Tunnel Opens, World’s Fair Closes In November 1939
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 November 1939!
On November 8, the Queens-Midtown Tunnel was holed through at 11:45 a.m., when Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, dressed as a sandhog, set off a blast that pierced the last six feet of rock. Postmaster General James A. Farley and Queens Borough President George U. Harvey were among the dignitaries who spoke at the ceremonies at the Manhattan entrance to the tunnel. The Queens entrance was still under construction. The tunnel opened to traffic November 15, 1940.
The World’s Fair closed for the winter to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne” on the midway. The Fair site would become a virtual ghost town, with a skeleton crew to care for its $157,000,000 splendor on 1,216 acres until it would reopen on May 15, 1940.
On November 1, the Steinway Street bus route went into operation at 2 a.m., following ceremonies conducted at Steinway Street and 28th Avenue in Astoria. The new line signified the passing of the trolley car from the Astoria-Long Island City area with one exception—the short line over the Queensboro Bridge. Borough President George U. Harvey, members of the Steinway Street Merchants Association and the Astoria Heights Taxpayers’ Association saw one of the new busses put through its paces. Following the demonstration, the visitors were given a ride from 28th Avenue to Queens Plaza. Borough President Harvey alone paid a fare, and thus became the first paying customer on the line. The bus followed one of the last Steinway trolleys, and then passed it, thus demonstrating the flexibility and superiority of the bus over the trolley.
More than 400 homeowners packed the auditorium of P.S. 3, Forest Hills, and unanimously resolved to demand protection from the City Planning Board and the Board of Estimate against the further encroachment of apartment buildings on their community of small homes. They charged that the suburban residential character of their neighborhood was doomed if construction of apartment buildings was allowed to continue. These homeowners were the spearhead of a borough-wide movement for new zoning restrictions, and also blamed the recent construction of large buildings for the flooded sewer conditions in the area.
Richard Murphy, counsel to the homeowners group, indicated that drastic action would follow unless appropriate action were taken to enact zoning restrictions to protect the area. He said that District Attorney Charles P. Sullivan would be sought to probe the possibility of prosecuting developers on a nuisance charge, in view of the unsanitary and flooded conditions caused by the overloading of sewers.
The Blissville Legion Post condemned a move to have North Beach Airport renamed “La Guardia Airport,” after Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. The post was angry that La Guardia had refused to name a square in Woodside after the post. The mayor’s secretary on the Army Board said that La Guardia would not allow a park or any section of the city to be named after a living person or organization. The post commander observed that the mayor evidently was doing nothing to prevent city officials from naming an airport after himself. At the same time, the post commended Queens Borough President George U. Harvey for voting against a bill introduced by Bronx Borough President Lyons to name the airport after the mayor.
On November 2, the airport was renamed “Municipal Airport (La Guardia Field), even though Queens residents felt that the name should remain the same, since North Beach was well known as an amusement park, or maybe be changed to “Queens Airport” to reflect its location. Its name was not changed to “LaGuardia Airport” until June 1, 1947, when it was leased to the Port Authority.
On November 25, Charles A. Willets, a lifelong Flushing resident, died at the age of 86. Willets Point was named for his family. Willets as a young man was actively associated with many enterprises in Flushing, among them the Flushing Gas and Electric Company, of which his father was one of the founders. He was a manager and superintendent of that company for many years.
His father had organized the Flushing Gas Light Company and erected the gas works, which were located in College Point. In 1856, he started in business in partnership with George B. Roe under the name of George B. Roe and Company, dealers in lumber and building materials.
A Star-Journal reporter interviewed 82-year-old Captain Rueben Palmer on his houseboat, Idle Hour. The boat was beached on the shore of Flushing Bay. Palmer, who used to sail around the harbor with his wife (who had died), had lived there for 20 years. His biggest fear (which was never realized) was that the crowds from the World’s Fair would disturb him. Palmer seemed contented with his surroundings, which included kerosene lamps, a wood and coal burning stove, a hand water pump and a ladder to the second floor. He lived a solitary life, but was visited every Sunday by a friend from Corona, who brought him some food and tobacco. “Oh, yes. I forgot to tell you,” said Palmer as the reporter was departing, “I went over to see the Fair. Only fair, wasn’t it!”
On November 23, fire swept the third floor Jackson Heights apartment of popular bandleader Woody Herman. Fortunately, Herman and his wife were out of town at the time. No one was believed to have been in the apartment at the time of the blaze. The fire, which appeared to have started in a davenport, was a mystery to firemen and policemen. The floor, a wall and valuable furnishings in the living room were destroyed or damaged.
Playing at the movies were “Honeymoon in Bali,” starring Fred MacMurray and Madeline Carroll; “Golden Boy,” starring William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck and Adolphe Menjou; “Blackmail,” starring Edward G. Robinson, and “The Women,” starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell
That’s the way it was in November 1939!
For more information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-728-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.