stated the February 27, 1927, Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Joseph J. Gunther (1887-1951), a local architect, designed the twentieth-century neoclassical building that was typical of many banks and courthouses of the time. The two-and-a-half story building exterior measures 35 feet wide by 100 feet long, approximately 7,700 gross square feet. The decorative finish on the facades facing Rockaway Avenue and East Jamaica Avenue is composition stone, finely cast with black and white aggregate. Four shallow pilasters with Tuscan capitals separate each vertical row of windows on the building’s main entry façade. A traditional crosshead pediment with dentil molding and scroll brackets made of plaster grace the entrance, the same molding also trims the roofline. Stately double-height windows line the south side of the building on the first floor facing East Jamaica Avenue. Other noteworthy details include a cornerstone engraved with the year 1926, two decorative vent grills – one made of bronze the other of notched composition stone.

As with all old buildings, there are some exterior building features that have been altered or removed: the granite entrance sill and step have been covered with a cementitious coating; the original entrance door and transom, both sheathed in bronze grillwork, have been replaced. The transom grill held a street clock, and both the grill and the clock have been restored and mounted inside, on the second floor. Six skylights have long since been sealed and covered.

In addition to having two full floors, the building also included two mezzanines, one towards the back of the building, the other towards the front. Each mezzanine had a balcony that overlooked the first floor, as it was customary in those days for bank management to literally oversee their business. The first floor was a column-free double-height room with classical ceiling-exposed plaster beam and cornice elements. Craftex, heavily-textured high-end plasterwork, covered the walls, many of which also had marble wainscoting or wall base. The rear windows on the first floor and back mezzanine had iron bars, and a coal chute was located out back. On the first floor was a vault, and in the basement a Mosler safe. The floors were oak, pine, terrazzo, or linoleum.

The new bank building opened on June 11, 1927. Most local banks at that time were controlled by local businessmen – many of whom had no previous banking experience. The first directors of the bank, among others, were Robert Dibble, real estate proprietor; Joseph Felton, general store owner; Arthur Hendrickson, mayor; Clarence Philips, builder. The timing of the bank’s opening, however, was unfortunate; the Depression was two years away. During the early months of 1933, the Bank of Valley Stream closed its doors due to insolvency, a victim of the stock market crash. To reopen the bank, rigid requirements under new banking laws had to be met. Specifically, the directors had to pledge personal assets to secure loans. As mostly all the directors were bankrupt, The Bank of Valley Stream could not meet those requirements, and as a result, The Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, who held the bank’s mortgage, took back the building.

On January 30, 1925, the Village of Valley Stream was incorporated and opened its first office at 26 West Merrick Road. From there the Village’s respective departments split up and moved to various locations. The office of the Department of Public Works moved to 236 Rockaway Avenue, the Assessor’s office to 410 Rockaway Avenue, and the Village Hall and Village Clerk’s office took over the second floor of the building that was once home to Joseph Felton’s general store, 275 West Merrick Road. On January 1, 1930, all the Village departments moved to the second floor of the Valley Stream Theater at 69 Rockaway Avenue.

In December 1936, the village moved out of the theater building and leased 195 Rockaway Avenue from The Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank. Departmental offices were located on the first floor while the courtroom and executive offices were on the second. In 1940, the village, under Mayor Henry Waldinger’s guidance, bought the building for $70,000. During World War II, an air raid siren was secured to the roof of the building as the location was central enough to reach many worried ears if necessary. A photo from that time shows the air raid siren and an American flag perched side-by-side atop the building – a sobering sight. In 1955, a new Village Hall was built on the northwest corner of the Village Green for $800,000. Frederick P. Wiedersum, an architect, and resident of Valley Stream designed the building. Wiedersum also designed Central High School, an Art Deco masterpiece, as well as all the Valley Stream public schools built after 1929.

Temple Judea, a reform Jewish synagogue, was founded by Saul and Celia (Cyl) Levy, residents of Mill Brook (once known as Green Acres). The local shuls in the area did not meet the Levys or their friends’ spiritual needs; thus a new temple was formed. Initially, the congregants met informally in each other’s homes, but in 1958, the members leased 195 Rockaway Avenue. The sanctuary was located on the first floor; the rabbi’s study and a classroom on the mezzanine; three classrooms, a library, and a social hall were on the second floor. It was a vibrant house of worship: there was a Hebrew school (founded by Cyl Levy), a Men’s Club, a Sisterhood, an ORT chapter (providing training and skills to the disadvantaged), and a lecture series devoted to global issues. Gerald Bobrow and Samuel J.B. Wolk both served as rabbis. In 1963, after leasing the space for five years, the congregation purchased the building. In 1972 Temple Judea, shuttered and sold the building due to low membership.

In 1937, Jules Rabin and his family moved to Valley Stream from Brooklyn – his father Nathan purchased a gas station on the northeast corner of Merrick Road and Montgomery Street. Rabin attended Clear Stream Avenue and Central High, where he was the sports editor of the Central High Crier. After graduating from Hofstra University, Rabin worked as a sports editor for the Nassau Daily Review Star in Rockville Centre. In 1957, he opened Rabin Associates, a full-service advertising agency, and in 1973, he purchased 195 Rockaway Avenue and moved his business to the second floor.

In 1975, Home Federal Savings and Loan Association (HFSLA) became Rabin’s first tenant, leasing the first floor and back mezzanine. And although no structural changes were made to the building, Rabin modified the interior by installing drop ceilings and additional bathrooms. The sanctuary that was located on the first floor was converted back into a bank lobby, the original bank vault was re-commissioned, and teller stations were once again put in place. The first-floor back windows were bricked over – although the original brick design that framed the windows remains intact.Robert Meyer, a Valley Stream resident, became the branch’s first manager. In 1998, North Fork Bank acquired HFSLA, and in 2006, Capital One Bank acquired North Fork Bank. Rabin sold the building in the mid-aughts. A resident of Valley Stream for the past 81 years, Jules Rabin and his wife Sylvia reside in Mill Brook.

In 2012, the Incorporated Village of Valley Stream purchased, for the second time, 195 Rockaway Avenue via eminent domain. All the law enforcement departments – which include Code Enforcement, Public Safety, Auxiliary Police, Civilian Patrol, and the courthouse, moved back “home” – it’s been 63 years!  The vacated courtroom at Village Hall, which through the years also served as a theater and venue for other forms of entertainment and events, will now occupy the space exclusively.

In 2013, Kate Sherwood, a project manager and architect with Gensler, a global architecture, design, and planning firm, was selected to design the first floor and back mezzanine of the building. For associated upgrades, Sherwood recommended that the village engage Robert Derector Associates for MEP/FP engineering, and Silman for structural engineering. Sherwood and Gensler project architect Tomasz Bona, with his design team, focused their attention mainly on the first-floor courtroom. Sherwood’s wealth of historic building experience helped create an interior that references a courtroom from the 1920s, as the village requested. Village of Valley Stream employees and outside contractors, when necessary, were tasked with executing Gensler’s plans.

The grandness of the space, including the ceiling’s original dentil cornice work, revealed itself once the suspended ceiling was taken down. New cornice work was added where missing to match the original, creating a seamless restoration. Panels that had covered the windows above the suspended ceiling on the south side of the building were replaced with glass, allowing more natural light to stream into the courtroom. Custom millwork, light fixtures, furniture, fabrics, flooring, and paint were carefully chosen to reflect the era of the building. The benches and the wainscoting that surround the room are made of richly-stained mahogany. Two conference rooms are also located on the first floor, the judge’s chambers and another conference room are on the mezzanine and all law enforcement departments are on the second floor. 

The opportunity to purchase 195 Rockaway Avenue was a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But buildings, even beautiful ones, are vessels. Their intrinsic beauty comes not from brick and mortar, but from the people that fill them – with life, art, culture, and humanity. The same could also be said of villages.

Location: 195 Rockaway Avenue (northeast corner of East Jamaica Avenue)

'New' Valley Stream Courthouse has Storied History

   
 1938  2018
     
 1910 (Schramm's Bakery on left) 1938 (looking west towards Rockaway Avenue - front entrance)  1942 (air raid siren atop building)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017 — Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley  

Home of the Hupmobile

In February 1928, Lewis C. Elderd (1875-1931), whose ancestry on Long Island dates back to 1660, built a modest 39’ by 77’ one-story brick-faced salesroom and garage. The structure, which cost $9,000, was designed by the architect Joseph J. Gunther of Valley Stream. In April 1928, two gas pumps were installed on the 15’ front yard of the property.

Elderd’s first tenant was William L Ludwig (1893-1968), the proprietor of Hupmobile Automobile Sales & Service. In 1909, the Hupp Motor Car Company (Hupp) was founded in Detroit by Robert Hupp. The first four-cylinder model became an immediate success. But in 1925, the strategy to make the Hupmobile bigger, faster and more expensive with a six-cylinder engine backfired. The company lost its established clientele who preferred the more economical four-cylinder model. By 1932, William Lingner (1897-1974) was an investor in the business. In 1935, Ludwig and Lingner shuttered their business and filed for bankruptcy (Hupp, the parent company, went out of business in 1939).

In 1935, Raynor Motors, a Pontiac dealership, moved into the vacant building. Oliver R. Raynor (1892-1938), previously sold Plymouths in his hometown of Eastport. On September 21, 1938 – the date of the infamous “Great New England Hurricane” Oliver drowned in Westhampton when his boat capsized. During WWI, Raynor was a Surfman, a member of the Coast Guard’s elite U.S. Lifesaving Service. It is unclear if Raynor was on a lifesaving mission when he perished that day, but it is likely.

In February 1945, John J. Fogelman (1892-1984), an immigrant from Proskurov (modern-day Ukraine), opened a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership. In 1947, Fogelman started construction on the northwest corner of East Merrick Road and Horton Avenue. He moved into his new shop later that year but continued to run his business concurrently from both locations until 1949.

The next occupant, DICA Equipment Sales Co., Inc. sold tractors, bulldozers, and lawn mowers, occupying the space from 1950 through 1953. In February 1952, a 40’ by 40’ one-story cinder block addition was added to the back of the original building; the cost was $4,000. The architect was Alwin Cassens, Jr. of Forest Hills. Cali Manufacturing, a factory that made pew cushions and kneeling benches for churches, occupied the addition.

In May 1960, Raymond F. Cohen (1908-1980) founded Island Auto Electric (IAE), an automobile parts and repair business that specialized in electrical systems. Cohen hired Robert W. Stenhouse and Robert C. Riley that same year. In 1970, a building permit for interior alterations was filed, and Cohen was listed as the property owner (he purchased the land from Elderd’s estate).

Cohen sold both the business and property to Stenhouse and Riley shortly before his passing in August 1980. Fred Wunsch, who grew up in West Hempstead, started working at IAE in 1979, after completing high school and while attending college. An Oldsmobile aficionado who owns several classic models, Wunsch was once Treasurer and President of The Long Island & New York City Oldsmobile Club. Wunsch bought out Stenhouse and Riley’s share of IAE in 1988 and 1998, respectively. Today, the majority of the business is in the sale and repair of aircraft ground equipment parts. As Wunsch explained where walls once stood and what materials were original to the building during a recent tour of the property, he casually popped out a couple of drop ceiling tiles which revealed a beautiful and intricately-designed tin ceiling.

“Ray [Cohen] was like a surrogate father to me,” explained Bob Riley in a recent email, “and I was one to Fred.” Both Riley and Stenhouse continue to enjoy their retirements while Wunsch, now the sole owner, carefully steers IAE into its sixth decade. “I still drive my 1983 Olds Cutlass wagon to work each day; the car has 324,000 miles.” One might say that his business and wheels are perfectly aligned.

Location: 35 East Merrick Road (northwest corner of North Grove Street)

Home of the Hupmobile

   

Thursday, November 23, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
The Lodge — famous for the finest mixed drinks and good food

According to the Nassau County Land Records, this building dates back to 1880. It is not the oldest structure in Valley Stream – that distinction belongs to a homestead in Gibson (which will be discussed in a future article), but its history makes it a Valley Stream gem.

In the late 1850s, Joseph Roeckel opened a general store and post office on the corner of Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue. Three houses were clustered on the west side of Merrick Road between Ocean Avenue and what is now Arlington Avenue. As per the “1896 Hyde & Company Map of Long Island,” the Roeckels occupied the house furthest west (pictured here), closest to the store. In January 1909, the corner store burned down and another building, and one that still stands, was erected soon after.

By 1925, Moses Rodninsky, a farmer who dabbled in real estate, moved to Valley Stream. He purchased the Roeckel’s corner building and leased it to the Rosedale Repair and Towing Company. And just like the Roeckels, the Rodninskys settled into the nearby house. The “1932 Hagstrom’s Street, Road and Property Ownership Map of Nassau County,” notes that Moses and his wife Fannie owned all the land on Merrick Road from Ocean Avenue to Ivanhoe Place.

In 1947, Edward Barry and James Fleming became co-owners of the former Rodninsky abode. Together they formed the Barry-Fleming Corporation and opened The Lodge, a restaurant and cocktail lounge that also functioned as a private sportsmen’s club, catering hall and meeting space.In 1949, a one-story cinder block addition with brick veneer was added to the west side of the existing building; the area was to be used as a summer garden. In 1958, an “Application for Minor Structures, Alternations and Repairs” was filed by Larry Emlaw, who took ownership of the property at that time. Tax liens, however, hastened The Lodge’s closing in 1964.

In 1965, the Knights of Columbus (KC) Saint Therese Council 2622 moved from 27 South Terrace Place (its home since 1949) to the recently shuttered restaurant. In 2013, the KC put their Merrick Road building up for sale due to declining membership and financial hardship. Numerous renovations have taken place since they first moved in – all the surrounding property, save the parking lot that fronts Merrick Road, has been built out. If you’d like to be transported back in time, however, visit the east side and back of the building and you will see the original brickwork. Take a look at the terracotta arches that once framed the tops and bottoms of three windows – albeit windows that have long since been bricked over.

The Apostolic Church of God 7th Day, a ministry-driven church that fosters growth and spiritual enrichment is the present owner of this ancient building. And although the KC is no longer on Merrick Road (they now meet at Blessed Sacrament on North Central Avenue), the chapter has survived, abiding by their four core principles: Charity – Unity – Fraternity – Patriotism.

Location:  825 West Merrick Road (northwest corner of Ivanhoe Place)

The Lodge

     

Thursday, October 5, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
30 West Jamaica — a rich past, a blessed future 
Part II of II

In August 1953, another fraternal organization, the Free and Accepted Masons (Freemasons), opened a local chapter – Valley Stream Lodge No. 143. They did not buy a building in Valley Stream at that time; instead, they rented Mechanics Hall from the Junior Order of United American Mechanics (JOUAM).  The Freemasons can trace their origins to the local stonemasons of the Middle Ages.

In May 1963, the Fifth Precinct relocated to 1655 Dutch Broadway in Elmont, and Sherdel Paper Co. moved into the newly vacated first floor. “The business was started by my dad, Kenneth ’Chickie’ Sherdel, in his parent’s house at 19 Fifth Street,” explained Jeanne Walker, Kenneth’s daughter. “My Uncle Fred joined the business shortly after.” The Sherdel brothers sold fine paper and envelopes to printers, schools, and churches. In 1990, Sherdel Paper Co. moved to Franklin Avenue. The business was sold a couple of years later. 

Dwindling membership made it difficult for the JOUAM to maintain ownership of 30 West Jamaica. In November 1967, they sold their building to the Freemasons. The JOUAM continued to hold meetings at their previously-owned building, this time as a tenant. On July 1, 1977, the JOUAM Valley Stream Council No. 41 officially merged with the JOUAM Franklin Council 16 and left Valley Stream. In 2005, the Freemasons sold the building and moved to Rockville Centre. From 2005 until 2010, various other short-term businesses have occupied the space. 

In 2010, the building was purchased by the Holy Ghost Headquarters Prayer Band Mission (Holy Ghost), a Pentecostal house of worship. Holy Ghost was founded in 1973 and moved from its original location in Far Rockaway. The Prayer Room, Sunday School, and Bible Study are located on the first floor; the upstairs room is reserved for Pastor Louise Jackson’s choir practice, worship, and special events. This marks the first time in the structure’s 91-year history that the entire building is occupied by one entity. 

The ornately-designed flagpole at 30 West Jamaica is intact, a relic from the 1920s. The elegantly arched doorway has also miraculously survived through countless renovations, although hidden now by an awning.  Two vintage lamps that adorned either side of that door have since been removed and replaced – but a discerning eye can still trace their shape. Most of the first-floor windows on the east and west sides of the building have been plastered over. 

What sets 30 West Jamaica apart from other noteworthy buildings in the Village is the significant number of years that each establishment spent at that location: JOUAM, 51; Fifth Precinct, 34; Freemasons, 52; Sherdel Paper Co., 27; and Holy Ghost, 7.  One hundred seventy-one years of combined occupancy! The windows in the upstairs room are slits now, remnants of their former size. But, as the Holy Ghost congregants gather to pray, to sing, to dance, and to praise the Lord, the sun still shines in. 

Location: 30 West Jamaica Avenue (between Rockaway and South Corona avenues)

30 West Jamaica - a rich past, a blessed future


Thursday, September 27, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
30 West Jamaica — blueprint for success 
Part I of II

In 1926, the Junior Order of United American Mechanics (JOUAM), a fraternal organization that was founded in 1853, moved into their stately new home on Jamaica Avenue. “JOUAM-owned buildings from that time were uniform in design,” explained Vickie Smith, the organization’s National Secretary. “Two stories high, with a brick façade. The upper floor, commonly referred to as Mechanics Hall, was reserved for meetings; the ground level was rented out to local businesses, which helped generate income for the council.”

Valley Stream Council 41, as the local chapter was known, was indeed housed in a very handsome brick building. Architectural details included an ornamental roof cornice with dentil trim; four bas-relief garland friezes – swags of draped flowers made from glazed terracotta; an ornately-designed flagpole, and an elegantly arched doorway. That same year, Frederic P. Wiedersum (1891-1983), founded his eponymous architecture firm in Valley Stream (he was also a resident), although it is not certain that he, in fact, designed the building.

Additional revenue was generated for the JOAUM by renting out Mechanics Hall to other organizations: the Valley Stream Flower and Garden Society, the Republican Party, the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, Sons of Norway, and the Lynbrook Pythian Sisters. Even weddings were held there: “The ceremony was followed by a reception for 150 guests at Mechanics Hall,” noted an August 6, 1951, marriage announcement in “Newsday.”

In June 1929, the Police Department of the Incorporated Village of Valley Stream merged with the Nassau County Police Department and established the Fifth Precinct. “Negotiations are now underway for the county police precinct to lease the ground floor of the JOUAM building on Jamaica Avenue. Present cell blocks on the second floor of a building at Central Avenue and Merrick Road have been declared unsatisfactory. Since the merger, the Village and county police are seeking more commodious quarters,” reported the November 25, 1929 “Brooklyn Daily Eagle.”

In preparation for the new tenant, modifications were made to the interior of the building by Frederic Wiedersum. According to his meticulously drawn blueprints, four prison cells were added, and iron bars covered the windows on the east side of the building. A free-standing six-vehicle garage was constructed to the west of the building. Affixed above one of the three entry doors was a green lamp, a custom that dates back to the 1650s when watchmen patrolled New Amsterdam carrying lanterns made of green glass. In December 1929, the Fifth Precinct moved into their new quarters; the rent was $4,000 a year.

It proved to be a productive year for Wiedersum. In September of that year, he completed his Art Deco masterpiece, Central High School. Frederic is also credited with designing all of Valley Stream’s post-WWII public schools. By the time he retired in the 1970s, his name was associated with over 500 educational institutions.Today, Wiedersum Associates Architects (WAA) is one of the oldest and most widely recognized family-owned architecture firms in the United States. Richard W. Wiedersum, a principal of WAA, is the founder’s great-grandson.

Location: 30 West Jamaica Avenue (between Rockaway and South Corona avenues)

30 West Jamaica - blueprint for success 

Thursday, September 14, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
How a Fledgling Historical Society Got its Name — a student, a contest and one "amazing" teacher 

Although the Valley Stream Historical Society was founded in June 1972, an emblem for the organization wasn’t realized until three years later. In 1975, the society, still in its infancy, held a contest: “Historians Pick an Emblem Winner,” stated the June 12, 1975, issue of the Maileader. “At the executive board meeting of June 3, the design submitted by Central High School student Barbara Carlson of Orchard Place was selected to be used by the Society.” Barbara was 17 years old.

Forty-two years have passed since the emblem was designed – it was time to catch up with Carlson, a graduate of Queens College, who also studied Library Science at St. John’s University. Barbara works at the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library, as the head of Materials Management and Automated Services. “Fausto Cimador was my art teacher, and he encouraged me to enter the contest. I came up with the Gateway to Long Island idea after looking at a map. Bert Keller (1915-2004), the assistant principal at Central, was the one to inform me that I had won fifty dollars for my design. I was thrilled!” Cimador (1930-2016), was recently mentioned in a Facebook post that was unrelated to this story. “A true gentleman and a great teacher…amazing…the reason for my love of art and painting.” An educator that made a difference; someone who also made an indirect, but lasting contribution to the historical society.

Some folks define “The Island,” as it is colloquially referred to, as encompassing only Nassau and Suffolk counties – which are generally suburban in character. Technically, however, Long Island is a geographic land mass that is comprised of Kings, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties. And that is why Valley Stream cannot exclusively claim the “Gateway to Long Island,” catchphrase as theirs alone. The earliest known usage of “Gateway to Long Island” dates back to 1875, when the “Newtown Register” described the construction of rail transportation in Long Island City in their July 15issue: “The project of securing the means of rapid transit should be kept steadily in view. Let the prize be secured by LIC, which to all intents whatsoever, is the natural Gateway to Long Island.” And from the April 9, 1928, “New York Times,” an ad for the new Williamsburg Savings Bank: “The Hub of Brooklyn – the Gateway to Long Island.” Additionally, our Nassau County neighbors to the north, communities that also border Queens, have also been known to use this popular slogan.

Carlson used three elements in her emblem design: an illustration of Long Island, a gate, and the sun’s rays. The symbolism of the island and the gate are easily understood. But, the sun, we weren’t sure of its meaning, so we asked Barbara. “Oh, the sun is for sunshine. I loved going to the beach back then.”

Collage by Kerri Monsen

How a fledgling historical society got its name


Thursday, August 31, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
South of Sunrise — from runways to parking lots 
Part Il of II

In 1933, only a few years after Curtiss-Wright Airport opened in Valley Stream, the negative impact of the Depression led to the airport's closure. The closing, however, only referred to the operations of the public airport – the flying school and servicing hangars remained open.

The airport’s timeline since its closure: 

1934: Valley Stream Polo Club opens and games are played on the northwest corner of the airfield

1936: Chanin Corporation, a builder of skyscrapers in NYC, buys airfield and surrounding property for the development of a theater, residential community, and shopping center

1938: northwest corner of airfield is rezoned, and the Sunrise Drive-In Theatre opens that summer

1939: Phase I of the Green Acres (Mill Brook) community opens (the “Old Section”)

1942: Bulova Watch Company moves into hangars and manufactures bearings for military precision instruments and fuel injection pumps

1942: Columbia Aircraft Company moves to Valley Stream where they manufacture the “Duck,” an all-purpose, amphibian bi-plane, armed with a 30-caliber machine gun and the capability of carrying two 100-pound bombs

1946: Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, a manufacturer of assault-gliders for U.S. Army, as well as aircraft for personal use, acquires Columbia; 1947: Commonwealth goes bankrupt, as the anticipated post-war boom in civil aviation never happens

1947: Bulova opens wristwatch plant; 1951: Phase II of the Green Acres (Mill Brook) community opens

1953: Bulova operates Quartz Crystal Division that plays key role in production of defense items

1956: Green Acres Shopping Center opens

1977: Bulova establishes Bulova Systems and Instrument Corp., and manufactures mechanical fuses that automatically fire projectiles from artillery pieces

1991: Bulova closes and moves to Lancaster, PA 

In 1993, hangars one and two (Amelia Earhart’s office was located on the second floor of hangar two), previously occupied by Bulova, were demolished to make way for Home Depot. Gabriel Parrish, a Columbia Aircraft employee, and later a volunteer at the Pagan-Fletcher Restoration, and the Cradle of Aviation, was instrumental in salvaging one of the emblems – a bas relief of a single-engine prop plane making its way through the clouds. He arranged for the 6-foot by 9-foot, 3-ton emblem to be moved to the grounds of the historical society. The remaining four emblems are intact on their respective hangars. In 2009, a historical marker was placed in front of Home Depot by the Town of Hempstead’s Landmarks Preservation Committee, commemorating the site of the airfield. Guy Ferrara, the historical society’s president, was instrumental in making this happen. 

The Reisert’s never did get the chance to harvest their final crop, and the airport was gone in the blink of an eye. In an ironic and stunning twist of fate, however, the airport’s initial boastful plans for grandiose infrastructures, including restaurants and 10,000 parking spaces, have eerily come to pass. The Green Acres Mall, in its quest for retail dominance, has unwittingly achieved, many times over, the Curtiss-Wright dream of a “small city within itself.” Farmland paved over to construct runways; runways paved over to build stores and parking lots. Each new era layered over the last – a richly nuanced narrative of Valley Stream’s storied past.

South of Sunrise - Part II of II


Thursday, August 17, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
South of Sunrise — from farmland to runways 
Part I of II

“In 1876, Mr. Reisert and I rented land in Valley Stream. Much of it was swamp, but we cleared it and grew spinach, lettuce, celery, cabbage, peas, turnips, and potatoes. The swamp was so densely wooded that I have known men to get lost in it. We eventually bought the land, and now we have almost 300 acres,” wrote Anna Reisert in the April 1924 issue of “Farm and Fireside.”

Barnstorming was the most popular form of entertainment during the Roaring Twenties and where better to stage air shows and offer plane rides, than the sprawling Reisert farm? All the great aviators of that time wowed audiences in Valley Stream – including Charles Lindbergh, and Wiley Post. The lack of Federal Aviation Regulations allowed barnstorming to flourish.

In 1928, the Advanced Aircraft Corp. leased land on the western edge of the Reisert farm and opened the Advance Sunrise Airport. Their tenancy was short-lived. In 1929, the Curtiss-Wright Flying Service (named by the once competing aviation pioneers Glenn Curtiss and the Wright brothers) purchased the Reisert farm for a reported $2 million. They moved their commercial airport and school for pilots and mechanics from Mineola to Valley Stream (both locations were called Curtiss Field). “The Reiserts had hoped to harvest an early crop, but development of the airfield began at once,” stated the April 22, 1929, issue of “The Standard Union.” Hundreds of planes used the facility daily – it was the largest commercial airport on Long Island at the time. That same year, the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots (named for the 99 charter members) was founded in Valley Stream. Amelia Earhart was elected the organization’s first president in 1931.

“The plan is to eventually transform the airport into a great air terminal containing a small city within itself. It will include a casino, an administration building, six hangars, a rotunda, a repair base, a motor shop, a cafeteria, two national exposition buildings and a complete flying school,” reported the August 4, 1929, issue of the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle.” “The field, which lies along the new Sunrise Highway, will include space for parking of 10,000 cars.  The airport will be surrounded by parks, sunken gardens, and outdoor lounging areas. Dormitories will be built for students desiring to make their headquarters at the field as well as residences for the instructors.” Many transformations did take place – seven hangars (including one for the flight school), three macadam runways, repair shops, etc. The more grandiose visions did not.

In 1929, an estimated 10,000 spectators were on hand to welcome “The Land of the Soviets,” a twin-engine monoplane that left Moscow on August twenty-third and landed at Curtiss Field on November first. The actual flying time was 141 hours, a distance of 13,000 miles. Lindbergh was there to greet the crew of four. In 1930, the U.S. Naval Reserve Aviation Base opened, and squadron training commenced. That same year, the French fliers Dieudonné Costes and Maurice Bellonte accomplished aviation’s most difficult non-stop flight, from east to west, crossing the Atlantic from Paris to Curtiss Field. In 1931, Leroy Grumman moved his fledgling aircraft company to the airport but left for Farmingdale the following year.

South of Sunrise - Part I of II


Thursday, August 3, 2017 — Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley

Stark's Flats

Why do certain buildings, however modest they may be in origin or design, endure; while others, grander in architecture and worthy of protection, are torn down?  Fortunately, in this week’s story we won’t lament the loss of a building that was worth preserving, but instead, we will celebrate the history of dwellings with surprisingly humble roots.

“There was a dye factory just east of the W. Hempstead branch of the LIRR, which was on the ground at the time. Now, I’d say, it would be between Cottage Street and Satterie Avenue,” wrote Ernest H. Tempel (1908-1999) in the May 1982 issue of Panorama, the historical society’s monthly newsletter.  “Most of the employees were deaf folks who lived in a row of cold-water flats behind the hotel owned by Adam Landgrebe [now the Chase Bank]. The flats were two-story, the first floor was about four steps below the street [existing basement], the second floor about four steps above the street.  A man by the name of Stark built them out of cement blocks.”

The dye factory is long since gone, but the “cold-water” flats, constructed in 1912, have survived. George Stark (1842-1922) an immigrant from the Alsace region in France, and his son Leon (1883-1941) were the builders. Originally bricklayers by trade, the Stark’s became well-known mason contractors; their local building projects included the original Nassau Hose and Chemical Co. No. 2 on Brooklyn Avenue.   

Rudolph Braunstein (1903-1994), a German immigrant who moved to Valley Stream the year the building was completed, was an original tenant. “Our first home was Stark’s Flat’s, behind the bank. At that time there were five units, each with an upstairs and downstairs apartment – 10 four-room residences. We occupied the upstairs flat on the easterly end, next to the Reising family,” recalled Braunstein in his April 23, 1993, oral history recording with Helen Dowdeswell. “The apartments were extremely cold and damp, and we were happy to move on to warmer quarters.” 

In 1938, the flats were renovated for the sum of $10,000. Ten apartments were added, a total now of 20 units – two per floor. By 1949, the back of the building had newly installed fire escapes and stairs. Unfortunately, the Brooklyn Avenue firehouse that Stark built was torn down in 1957 and replaced. Stark’s Flats, however, has aged well, a landmark of sorts – charming row houses in old-world Valley Stream. 

Location:  17-25 East Hawthorne Avenue
Map:        1914, Atlas of Nassau County. E. Belcher-Hyde, cartographer.

Stark's Flats


Thursday, July 20, 2017 — Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
On your way home, stop at the Blue Dome 

The Blue Dome opened for business in 1940. John J. Smith (1876-1955), a Valley Streamer who lived on Miriam Street, built an eight-stool hamburger stand, surrounded by a picket fence. “On your way home stop at the Blue Dome. Five hamburgers for 10¢ on carry-out orders only,” read an ad in the February 11, 1941, issue of Newsday

The Blue Dome was a curious name for a restaurant that could not claim any sphere-shaped architectural references. Four domes did eventually grace the building, but they were added in the early 1950s when Wilmer Carlson (1904-1979) purchased the tiny 20’ by 20’ building. Carlson enlarged the hamburger stand and renamed it the Snow White Restaurant. Counter space increased, 21 stools instead of eight, and “Hollywood booths” (seating inspired by Hollywood set designers) lined the circumference of the room. A 100-seat dining room complete with a domed ceiling was added on the western side. Some folks remember a mural of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on the ceiling. Tom McAleer, superintendent of buildings, Village of Valley Stream, has generously provided information on the structure’s history. 

Rich Macioce, Central High School graduate, and guitarist for the 1960s band Brooklyn Bridge shared a memory: “I played a gig at the Snow White in the early sixties. The dome created an aural illusion in the dining room. If you stood at one edge of the dome, a friend standing at the opposite rim could hear you speaking softly.” Rich is right, of course – a curved surface reflects sound and produces echoes. By 1967, the restaurant was known as the Snow Valley Inn. “Every once in a while I stumble across an old-fashioned restaurant with home-style cooking and old-fashioned prices. The Snow Valley Inn looks like a diner that expanded into a dining room with 1940s decor. The menu is German-American and serves knockwurst, corned beef and cabbage, roast beef and ham. Potato pancakes were crisp and great,” reported Barbara Radar in her March 2, 1975, Newsday restaurant review. One year later, in 1976, German food was replaced with Asian cuisine when the Cheng Yu Chinese Restaurant opened its doors. Since the mid-1980s, a dental practice has occupied the space. 

Before the Blue Dome, there was Carl Hoppl’s – a humble hot dog stand on Merrick Road across from the lake. Hoppl’s eventually morphed into a full-service eatery and nightclub, and although it was larger in scale than the Snow White or Snow Valley, both venues followed a similar trajectory. 

Location: 417 West Merrick Road (northwest corner of North Waldinger Street)

Blue Dome


Thursday, July 6, 2017 — Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Vincent's — The Merchant Who Mixed Business With Pleasure

In 1929, newlyweds Rose and Vincent Gerbino moved to Valley Stream. Employed as an in-house photographer at the John Wanamaker department store in New York City, Vincent (1900-1970) initially commuted to his job. His employer tried to convince him to stay – he was talented and very well-liked, but Vincent had other plans. An entrepreneur at heart, he opened his first store on Rockaway Avenue and never looked back. He continued taking photos, his passion, in addition to selling cameras and film. Impatient and wanting to grow his business, the shop began to diversify. “First he added musical instruments, phonographs, and records, which helped satisfy his love for music,” explained Rose (1904-1997) in her 1990 oral history recording with interviewer Helen Dowdeswell (1914-2010).

In 1938, Gerbino moved to the shop pictured here. He needed more space to accommodate the televisions, stoves, and washing machines he was now selling. It is worth noting that another building predated this simple one-story structure. “The Grand Junction Hotel is a large and commodious building,” described the January 26, 1872, issue of the New York Evening Express. By the 1910s, James G. Capie owned the establishment – re-named the Sagamore Hotel. Usually, a grander, larger building replaces a teardown; in this case, just the opposite.

By 1949, Vincent had outgrown his rental space. He bought property and built a store at 31 West Merrick Road. An ad in Newsday from that time describes his business as “Nassau’s Oldest Established Camera Store.” The building was large and deep with plenty of room to hold cumbersome appliances. His business prospered. “What spoiled everything was when he got sick and passed away in 1970,” confided Rose in a quiet voice. “You know his name is still on the store [1990],” replied Ms. Dowdeswell. “Really? I never go down that way. It’s still sort of painful. He was a really good man. He loved people and they loved him back.”

Location: 241 Rockaway Avenue (southeast corner of East Hawthorne Avenue)

Vincent's
 

Thursday, June 22, 2017 — Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
The Well at Watts Pond

Have you ever driven past this old and rusty well, the one that stands like a statue on the edge of Edward W. Cahill Memorial Park (originally known as Watts Pond and in later years Mill Pond) and wondered about its provenance?

The story begins in 1858, the year the Ridgewood Aqueduct, commonly referred to as “The Brooklyn Waterworks,” was completed. The aqueduct was built from Cornell’s Pond (Arthur J. Hendrickson Park) to Baisley’s Pond in Jamaica, and from there to a hilltop reservoir in Glendale. Ten years prior, Brooklyn had suffered a great fire and had difficulty extinguishing the flames; excessive pumping had nearly depleted the Kings County aquifer. An alternate source of water was desperately needed.

The waterworks did not initially include Watts Pond; its elevation fell below the conduit and water could not naturally flow into the pipeline. Nevertheless, Charles C. Watts and Samuel C. Watts sold the rights to their namesake pond for $4,000. This transaction proved fortuitous. During the summer of 1872, Brooklyn’s demand for water outpaced its supply and Watts Pond was called upon to quench Brooklyn’s thirst. “A temporary pump has been put in place to pump water from the pond into the aqueduct,” reported the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. By 1894, the Watts Pond Pumping Station had 12 driven wells, each with an average depth of 50 feet, and a daily yield of 2,500,000 gallons.

In 1917, water from the Catskill Reservoir was flowing into the five boroughs, and decommissioning the wells at Watts Pond had begun. “Following the closure of the pumping station, this well was probably raised above ground and used to test the quality and level of the water,” explained Complete Well & Pump Inc., a Copiague company that does business in Valley Stream. “An above grade well ensures that no contamination from run-off [i.e. fertilizer, animal excrement] makes its way into the groundwater.” The imprint on the sanitary well cap, WSNY RDW Co 1927, stands for Water Supply New York, R.D. Wood & Co., 1927.  Richard Davis Wood (1799-1869) owned a waterworks foundry in Florence, New Jersey.

Our story has a happy ending. In June 1919, the Department of Water Supply in Brooklyn issued angling permits for fishing in Watts Pond; trout, pickerel, and eel were common catches of the day. Ice-skating, too, had become a popular past time. The pond and land were eventually reclaimed by Valley Stream, its rightful owners. Brooklyn can visit if they like, but they can’t drink the water.

Location: Southeast corner of Sunrise Highway and Mill Road

The Well at Watts Pond


Thursday, June 8, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
A Pocket Park’s Forgotten Past 
 
This elegant 1924 line drawing by Renè Cinquin (1898-1978) captures with perfection a forgotten green space that once graced our village. The park is just one of the many illustrations featured in Cinquin’s Aero-view of Valley Stream, a “bird’s eye” map that faithfully depicted Valley Stream during that time. In today’s parlance, it would be a considered a pocket park; a small public space, located on an irregularly-shaped plot of land.

“It had a big circle in the middle, and if you crisscrossed it, the paths would lead to its four corners,” explained Frederick F. Sherdel (1915-1996) in his 1991 oral history recording. “There was a gigantic flagpole with a flag that was hung every morning and taken down at night.” Often, public parks that were geometric in design had centerpieces – in this case, a flagpole, which helped to ground the space and highlight the park’s importance. The four paths emphasized the park’s unification with the other streets. The park first appeared in the 1914 E. Belcher-Hyde Atlas of Nassau County – possibly the year of the park’s inception. World War I had just started, and this might have been the village’s way to honor our soldiers.

Although designed many decades after the demise of our pocket park, the Firefighters Memorial Plaza (located on the northwest corner of Sunrise Highway and South Franklin Avenue) is basically a replica of this long forgotten park.

If one was to superimpose a 2017 map over this 1924 rendering, the park’s corner boundaries would be as follows: (1) northwest corner of Sunrise and Fourth (parking lot of former Concord Diner); (2) northwest corner of Brooklyn and Fourth (traffic island with street clock); (3) northeast corner of Sunrise and Rockaway (location of Boy Scouts “Rum Junction” plaque); (4) northeast corner of Brooklyn and Sunrise. Miraculously, unintentionally, two remnants of this park, (2) and (3), have survived.

Fast forward to 1929: “And then the Sunrise Highway came. Dump trucks were readied to pour the concrete and pave the road. There stood an ancient, sprawling oak tree at least 10 feet in diameter – not far from the park. It took them weeks to chop down that tree,” lamented Sherdel. To view the map in its entirety, please visit https://www.loc.gov/item/75694859/

Location:  formerly Rockaway Avenue (now Sunrise Highway) looking east

A Pocket Park's Forgotten Past
1924 2017

Thursday, May 25, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Sooty Splendor – A Steam Locomotive’s Swan Song

 “Cameras clicked faster than the wheels of the steam train on Sunday when 350 gaping passengers were taken on a tour over long-abandoned tracks,” reported "Newsday"on October 28, 1952. For nine hours that day, avid rail and camera enthusiasts rode over 90 miles on an LIRR “Fan-Trip” sponsored by the New York Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. With a screeching whistle, and a vast plume of smoke and steam, the No. 107 chugged its way northward on the single-track West Hempstead Branch (WHB) over Merrick Road, where it attracted crowds of spectators along much of the route. The passengers rode in half a dozen cars (which included separate cars for reporters and photographers) and made six stops along the way for photo-taking. The sight of this formidable “iron horse” must have been a thrilling moment for Max H. Hubacher (1900-1989), a Swiss immigrant who lived on Dubonnet Road in Gibson, when he snapped this awe-inspiring photograph at about 11:00 a.m. that morning.  

The WHB, also referred to as the “Tigertown Branch,” because of the area’s tough reputation, was constructed in 1893 by the New York Bay Extension Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the LIRR. It originally extended to Mineola, beyond its current terminus at West Hempstead. Essentially, it operated as a shuttle service, back and forth between Valley Stream and Mineola, connecting on each end to main line trains. The sparse ridership on the branch, however, made steam trains a costly operation. To help solve this problem, the LIRR purchased electric trolley cars that operated on storage batteries, which were recharged at a charging station in Valley Stream. Passengers referred to these trolleys as “dinkies” while the railroaders derisively nicknamed them “moxie wagons” because they broke down often. The cars were retired in 1926 when the branch was electrified.  

In 1965, Ron Zeil and George Foster wrote the elegiac classic, "Steel Rails to the Sunrise:" “Although hemmed in, devoid of the rich scenery and robbed of the beautiful steam locomotives, the LIRR is one of the few physical ties to Nassau’s halcyon yesterdays that still remain.”

Location: looking west on Merrick Road (Railroad Avenue)

Sooty Splendor - A Steam Locomotive's Swan Song

   

Thursday, May 11, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Miller's Pond

For almost 82 of her 95 years, Hattie Miller (1865-1961) lived in a stately 14-room wood-framed house surrounded by tall pine trees. The Miller homestead was set back a decent distance from Merrick Road, giving the house a generous amount of open space – ideal for large gatherings. In the June 21, 1931, issue of the "Brooklyn Daily Eagle," Hattie and her sister Annie (1863-1936) “celebrated fifty years of their residence in their beautiful old home.” About 375 guests attended their Golden Anniversary.

In 1880, the Miller family started summering in Valley Stream; and eventually moved there full-time. “I understand that the two rooms which were the start of our house were originally the first District 13 school building,” recalls Ms. Miller in the December 22, 1947, issue of the "Nassau Daily Review Star." (This schoolhouse predated the 1891 schoolhouse located next to Sinners Hope Chapel). It expanded through the years, to keep pace with the Miller’s large parties and open houses; galas to help raise funds for the sisters philanthropic projects – the Chapin Home for the Aged and Infirm (Jamaica), the Wayside Home for Girls (Valley Stream), South Nassau Communities Hospital (Oceanside), and the Fortnightly Club (Rockville Centre), a cultural and literary group for women that was formed in 1898 and is still in existence – that’s 119 years!

Just south of Merrick Road, across from the Miller estate (which was located where the King Kullen parking lot stands today) was Miller’s Pond. Merrick Road at that time was not a heavily used thoroughfare – think plank road and horse-drawn carriages. A rustic split-rail fence ran along the north and south sides of the road. The pond was bounded on the east by Ballard Avenue and the west by Verona Place; its southern edge was Valley Stream Boulevard.

“The pond was the showplace of the Village. The little islands in the brook were all neatly taken care of – no weeds, no brush, no nothing,” reminisced Howard Freeman in his 1989 oral history recording. “My friends and I set traps by the pond where we hunted muskrats, which we skinned and sold to a lady furrier for $2.50 a pelt.” In another interview from 1988, the Gear sisters – Florence and Mary, recalled, “It was part pond, part swamp and part woods. We dug out the bottom for a swimming hole.” The Gears would take a friend’s flat-bottom boat out on the pond, and “push the boat under Merrick Road.” (The Merrick Road pond underpass is visible in this circa 1910 postcard.)

Local lore has it that Hattie would host card parties on the larger of the pond’s islands, where lights were strung and temporary bridges transported the card players. After studying a handful of pond photos, two local arborists concur that the islands were comprised of red maple (Acer rubrum), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and possibly swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) trees. In the late 1930s, shortly after Annie’s passing, the land south of Merrick Road was sold. The pond was filled in and a two-story apartment and retail building took its place. Remnants of the pond, however, remain. A narrow waterway trickles south towards the Village Green, where it flows under Sunrise Highway into the Edward W. Cahill Memorial Park (Mill/Watts Pond), continuing its journey under Mill Road and into Hook Creek, Jamaica Bay, and finally the Atlantic Ocean.

Location: south of Merrick Road (between Ballard Avenue and Verona Place)

Miller's Pond


Thursday, April 27, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
The Corner of Merrick and Ocean
 
“Back in the day there was Studnick Auto Parts. They had wood floors and the owners lived upstairs above the shop. If you needed something after they closed, you would ring their bell and they would come down and sell you the part,” reminisced “Car Geek” on the car forum jalopyjournal.com. And that is how many of us remember this popular store. But, before there was Studnick’s, there was Roeckel’s General Store.

The corner of Merrick Road and Ocean Avenue, located on the “city line,” is long on history yet short on appreciation. In the late 1850s, Joseph Roeckel (1823-1913), a Bavarian immigrant and original settler to the area, opened a general store and post office (he was appointed Postmaster in 1878). After Roeckel’s passing, the property was sold and a service station took its place – this circa 1915 photo represents that time frame. Note the SOCONY sign (Standard Oil Company of New York), a gasoline supplier that was founded in the early 1910s, registered Mobil as its trademark in 1920, and merged with Exxon in 1998. The general store was torn down some time in the early 1910s (perhaps following Roeckel’s passing), and a stately Beaux Arts building with a mansard roof and pedimented dormer windows, took its place. Henry Rosenkranz, another German immigrant, operated a saloon on the south side of Merrick – his business too, is visible in this vintage photo.

Moses Rodninsky (1871-1964), was a 1906 immigrant from modern-day Odessa, Ukraine. In 1925, he moved to Valley Stream and purchased the building, leasing it to the Rosedale Repair and Towing Company. On the second floor were apartments, but the Rodninsky’s did not live there – they made their home at 825 West Merrick Road, a building constructed in 1880 (as stated on its property card) and one that still stands today.

And now we circle back to Jacob (“Jack”) Studnick (1909-1988), yet another émigré – this time from modern-day Poland, who assumed ownership of the property in the 1930s and whose business run was the longest, spanning almost 60 years until his passing. The building, however, lives on, home to more recent immigrant-owned ventures and the enduring spirit of their founders.

Location: 867 West Merrick Road (northeast corner of Ocean Avenue)

The Corner of Merrick and Ocean


Thursday, April 13, 2017Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Trinity Chapel 

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church may not be the oldest congregation in Valley Stream, but it wins the prize for being the oldest religious structure in our village. 

Before 1920, Episcopal parishioners who lived in Valley Stream had to travel to Trinity-St. John’s Church in Hewlett. Communicants, with the help of their first rector, Rev. Arthur L. Bumpus, decided that they needed a more convenient place to worship. The half-dozen or so original members – which included Mayor Fare’s maternal and paternal grandparents – first met in each others homes and then at the Corona Avenue firehouse (another “oldest in its category” building). In 1923, Trinity Chapel opened its doors, followed a couple of years later by a parish house (where the historical society held its monthly meetings and special events for 26 years) and vicarage. The congregation officially separated from Trinity-St. John’s in 1945 when it incorporated and became Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, an independent parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. In 1950, the parish purchased the house south of the church on Seventh Street for the purpose of opening a church school and to provide housing for the sexton. A year later, another house was purchased on the corner of Sixth Street and Brooklyn Avenue to be used as a rectory (replacing the original vicarage). This stately house, which was once owned by Dr. Edward Duggan, an allopathic physician, is visible on the sepia-toned postcard and still stands today. In the early 1950s, the church was enlarged to include a sanctuary and two rooms. In 1960, the house on Seventh Street was torn down and a two-story brick building took its place. Named the Gowan Hoyt Williams Building, in loving memory of Rev. Williams, who passed away at age forty-two, the building is home to the nursery school, Sunday school, and thrift shop.

The church, although humble-looking and described in a 1940 wedding announcement in Newsday as “quaint in old-world charm,” is quite beautiful in its simplicity and symbolism. Tudor-style in design (steeply-pitched roofs, stucco siding, arched doors), the building contains hidden gifts. Three gables on the entrance of the building represent the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In 1954, when the church was enlarged, a choir area and chapel were added as transepts, creating a cruciform, a feature often found in Christian-inspired architecture. All of the vintage fanlights that cap the church windows, as well as a few brilliantly-hued and intricately designed stained glass works of art have endured – reflecting light and grace into this Valley Stream treasure.

Location: 87 Seventh Street (southwest corner of Brooklyn Avenue)

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church



Thursday, March 30, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Ancient Road  – Old Central Avenue
 
Merrick Road (originally Plank Road) is known by many to be one of the oldest thoroughfares in Valley Stream and beyond – it was constructed in 1853. But there is an even older, lesser known road that has been in continuous use since before that time. Let’s drive a bit south of Sunrise Highway and turn west off Mill Road onto Old Central Avenue, which serves as the entrance and egress to the Mill Brook (formerly Green Acres) community. A passive park buffers this elegant enclave – its western edge is curved, mimicking the letter “C,” and it is along this edge that the contour of Old Central Avenue was formed. This ancient road’s existence can be traced back to 1844, where it was first cited on J. Calvin Smith’s Map of Long Island with the Environs of New-York and the Southern Part of Connecticut – that’s 173 years ago!Frederick Reisert’s family, who owned and operated the truck farm that pre-dates Mill Brook and the airfield before that, built their homesteads close to the road, making it convenient to load produce on to wagons for their weekly trip to Brooklyn’s Wallabout Market.

The pond that is located on the east side of Mill Road (Edward W. Cahill Memorial Park, formerly Watts Pond) is also directly linked to Old Central Avenue. The body of water was originally much larger – its east and west mid-sections bulged out in either direction, forcing the road to follow the natural shape of the pond. This 1926 sepia-toned aerial of the pond is identical in shape to not only the 1844 map but also to how the road looks today.

Location: Old Central Avenue - west of Mill Road (between Flower and Woodland roads)

Ancient Road - Old Central Avenue

Thursday, March 9, 2017 — Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
A Pipeline Runs Through It ...
 
If you’ve had the pleasure of strolling through our Village Green you will surely stumble upon two extruding cast iron pipes. These pipes were once connected to the Ridgewood Aqueduct, commonly referred to as “The Brooklyn Waterworks.”  Before we discuss this 72-inch water main, however, it is necessary to mention the original pipeline, lest there be confusion between the two.

The Aqueduct was constructed in 1858 in response to Brooklyn’s dire need of water. The masonry conduit, with an interior lining of “circular hard-burnt brick,” originally transported water from Jamaica (Baisley’s) Pond and Cornell’s Pond (Hendrickson Park). The water was then pumped up into the Ridgewood Reservoir in Jamaica for distribution. By 1862, the Aqueduct had extended its reach to Hempstead. “The total length of the conduit is 12.39 miles and 10 feet wide, sufficiently large to drive a carriage through with ease,” described the 1873 publication, The Waterworks, by George Brainard. But, by the mid-1880s, Brooklyn’s consumption outpaced the output and driven wells soon extracted water from the aquifer and into the conduit.

The addition of wells, however, did not sufficiently satisfy Brooklyn’s thirst. In 1909, a pipeline (visible on the Green) was constructed to pump water from as far east as Massapequa. Although Brooklyn eventually connected to the Catskill and Delaware aqueducts, they also continued to tap into Long Island wells via this pipeline. By the 1920s, many of the ponds were transformed into state parks and in 1929, Sunrise Highway was built over the original conduit. In 1959, the wells were shut down, but the Reservoir continued to operate as back-up until 1989 when it was decommissioned. It has since reverted to its original condition – wetlands.  

Location: southeast corner of the Village Green (Hicks Street)

72-Inch Pipeline


Thursday, February 23, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Park Inn Garage — Part II of II

As discussed in the last feature, the Park Inn Garage and Park Inn Ford, built in 1916 and 1922, respectively, were located side-by-side on West Merrick Road. When WWII ended, home construction resumed with renewed vigor and homeowners became extremely automobile dependent. A bigger and better dealership was in Park Inn Ford’s future! “The new structure will include a four-car showroom and a glass-encased lubritorium equipped to handle two cars at once. The agency will also enlarge and modernize its service station and increase the size of its parts department,” reported the February 6, 1946 issue of the Nassau Daily Review Star. In 1948, the new building was open for business. Joseph Grieco (1928-2010), son of co-owner Victor Grieco, joined his father after serving in the Army, embarking on a half-century career as the dealership’s most lauded salesman. Charles Willis (1922-2005), the final owner of Park Inn Ford began his reign in 1964 and held on to the business until his passing when it was then sold to Acura. Victor Grieco’s daughter, Joan Smith, who grew up on West Valley Stream Boulevard (she lived her early years on the second floor of the 1922 building) reminisced, “When I was a little girl Merrick Road had many open lots where we used to play. I feel sad now when I pass my father’s business and don’t see the familiar Park Inn sign. The bricks on my childhood house, an English Tudor, have been painted over and the timbers are now covered in siding. I try not to go down these streets anymore.”

Location: 444 West Merrick Road (southeast corner of South Terrace Place)

Park Inn Garage - Part II of II 

Thursday, February 9, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Park Inn Garage — Part I of II

If you look carefully at this photo, you will see not one, but two buildings. The structure on the left was the original Park Inn Garage built in 1916 by Joseph Buscher (1863-1930), a German immigrant, and his two sons, Frank (1889-1988) and Charles (1893-1972). It was the first service station to open in Valley Stream and its early years were fraught with danger – it was robbed three times in one year! In the September 14, 1920 edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Frank Buscher was asked why he would not report the burglaries to the county authorities. “I have tried to secure burglary insurance but cannot unless I have a watchman on guard. I plan to place not only a watchman on guard, but a savage watchdog.” In 1922, the Buschers teamed up with Victor Grieco (1894-1983), and together they opened a dealership, Park Inn Ford, in a newly constructed building west of the original garage. Both the 1916 and 1922 structures still stand – the former less recognizable than the latter, due to extensive remodeling.

What does Al Capone the infamous mobster have in common with this Valley Stream locale? Besides operating as a dealership and service station, the second floor of the 1922 building provided housing for various Buschers, Griecos and other renters. The most infamous tenant of all was James LaPenna, a producer of Broadway musicals and an associate of Johnny Torrio, the Chicago gang lord and bootlegger. LaPenna was living there in 1939 when he and Torrio were both arrested and sentenced to prison for evading income taxes on “immense liquor profits.”  And the Al Capone connection – he was Johnny Torrio’s protégé.

In the next feature we will discuss the third Park Inn location.

Locations: 1916 building: 430 West Merrick Road (southwest corner of South Montague Street)
                 1922 building: 440 West Merrick Road (between South Montague Street and South Terrace Place)

Park Inn Garage - Part I of II


Thursday, January 26, 2017Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Weisbarth & Newman — Central Avenue Builders

Have you ever wondered what the initials “W.N” engraved above this store’s yellow-bricked edifice stood for? The initials represent two surnames – Weisbarth and Newman. David Weisbarth (1880-1963) and Irving Newman (1905-1989) were Eastern Europeans who immigrated to New York in 1896 and 1920, respectively. In 1938, Weisbarth, originally a tailor, teamed up with his son-in-law Newman, an attorney, to form the New-Way Building Corporation. Between 1938 and 1948 they built homes in Valley Stream on Casper Street at Shaw Avenue; Roosevelt Avenue at Mill Road; Central Avenue at Lutz Drive (Central Homes); and lastly, brick veneer houses on Molyneaux Road, Birchwood Drive and Central Avenue. All this construction necessitated a local shopping area for the new residents. In the late 1940s, New-Way purchased a parcel of land from the Joseph March family, owners of a large farm on the east side of Central Avenue. New-Way’s L-shaped shopping strip was completed in 1951, fronting Central Avenue and wrapping around Hendrickson Avenue. Although the initials were engraved on all three corners, only those on Hendrickson Avenue and Salem Road remain visible. Favorite long-time tenants included Everbest Bakery, Joe’s Fish Market, Harry and Flo’s, Dan’s Supreme, and Central Pharmacy – amongst others. Steven Buscemi, the director and actor from Valley Stream filmed a scene from his 1996 film “Trees Lounge” in front of the pharmacy. Irving Newman’s children, Stephen (Stephen Place, located west of Central Avenue was named after him), Cynthia and Rona are the principals of Newman Realty Company, the family-run enterprise that still owns the property – and one that has been in the family for over 65 years.

Location: 421 Hendrickson Avenue (corner of Salem Road)

Weisbarth & Newman - Central Avenue Builders

   

Thursday, January 12, 2017 Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Muller's Drugstore — Part II of II

Frederick W. Müeller (1874-1941), the pharmacist discussed in the last feature, who built his original drugstore on West Merrick Road, quickly outgrew his space. Consequently, Muller (formerly Müeller) built another pharmacy on Rockaway Avenue in 1911. Muller Hall opened on the second floor of the new building, which served as a movie theater, meeting hall and dancing school. For a time, the drugstore on West Merrick Road and the Rockaway Avenue store operated concurrently. The post office that originally resided in the Merrick Road store eventually moved to 11 West Jamaica Avenue – yet another property built and owned by Muller, and one that still stands today. In addition to being the Village druggist, “Doc” Muller was also a founder and president of the Valley Stream National Bank located at 235 Rockaway Avenue – the stately building, almost a century old, continues to create awe and admiration. “Will you spend your time over in the new bank, now that you are its president, or here?” asked The Daily Long Island Farmer in 1920.Muller replied, “Oh, I guess the bank will run along better without me than the store can, but I’ll slip over two or three times a day, and I will always have an eye peeled on it.” That arrangement, however, proved short-lived. In the early 1920s, Muller teamed up with Alonzo Mills and formed the Mills-Muller Corporation, a real estate and insurance concern and subsequently sold his drugstore. Muller, described as “a popular and progressive businessman” in the 1902 book A History of Long Island by Peter Ross, has left his entrepreneurial spirit and enduring imprint on the Village.

Location: 196 Rockaway Avenue (northwest corner of West Jamaica Avenue)

Muller's Drugstore - Part II of II


Thursday, December 22, 2016 — Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Muller's Drugstore — Part I of II
 
Frederick W. Müeller (1874-1941) was born in Baden, Germany and immigrated to Brooklyn with his family when he was a young boy. He studied pharmaceutics in New York and New Jersey. In December 1895, Müeller assumed the management of a store owned by George A. Koch, a Valley Stream druggist. In 1897, Müeller bought Koch’s business, and in May 1900, he built his first store on West Merrick Road. That same year, Müeller was also appointed Postmaster of Valley Stream under President William McKinley and served in that capacity for sixteen years; and for nearly as long he compounded every medication that his neighbor and physician “Doc” J. Mansfield Foster had prescribed to the village’s 3,500 residents. A member of the Hempstead Pharmaceutical Association, Müeller effectively ran both businesses from his drugstore. He soon dropped the umlaut and Americanized his surname to Muller, and the villagers affectionately referred to him as “Doc” Muller. “He has a large and well equipped establishment for a town of this size and is carrying on a good business, for his honorable methods, courteous treatment and moderate prices have secured to him a liberal patronage,” Peter Ross wrote in his 1902 book entitled A History of Long Island. In the next feature we will discuss the second drugstore that Muller opened in Valley Stream and one that is also still standing.

Location: 32 West Merrick Road (between Rockaway and South Corona avenues)

Muller's Drugstore - Part I of II 
 1900 - Merrick Road looking east  

Thursday, December 8, 2016 — Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
Green Acres Shopping Center Planters

In 1956, the Green Acres Shopping Center opened. The Chanin Organization, owned by Irwin S. Chanin and his brother Henry, was the builder. On the east and west ends of the shopping center, near the anchor stores (Lanes and Gimbels, respectively), and coursing down its center, were circular concrete planters that were placed in either singular or multiple groupings. The planters’ smooth and flowing geometric shapes, a signature element of mid-century design, helped to define the open air shopping center’s common space. In addition to their attractive form, the planters also proved to be exceptionally functional – providing much needed casual seating for weary shoppers.

Previous to the construction of the shopping center, the brothers built the Chanin Building on 42nd Street, several theaters, hotels and some of the largest apartment buildings around Central Park. In 1938, the Chanins built the Art Deco-inspired Sunrise Drive-In Theatre, which boasted classic period elements including ziggurats on either side of the screen and neon lights that dazzled the eye.  And in 1939, Green Acres opened – their uniquely planned community which included a greenbelt and footpaths. In an ironic twist, the residents changed its name to Mill Brook in an effort to distance itself from the retail shops with which it was once so intricately entwined.

The shopping center, now a mall, has gone through many iterations and expansions. Miraculously, two planter groupings from 1956 remain intact. Their survival, however, is uncertain, as the mall is an ever-changing and expanding infrastructure. Best to go soon and see these extant beauties before they become but a distant memory!

Location: southwest corner of the mall by Macy’s

Valley Stream Herald - December 8, 2016
 

 

October 14, 2015 — Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
The Valley Stream Sanitarium

For such a grand and gracious house it should have had a longer life. The stately Queen Anne, boasting three stories of almost 3,000 square feet with a wrap-around porch, a widow’s walk perched on top and open land out back, should still be standing. The house, located at 392 West Merrick Road, was on the southwest corner of Merrick Road and Montgomery Street. Today it is a parking lot filled with shiny new cars that belong to the Acura dealership. 

The provenance of the building, as well as the land that it was built on, is an integral part of Valley Stream history. In 1893, the Royal Land Company developed the west end of Valley Stream and named the area Irma Park. A long-time resident of Valley Stream, William (Billy) Smith, an immigrant from Bavaria, owned a large chunk of real estate in Irma Park, which in later years would be known as the West End. In addition to his two-story home, which ran long and deep, he owned and operated a clothing manufacturing business (he was originally a tailor) dating back to the 1870s. Smith was also the proprietor of the Irma Park Hotel, a Civil War-era inn that opened in the 1890s. The hotel, in the 1920s, was transformed into the world-renowned Pavillon Royal nightclub. In 1906, Smith passed away and Joseph Buscher, a butcher, who was also born in Germany, bought much of the land in Irma Park. In 1908, Buscher built his new home, the stately Queen Anne, situated between the old Smith homestead and the Irma Park Hotel. 

In 1930, Joseph Buscher passed away, and that is when the use of this grand and gracious building becomes murky. It is likely that the Buscher family suffered financially after Joseph’s passing. Classified ads with this address, dated 1932 through 1934, vary in content. One lists “furnished rooms for let, board optional.” Another describes the property as “a beautiful estate, horses, swimming pool, sports, dietician.” One that caught my eye, from the November 25, 1933 Nassau Daily Review Star: “Unsuccessful in love or business? Consult a well-known psychologist. Also choose your vocation by successful hand-reading. Yovana.” And the last ad I found, remarkable in its range of rental opportunities, but cryptically worded, was from the May 22, 1934 Long Island Daily Press: “Concessions for rent – check room, parking space, cigarettes. 500 seats, prominent restaurant, adjoining Pavillon Royal.”    

Now imagine the Acura parking lot, once the Buscher homestead, as the Valley Stream Sanitarium. 

In 1926, Edward (Eddie) Strauss and his family moved to 42 South Montague Street, a rural section of Valley Stream’s West End, located a block west of the Buschers. The house was built in 1923. If you looked out the rear second floor bedroom window, you would be facing present day Terrace Place. But the land was still woods back then and homes wouldn’t be built there for another 22 years. Eddie had lost his first wife, Hannah (nee Spiro) and his nine-year-old daughter Virginia, in 1924 and 1925, respectively. The newly-formed Strauss family now consisted of Eddie, his second wife Millicent, whom he married in 1925, and two children from his first marriage: 12-year-old Grace and three-year-old Daniel. Eddie’s older son, Eddie Jr., was nineteen at the time and off on his own. 

Millicent Meszaros was born in 1893 in the tiny farming community of Cogswell, North Dakota – one of nine children. Her parents emigrated from Hungary in 1883. Encouraged by her older brother John, a physician, she attended the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery, and graduated in 1917. She was 24 years old. By 1920, she was living in New York City, where the flu epidemic (which hit the area shortly after World War I ended) was in full swing. Millicent worked on Randall’s Island as a physician at the Children’s Hospital, the same hospital where Eddie’s daughter, Virginia, was a patient. It is believed that the couple met there at that time. 

Although the 1920 census lists Eddie as an engineer for the U.S. government, in reality he was a bookie, and Belmont Raceway was located a convenient four miles away. When Eddie first told his physician wife what he did for a living, she naively thought that he manufactured books, explains Daniel, Eddie’s son, in his 2001 Valley Stream Historical Society oral history recording. The many phone lines that were installed in the Montague Street cellar belied his true profession. Eddie didn’t live long. He passed away from tuberculous in 1929, three years after moving to Valley Stream. By the time Daniel Strauss was six years old he was biologically orphaned. In 1931, Millicent married Eddie Strauss’ best friend, Daniel Houlihan, the very person that Eddie’s son Daniel was named after. To mitigate any confusion regarding which Daniel I am referring to in this article, I will refer to the younger Daniel (Strauss) Houlihan as “Dan” and his stepfather (who adopted him) Daniel Houlihan as “Daniel.” 

Millicent, although she practiced medicine on Randall’s Island, was unable to continue doing so once she left the Children’s Hospital. Dan Houlihan, who self-published the oddly titled memoir, I Love You, I Said, That’s Nice, She Replied in 1998, explains: “She tried and failed to pass the New York medical boards. I remember her studying for weeks in the upstairs back bedroom. She became a medical social worker for the Town of Hempstead instead, and a very frustrated one, because she worked for doctors, felt a lack of respect from them, and made a lot less money. This carried over into a kind of bitterness.”   

Searching through online local newspapers, I found a good number of classified ads placed in the summer months from 1931 through 1935, advertising a school that Millicent had operated in Valley Stream, most likely in her home. According to the advertisements, The Irma Park School was “a school for retarded and mentally deficient boys, requiring individual training.” Her son Dan never mentioned the school in either his memoir or in the oral history recording. But the ads persisted for five years; therefore, I am inclined to believe that the school existed during that period of time. 

The Valley Stream Sanitarium opened for business at 392 West Merrick Road, the old Buscher estate, in 1940, with Dr. Millicent Meszaros Strauss Houlihan at the helm. It was Dr. Houlihan’s opportunity to reclaim her role as a medical professional, a doctor, in a quasi-hospital setting. Her husband Daniel was employed as a wholesale hosiery salesman at the time. When the war broke out in 1942, his supply of nylon rapidly began to shrink. The military needed nylon to make parachutes, not stockings! Daniel, however, was ready for a career change. He took over the administration of the sanitarium with Millicent’s “grateful approval,” explains Dan in his memoir. Daniel relished his new responsibilities, and according to his son, he was a great success: “He loved to go over each night and talk to the patients and their families who would come to visit.” Sometime during that year, according to numerous newspaper articles and classified ads, the institution changed its name from “Sanitarium” to “Nursing Home.” 

Daniel Houlihan passed away in December of 1944 at age 50, and the responsibility of the nursing home reverted back to Millicent. Their son Dan, a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Tank Corps, still had two years left in the service and didn’t return to his childhood home until March of 1946, together with his wife Audrey and baby daughter, Colleen. Dan helped his mother run the business. That lasted about six months, as both mother and son were strong-willed people. “Your father wouldn’t have done it that way,” quipped Millicent in her son’s memoir. “Trying to run the nursing home with two bosses wasn’t working out,” acknowledged Dan. Millicent agreed, and handed over both the building and the business to her son. When Dan took over in 1946, the facility had 16 patients. In 1948, to increase occupancy, he added an extension to the back of the house, and under his stewardship, the patient capacity grew to 26. The institution handled both private and welfare patients and many were elderly, afflicted with either dementia or Alzheimer’s. I imagine that many of the nursing home patients were referrals from Dr. Houlihan’s professional association with the Town of Hempstead’s Board of Health. 

Although Dr. Houlihan removed herself from the day-to-day responsibilities of running the nursing home once her son took over, she remained actively involved in the community. In the 1940s, Dr. Houlihan was elected president of the Valley Stream Republican Club’s Women’s Auxiliary, as well as chairperson of their nominating committee. In the mid-1950s, she volunteered her time to the Long Island Hearing and Speech Society and chaired their annual Orchid Ball. And in 1957, she served on the executive committee of the American Cancer Society’s Nassau division. Dr. Houlihan had one other interest – she loved to dance! And despite her short stature and stocky physique, she was “surprisingly accomplished and graceful,” noted Dan in his book. 

Dr. Houlihan’s legacy, however, and one that ultimately improved the quality of life for many Valley Streamers, was her advocacy for the founding of a local hospital. Houlihan, a member of the board of directors of the Valley Stream General Hospital committee, received a letter from the Nassau County Medical Society, endorsing the committee’s plan. The letter was reprinted, in part, in the June 12, 1950 edition of Newsday: “Your request for endorsement of a hospital in the southwest area of Nassau County has been received. It is the opinion of the executive committee of the medical society that a hospital is badly needed and they give wholehearted approval of the plans outlined.” 

But, the location of the hospital was a different matter. The article further explained that the committee had received a final disapproval of its plan to erect a hospital on a six-acre plot in Valley Stream State Park from Robert Moses, State Park Commissioner. Moses declared that the 127-acre park was dedicated for recreational use only. Unfortunately, despite the hospital committee’s best efforts, it took another 13 years before Valley Stream realized its dream and opened a hospital on Franklin Avenue, south of the Southern State Parkway. 

By 1950, Dan and Audrey were the proud parents of five children. The roof had been raised and a dormer added to the Montague house to accommodate the Houlihans’ ever-expanding family. That year, Dan had secured his first full-time position, teaching sixth grade in Valley Stream’s District 13 Wheeler Avenue School (he would later go on to teach at Corona Avenue and Howell Road elementary schools). The teaching position was in addition to tending to the nursing home at night and on weekends, assuming the role of an active father, and participating in various Valley Stream sports. And Dan sure did love his sports! Softball, baseball, basketball, football, punchball, tennis, ping-pong – any sport, really. “The only sport he didn’t like was golf, too slow for him, and it ‘interrupted a fine walk,’” confided Colleen Houlihan, Dan’s eldest, in a recent e-mail exchange. Dan still played pick-up games, not unlike those he played in the many empty fields and sandlots that dotted the West End of his boyhood; as well as participated in a number of organized leagues – the Valley Stream Cubs, the American Legion Senior Division Baseball League, Mail League, St. Mary’s (Holy Name of Mary), and for his favorite team of all – the West End Tavern, the local watering hole.  

Dan’s stepfather might have loved the nursing home business, but Dan did not. He was proficient at managing the facility – staff scheduling, food and pharmaceutical purchasing, paying bills and employees, and diligently returning all the narcotics to the county when a patient died. Staffing, however, was a particularly difficult task – scrambling to fill a shift if a nurse or aide did not show up for work. The nursing home, in time, became a burden. It was just too arduous to teach school full-time, raise a family, work on his master’s degree in education, and manage the nursing home in the evenings and on weekends. There were other issues, too. When the nursing home first opened, only Nassau County would send inspectors to visit the facility. But later, New York State inspectors visited the site, and Dan found them intolerably meddling and mean-spirited. He preferred to spend his non-teaching hours with his family and playing sports. So in 1959, Dan made a lifestyle change. The family, which by that time numbered nine children (they built a new home at 225 Dogwood Road in 1956), moved to Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where they purchased 59 affordable acres. “The nursing home was left in the care of an agent and started to fall apart at the seams,” confessed Dan in his oral history recording. “The State of New York and the County of Nassau didn’t want to license it anymore unless I came back.” 

The Valley Stream Nursing Home went out of business in 1961, and the property was sold. Dan and Audrey had one last child, a son, who was born in 1963, a year after the beautiful nursing home, the Queen Anne, was torn down. Dan lived happily ever after, in Wisconsin, where he passed away in 2005 as a retired professor at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point, specializing in journalism. 

Millicent, too, moved to Wisconsin – she wanted to live closer to her family. Dr. Houlihan had been taking dance lessons at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Manhattan, and her instructor, Maurice Haverson (who had become her companion) made the move with her. Haverson started his own studio at the Whiting Hotel in Stevens Point, but many people in this semi-rural community were not interested in taking lessons, and the weather was too cold for their liking. With a brief stop in Miami Beach, they settled in San Francisco, where a few of her older grandchildren were then living. She passed away in 1980.  “My grandmother always loved kids, mused Colleen,” and she always loved dining and dancing – she was very light on her feet.” 

 Franklin General Hospital opened its doors on April 1, 1963 and the timing couldn’t have been more poignant and less perfect. Dr. Houlihan had left Valley Stream by that time and was living in Stevens Point. Despite her absence, however, the founding of Franklin General (now known as Franklin Hospital, a member of the North Shore-LIJ Health System), cannot be solely attributed to the efforts of one person or group. Houlihan may not have been there for the ribbon cutting and other official festivities, but as an early pioneer of this grass roots endeavor, her hard work and determination should not be forgotten. The Valley Stream Sanitarium/Nursing Home, which was in continuous operation for 21 years (1940-1961), was Dr. Houlihan’s vision of a hometown hospital. 

Valley Stream Sanitarium

 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 — Valley Stream Herald
Amy Kassak Bentley
 
49 North Central Avenue

I suppose that in some roundabout way I have Soly, Belarus to thank for my rekindled interest and appreciation for my childhood hometown — Valley Stream. After researching my Eastern European roots for well over a decade, I eventually hit the proverbial “brick wall” and couldn’t retrieve any further information on my progenitor’s ancestral shtetl. Reluctantly, I began to travel forward in time, to my family’s more recent past.

I don’t want to give the impression that I was completely ignorant of Valley Stream history — I was not. I knew the basics. I had read Howard Ruehl’s History of Valley Stream 1840–1975 when it was published in 1975. It was that very book that I reached for when I decided to make my half-hearted plunge back into the waterways and farmlands of Valley Stream. Leafing through the familiar pages for inspiration, my eyes settled on the Central Avenue (originally known as Sand Street) chapter, which noted the homesteads, farms, and businesses that dotted the area north of Merrick Road. Of course, none of these properties exist anymore. Anton Brun’s residence and tavern was located where the Church of the Blessed Sacrament stands today. Hendrickson Avenue marks the general vicinity of Sidney Hendrickson’s dairy and then later, John Hendrickson’s contracting business. Key Food on Central Avenue and Fenwood Drive was once the site of Aulis Finn’s farm. The Joseph March farm was on the east side of Central Avenue, north of Hendrickson Avenue. And all that remains of Smith Stringham’s farm is a street named after him — Stringham Avenue.

There was another business mentioned in the Central Avenue chapter — Oscar Pflug’s Grocery Store. Included was a black and white photograph of a one-story flat-roofed building with a striped awning and attached house. The caption read: “Oscar Pflug, First Village Trustee, had a store on Central Avenue.” Curiously, though, the location was not noted. Where on Central Avenue was Oscar Pflug’s store?

I went directly to Ancestry.com to access the Pflug (pronounced “Flewg”) census records for Valley Stream. The surname was unusual enough to ensure locating these records. I quickly found Pflug census records dating back to the late 19th century for Oscar’s father, Jacob. The 1930 census, however, was the first census to note the actual house number, in addition to the street name. The Pflugs lived at 49 North Central Avenue.

Next, I typed the address into Google Maps. The address popped up immediately: it was located across from the CVS pharmacy, one block north of Merrick Road, on the east side of the street. Stein Street was the cross street to the north, and Stringham Avenue was the cross street to the south. Encouraged, I switched from the aerial view mode to the “Street View” option, allowing me to drive, virtually, up and down Central Avenue. When I “pulled up” to 49 North Central Avenue, I was stunned by what I saw — the house and business matched the black and white photo in Ruehl’s book! Unfortunately, my happiness was short-lived. In February 2014, a fire destroyed the store and damaged the attached home.

What irony! No sooner had I discovered that the Pflug house and store were still standing — a miracle to say the very least — than it almost burned to the ground.

 A seven-page property card for 49 North Central Avenue from the Nassau County Land Records website notes that the house was built in 1894. It includes a sketch of four buildings: a two-and-a-half story house, an attached store, and two barns — one behind the house, the other to the left of the house. The barn to the left is no longer part of the original lot. The structure was torn down and in its place is Cheech Performance, a Volkswagen auto parts store.

The September 20, 1894 edition of the Brooklyn Eagle confirms the year the house was built: “Ground will soon be broken for a two story and attic frame cottage on Central Avenue, for Oscar J. Pflug. It will contain all improvements and has hot air heating.” The Hempstead Sentinel reported on April 25, 1902, “Oscar Pflug has set out a privet hedge in front of his premise on Central Avenue, making quite an improvement.” An architect I spoke with regarding the style of the house determined that it would probably be considered an unadorned Victorian, noting that it was “certainly no painted lady,” (a quaint way of describing a colorfully embellished home of Victorian or Edwardian design.)

Four months after the fire, I visited the Pflug property. It was a bittersweet experience to see the buildings in such a sorry state. I was thrilled however, to find that the pillars that graced the front porch, the same ones featured in the undated photograph, were unscathed. I ran my hands up and down them, hoping no one was witnessing my odd behavior. Noticing the open cellar door, I peered down into the darkness and caught a glimpse of a circular brick structure (which I later learned was a cistern). Stepping over broken glass and charred wood, I gingerly walked into the backyard and inspected the old barn-like garage. The structures — the house, store and barn, were covered in white shingle siding, certainly not original to the buildings. I took one last look around before heading home to Connecticut.

The property, vacant since the February fire, was remediated for asbestos in November 2014 in preparation for its demolition. I asked Valley Stream Historical Society (“VSHS”) vice president, David McKean to photograph the property after the remediation. The photos I received from Dave unveiled the property’s true beauty. Stripped of the scorched white siding, the original wood shingles were golden with age, lending the buildings a more dignified presence. The most glorious discovery, and one which I wished I had experienced first-hand, was the transformation of the barn. Revealed beneath the stripped off siding was the stenciling of an old sign that read: “Seed Center.” Three boarded over windows also became visible, their frames a pale aqua. Yes, the barn-turned-garage is in serious disrepair and literally falling down, but this did not lessen my pleasure. These are moments that all local history buffs live for — the literal uncovering of the past, the un-layering of time.

Oscar’s grandfather, Leopold Pflug (1816–1908), a tailor by profession, and his wife Dorothy, immigrated to the United States in 1850 from Darmstadt, Germany. According to the 1855 census, they settled in Brooklyn with their five children, ranging in age from 6 to 14. Leopold was widowed by 1870, and by the 1880 census, he was living in Franklin Square. His oldest son Jacob (1841–1917), who was also a tailor, moved to Valley Stream. Jacob and his wife Elizabeth raised seven children; Oscar Jacob, the second oldest, was born on April 26, 1874.

In the 1900 census, Oscar, his wife Elizabeth, and their baby son Ira, who was born in 1899, were living on Central Avenue. His profession is listed as a grocery salesman. In 1901, their son Raymond was born. Florence Kinsey Grimm, in her 1987 VSHS oral history recording, explains that before Oscar opened his store on Central Avenue, he worked at J.F. Felton, Grocery & Seedman, a general store that was located on the northeast corner of Central Avenue and Merrick Road. According to the 1910 census, Oscar was listed as a retail grocer. “We bought our groceries from Pflug’s Grocery Store,” recounts Madeline Kappauf in her 1975 Mini Memoir of Valley Stream, “and our order was delivered by horse and wagon.”

By the early 1920s, Valley Stream’s population had grown considerably. New residents came from self-governed cities that believed a village form of government worked best. It took three elections before the move to incorporate was finally approved. In the final election on January 30, 1925, Henry Waldinger was elected president (the title was changed to mayor in 1927) and Oscar Pflug, age 52, was elected as a one-year trustee. There is a photo of the first Village board, taken in 1925, in Ruehl’s book; Oscar is seated in the front row, fifth from the left, to the right of Henry Waldinger. This wasn’t Oscar’s first foray in government and community participation. Pflug, at age 23, was an Inspector of Elections for District 16 of the Republican Party during the Town of Hempstead’s 1896 election.

The same year that Oscar became a Village trustee, he was also elected trustee at the Bank of Valley Stream located at 195 Rockaway Avenue. The bank, a casualty of poor management and the Depression, closed its doors in 1933. Three directors of the bank were adjudged bankrupt, including Mayor Arthur J. Hendrickson. Oscar, although not a trustee during that time, lost all his savings. He passed away “suddenly on Sunday, February 25, 1934,” as noted in his Nassau Daily Review obituary.

Roger Pflug never met his grandfather. Oscar’s only surviving grandson was born in 1942, eight years after Oscar’s death. The youngest son of Ira and Martha (Peggy), Roger and his wife Linda (nee Bowen) are both graduates of Central High School. They now live in Covington, Georgia. We chatted recently over the phone, “My dad was a 16-year veteran of the Valley Stream Fire Department and I believe my grandfather Oscar served, as well.” He explained that in 1956, Roger and his father moved to 49 North Central Avenue to live with Oscar’s widow, Elizabeth (his grandmother). They lived in the house until his father passed away in 1957. When his grandmother died two years later in 1959, the ownership of the property went to his Aunt Evelyn, his Uncle Raymond’s widow. He was surprised to hear that the family homestead was being torn down. He hasn’t been back to Valley Stream in over 20 years. “One last thing,” Roger mentioned, just as we were getting ready to hang up, “Did you know there is a street named after the family, Pflug Place?”  I did not. 

Pflug Place is located two blocks east of Central Avenue. A short non-residential one-way block, accessed from Merrick Road (Miglio’s Real Estate is on the corner), it ends near the parking lot of King Kullen, the former location of Hattie Miller’s estate — a wood-framed rambling home once surrounded by pine trees and a spacious lawn. Pflug Place, alliterative in print if not in sound, has an oddly appealing industrial feel; a back street with warm brick facades.

Street signs are oftentimes the only vestiges left of a hometown’s history. Looking at an aerial map of Central Avenue and its side streets is like leaping back in time. The first settlers’ family names are displayed in quick succession, one after the other; surnames stacked one above the next, side by side, intersecting, interacting. There is an insistence in those street names, a gentle, yet persistent reminder to remember the Valley Streamers that came before us: Hendrickson, Fletcher, Stringham, Sapir, March, Remson, Raisig, Buscher, Hoffman, Felton, Payan, Crowell, and of course — Pflug.

A 1915 photo of the Pflug store and homestead was posted on the VSHS Facebook page, “Valley Stream of Yesteryear,” by Billy Florio, who recently published a photo essay book on Valley Stream for Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. This photo is slightly different than the undated one in Ruehl’s book. In the 1915 photo, instead of an awning, there is a porch with four pillars, similar to the pillars in front of the residence. And to my delight, there are six men standing out front — all in summer hats. But which one was Oscar Pflug? I immediately compared this to the 1925 photo of the first Village board, and although there was a ten year span between them, it was not difficult to identify Oscar as a younger man, standing in front of his store. Oscar was the third man from the left, in a white shirt and a white hat, staring directly, proudly, into the camera.

The fate of 49 North Central Avenue now lies in the hands of its present day owner. The residents are outspoken regarding the re-development of this property. What will eventually be approved is unknown, but for certain, it will never again be a general store that delivers groceries by horse-drawn wagon or a seed center that supplies local farms. For the moment though, the property has been given a reprieve. It is a lovely piece of old Valley Stream history, hidden in plain sight.

There are times when I just stare at Google Maps, mesmerized, my mouse hovering over Central Avenue and Merrick Road. I click on the icon that will enlarge this section of the map, my way of getting closer to the past. I click until I am as near to the ground as the computer will allow me. In my dreams, I click-click-click, until I finally break through the barrier that separates the past from the present. I am time-traveling now, riding in a stagecoach on “The Merrick Road,” past sparkling creeks filled with brook trout and ponds of sweet drinking water. Rounding the corner of Merrick, I pass Felton’s General Store, heading north on Central Avenue. When I reach the Pflug homestead, I hop off and pay the coachman. I continue my journey by foot now, admiring the farms with their neatly planted rows of potatoes, carrots, cabbage, spinach, celery, and asparagus — crops that mimic in symmetry the streets that will one day overlay this precious land of ours. If I keep walking north, less than a mile or so past the border of Valley Stream, I will reach the western edge of the Hempstead Plains, the only natural prairie east of the Allegheny Mountains; a vast 60,000 acre, 16-mile long, treeless terrain filled with wildflowers, native grasses and grazing cattle. But it is dusk now, so I turn around and head back to the Village. I want to get home before dark.

49 North Central Avenue