2003-06-25

Idlewild, Dewey, UN Dominate 1948 News

Idlewild, Dewey, UN Dominate 1948 News

Idlewild, Dewey, UN Dominate 1948 News


From the files of The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. View inside the cab of the temporary tower in 1948From the files of The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. View inside the cab of the temporary tower in 1948

Get into a conversation with a long time Queens resident and you’re likely to discover a subscriber of the Long Island Star–Journal, a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star–Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper’s name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal–The Flushing Journal (1841).

Welcome to June 1948!

In 1948, New York City celebrated the 50th anniversary of its consolidation. Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Staten Island had joined with Manhattan in 1898 to form an even greater city. But halfway through the jubilee year, the authorities struck a sour note when they announced the end of the best bargain in New York City. On June 30, 1948 the Star–Journal headline informed readers that "Higher Fares on Subway Take Effect At Midnight." From the opening day of the IRT on October 27, 1904, it had cost a nickel to ride the New York City Subway. Now the cost of a ride was about to double to a dime—an actual dime as there would be no tokens until 1953.

A threatened strike of private buses in Queens had been averted thanks to frantic last-minute negotiations. But, as the Star–Journal noted, "the strike settlement comes on the eve of the most significant event in metropolitan transit history, the scrapping of the historic nickel fare. Mayor [William] O’Dwyer returned from his vacation at 10 a.m. today and immediately went into conference at Board of Transportation and Police Department officials to map out details of the fare change at midnight." Outraged Queens residents found some consolation in the free transfers which were now being offered between subway lines at certain points, one of which was "at Jackson Heights where the 6th and 8th Avenue lines intersect, the Flushing IRT and the BMT," (today’s No. 7 and ‘R’ lines).


O’DwyerO’Dwyer

There were ways to avoid the daily commute—for those who could afford them. In June 1948 Queens residents were watching with interest preparations for the official opening of the New York International Airport at Idlewild (now known as John F. Kennedy International Airport). On June 28 practice flights and landings began. Captain Douglas Larsen piloted the first commercial plane to land at the new airport, a Peruvian International Airways DC-4.

Eager to get in the record books by landing the first private plane at Idlewild, the Star–Journal chartered a plane and on June 20 Aviation Editor Roy Carlton gave a full report: "This is seven-nine-king, Stinson 150, out of Rockaway Airport. Landing instructions, please."

"Hello, Long Island Star–Journal plane, you are cleared to land at runway two-five left. Wind south south-west, 15 mph." "Roger…coming in."

"Joseph Alta, Rockaway Airport manager and momentarily my co-pilot, chuckled as the Jamaica Bay Sahara they call an airport loomed closer. ‘You’d never recognize the place,’ he said. ‘In 1941, it was called Queens County Airport. I used to operate a flying service right there out where those two hangers are. And boat[s] used to sail there, where that 9,500-foot runway is.’


DeweyDewey

"‘Guess you could still land a Cub on that spot—right inside that 300-foot tower.’ The control tower operator flashed the green light at us. ‘Clear the land,’ snapped Alta, getting down to business."

"The airport seemed to stretch all over Queens. We turned into the runway. A small one—6,000 feet long. The concrete stretched like a ribbon toward the horizon, and the Stinson looked like a green pea on a billiard table. The plane settled. Wheels screeched as rubber rubbed runway—and stuck. Riding out to meet us were a jeep, a sedan, a crash truck and an ambulance. The drivers waved and shouted, ‘Follow us.’ The procession rolled down three miles of runway, taxi-strips, and apron.

"‘What a reception,’ Alta remarked. ‘First seagulls, now a parade. Either we rate—or these crash truck men like to practice.’ A flight attendant on the ramp waved his arms. We taxied up, parked in front of the tower, and stepped out. A tall, slender man stuck out his hand and said, ‘I’m George McSharry, the superintendent. Welcome to New York International Airport.’"

Another eagerly awaited arrival in Queens that month was Detective Frank Hnida, bodyguard for Governor Thomas E. Dewey, who was then campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination at the convention in Philadelphia. A welcome home and birthday party was being planned for Hnida, a Jackson Heights resident who had been bodyguard to Dewey "since he became special prosecutor of New York County in the 1935 drive against racketeering." Dewey would go on to become District Attorney of New York County and in 1943, he became governor of New York.


Photo websyte.com Corona Gate, north at the 1939 World’s Fair. Flushing Meadows—Corona Park was home to the New York City Building where the UN held session from 1946 to 1950.Photo websyte.com Corona Gate, north at the 1939 World’s Fair. Flushing Meadows—Corona Park was home to the New York City Building where the UN held session from 1946 to 1950.

Bronx mob boss Dutch Schultz became so enraged when Dewey went after his operation that he planned to have him killed. Albert Anastasia, the "Mad Hatter," who was one of the assassins known as "Murder, Inc." volunteered for the job. Other members of the New York crime families, like Lucky Luciano, thought that killing Dewey would stir up too much heat and Schultz himself was murdered before he could put his plan into operation. Being Dewey’s bodyguard was obviously no easy job—there were too many people with grudges and long memories still around. Hnida even checked the meals served to Dewey in hotels to make sure they had not been tampered with. "‘Frank’s time is not his own—he’s almost as busy as Dewey himself,’ declared former Police Sergeant Stanley Hnida, the bodyguard’s father, in an interview with the Star–Journal. "‘Still’, the proud parent continued, ‘the family hopes he’ll be home to celebrate his 42nd birthday on Sunday.’"

The Star–Journal gave full coverage to the Republican convention in Philadelphia during the month of June 1948. It noted with sadness the sudden death of the alternate Queens delegate, Lucie Oerther of Astoria. Oerther, 62, at one time a suffragette, had lived in Astoria since 1910 and had been active in Queens County Republican politics for 30 years. She collapsed and died of a heart attack in Gimbel’s Department Store while buying some handkerchiefs as gifts for the women of her district.

At the end of the convention Dewey accepted the nomination of the Republican Party, going on to lose the election to incumbent President Harry Truman. The election was so close and the Republicans so sure of victory that the Chicago Daily Tribune printed a headline in advance, "Dewey Defeats Truman." The morning after the election the Tribune’s editors woke to find they had made one of the most public mistakes in the history of American newspapers.

Another vision of alternative history is conjured up by the Star–Journal’s story of June 26, under the headline "UN May Stay in Queens, Chamber Tells Mayor." It is all but forgotten today that the first home of the United Nations was not in Manhattan but in Flushing Meadows. While waiting to move into its permanent space on the East River in Manhattan, the new organization met from 1946 to 1950 in the New York City Building in Flushing Meadows Park, a relic of the 1939 [New York] World’s Fair which had brought such enormous crowds to Queens. Now UN delegates such as Dag Hammerskjold, Golda Meir, and Eleanor Roosevelt came to the borough. The previous year, in 1947, the United Nations voted to create the state of Israel in the building in Flushing.

According to the Star–Journal, the borough was reluctant to say goodbye to its illustrious resident. "The temporary home of the United Nations in Flushing Meadows Park may yet become its permanent home, the Queens Chamber of Commerce suggested today. Because of the failure of Congress to approve a loan of $65,000,000 for the development of the UN headquarters in Manhattan, there is a grave danger that the permanent world capital may be established outside the United States, Frank O’Hara said today in a letter to Mayor O’Dwyer. O’Hara proposed that the city offer Flushing Meadows Park as an alternate to the Manhattan site. Today’s proposal stressed the convenience of the location and the belief that a permanent headquarters could be erected at substantially lower cost."

But it was not to be. In 1951, the United Nations moved to its present location on First Avenue in Manhattan. The history of Queens might have been radically changed had it remained.

That’s the way it was in June 1948.

Compiled by Clare Doyle, Greater Astoria Historical Society librarian. For more information, contact the Society at 718-728-0700 or visit its Web site at astorialic.org.


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