New Buildings Spring Up All Over Queens In January 1912
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 January 1912!
On January 1, the Star-Journal reported on the big growth in building around the borough with the amount spent on new structures since consolidation in 1898 pegged at more than $135 million. In 1898, 772 buildings were finished for a value of $2.2 million. Five years later, in 1903, 1,321 worth $4.8 million were completed, and by 1909, the last year of the study, an astonishing 4,758 structures worth $19.4 million were finished.
Telephone service had grown 10 percent in the past year. The Star estimated that about 1.2 million miles of wire in the borough supported 400,000 people with phones. The volume of calls averaged more than 1 million per day. Pay telephones and direct service to Philadelphia were new features added in 1911.
Abram Bell, one of the old-time Quaker residents of Bayside, several years earlier had sold his ancestral farm to the Rickert-Finley Company. Rickert-Finley was one of the great builders in the borough during the real estate boom of the early twentieth century. They later developed on the site and respected his restriction that no liquor could ever be sold on the premises.
A few years later, and after a change of ownership, a restaurant-inn on the site challenged the restriction. The attorney for the new owner, Alfred Binns, pointed out that near the inn's location on Bell Boulevard were other saloons and a hotel. That street, even in 1913, was devoted almost exclusively to business. The attorney was overruled when Justice Garret J. Garretson restricted court testimony only to the buildings on the Bell Court property in question. The judge, himself a descendant of an old Flushing family, ruled against the inn. He rendered his decision that the restriction had been so well drawn that it permanently attached to the land and bound all subsequent purchasers, whether it was in their deed or not.
On January 26, Borough President Maurice Connolly forwarded to the Board of Estimate a budget of $3.8 million for the upcoming year. The largest amount, $1.5 million, was for street improvements. The next item on the budget, $726,000, was requested for the creation of trash dumps around Queens for the Street Cleaning Bureau. The practice at the time was to dump refuse swept up from the street and highways into vacant lots, a practice that posed a health hazard for nearby homes.
Connolly also requested $500,000 to set up a fund to acquire land for a new Borough Hall. He stated that the current building, in Hunters Point, "is ridiculous and has been the subject of criticism and comment. I might further say that it is really a disgrace for the great city of New York that such conditions exist." The building, later called the Hackett Building, was torn down in January 2007.
Stories in the Star-Journal conveyed the harsh reality of a simpler, but far more austere, time.
One John Yetman, 80 years old, who claimed he had no home, gave himself up to the police and was brought before a magistrate upon the charge of vagrancy. He was a 30-year employee of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit system, but as he began to get older and was not as spry as he had been in days gone by, was let go for younger men. Without the modern-day safety net of union benefits, Social Security, and Medicare, his future was bleak. It was very difficult, he explained to the judge, to "secure a position to make a living." The magistrate took pity on the older man and to get him out of the wintry cold, sentenced him to six months in the County Jail.
David Jenkins, a father, was arrested in Flushing on a charge of criminal negligence. It was alleged he took money his wife left for food and spent it in a saloon. His son, Rudolph, was found dead, frozen stiff, on the floor in an unheated room at 27 South Prince St., Flushing. His wife, the regular breadwinner of the family, had gone to work as a maid. She left him with a quarter to buy food and fuel for their family, with their three young children in his care. When she got home that night, the fire had gone out and their home was dark and freezing. She found their infant dead on the floor. The husband was nowhere to be found. He was discovered in the wee hours of the morning, playing cards in a nearby saloon. Jenkins was astonished at the news of his baby's death. When arrested, he loudly proclaimed that he had not intended to neglect his children, but simply forgot them, once he got interested in the game.
It was reported that with the exception of the deep-water channel, Jamaica Bay was frozen over as far as the railroad trestle in a solid sheet of ice about a foot thick. A number of oyster boats were caught in the ice and were unable to get out for a month or more. The ice had caused considerable damage to docks and the Beach Channel drawbridge. In several locations, people were enjoying ice skating.
Youthful lovers were put in check by Jamaica postmaster Warren Ashmead who started a campaign to discourage girls from receiving general delivery mail. "I announced last week that many young girls were getting mail in the general post office greatly interfering in our work. I have talked to several of them. I made it plain I did not approve of their receiving mail on such a manner. Several had explained that friends, not remembering their addresses, had written to them care of the general post office. However, many of them have ceased calling for letters and have said they wished their mail sent to their home. Others have not called for their mail since I publicized the problem." He also explained that parents had written to him asking for mail to be sent directly to their homes, but under Federal law, he was forbidden from doing that.
Twenty-two residents of Queens received naturalization papers from the Supreme Court after passing an examination. Former residents of Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, Russia and Romania were grilled before Justice James Van Siclen. Seven men, who were denied the papers when they failed to show sufficient knowledge of local government, but were given a chance to try again in three months. Another man had opened a saloon under someone else's name, a violation of law, thereby making him permanently ineligible for citizenship.
One applicant was asked the name of the United States senator from New York. This was a puzzler. He thought for a while and finally gave up. "Did you ever hear of Mr. Root?" asked the examiner.
"Oh yes, I know Mr. Root!" said the man, beaming with satisfaction. "He keeps the junk shop on Sherman Street. He buys all the old bones and iron. I sold him a stove last week." The examiner said that was hardly the Senator Elihu Root he had in mind, but the man's other answers were sufficient to get him his papers.
"What is the color of the flag?" another man was asked. "Red, white and green," the native Italian responded. "What was the color of my suit?" asked the examiner, who wore a suit of navy blue. "Blue," replied the man. "Evidently the man is not color blind," said the examiner. Just then light broke upon the applicant's face. "I know, it's red, white and blue. Red white and green is the flag of Italy!" The man, thus displaying he was well up on international matters, passed his test and became a citizen.
That's the way it was in January 1912.
Join us for two Saturday afternoons of fun: on January 27,"The Cinderella Man", a celebration of the life of boxer James Braddock, whose most famous fight was in our own backyard at Madison Square Garden, and on February 3, "Da Bums Those Brooklyn Dodgers!". Hear Bud Livingston's fascinating lecture on the remarkable team that can still tug at people's heartstrings.
For more information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.