2007-12-19 / Book Review

'Long Island City' Shows Bygone Era With Postcards


Long Island City

Author(s): Greater Astoria Historical Society, Matt LaRose, Stephen Leone, Richard Melnick
ISBN: 0738555436
No. of Pages: 128
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing
Postcard History Series

Arcadia Publishing specializes in creating high-quality historical publications in small local niches, of which there would seem to be no shortage. The company's catalog lists more than 4,000 titles in print and hundreds of new titles are released every year. Arcadia calls itself the leading local history publisher in the United States, and we're more than ready to grant them full rights to the description. We have had the pleasure of reviewing a number of books with the imprint of Arcadia Publishing during the past decade or so and every one of them has provided a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of this borough as it was 100 and more years ago.

While best known for its popular Images of America series, which chronicles the history of communities from Bangor, Maine, to Manhattan Beach, California, each title celebrating a town or region, bringing to life the people, places, and events that define the community with more than 200 vintage black-and-white photographs, Arcadia also publishes other series: Images of Rail, Images of Sports, Images of Baseball, Black America, Campus History, Corporate History, Scenes of America, Then & Now and Postcard History. Just in time for the holiday season, the latest release from Arcadia's Postcard History Series, Long Island City, debuted at the December meeting of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, known for its vigorous efforts in community preservation, imaginative programming and numerous articles on local history, and the historical society for Long Island City, "a once independent city that has retained its unique identity within the metropolis of Greater New York". The Arcadia Publishing catalog indicates that the society is the author of Long Island City and The East River and coauthor of The Queensboro Bridge as well as the leading author of Arcadia's Postcard History Series' Long Island City. Society members Matt LaRose, Stephen Leone and Richard Melnick are also listed as authors, and we conclude that they are responsible for most of the text.

The postcards that constitute most of the illustrations in Long Island City are sorted into seven sections, "Shoreline and Bridges", "Street Scenes", "Houses of Worship", "Schools", "Civic Institutions", "Commerce and Transportation" and "Recreation". The introduction to each one is by Dean Theodosiou, who the authors acknowledge, but who is not specifically named an author as such. We wonder why that is- his introduction to the "Civic Institutions" section, for example, encapsulates the history of Long Island City and the problems it faced as it grew and developed in six tightly written paragraphs, and his trenchant comments ("Despite Long Island City's now hectic and tenacious avenues, residents stick to the idea people come first." in the introduction to "Street Scenes" is one such) represent a contribution to the work that should be acknowledged to a greater extent.

Postcards were chosen over other media to form the basis of the books in the Postcard History Series because they provide a snapshot of life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as no letter or e-mail could. The hundreds of postcards in Long Island City provide a unique chronicle of Long Island City and its communities, including Old Astoria Village, Steinway, Ravenswood, Dutch Kills, Hunters Point, and Blissville/Sunnyside. As the back cover copy declares, "This book offers a rare glimpse into the soul of a once and future city of promise."

The primary means of communication in the early 20th century, postcards, with their vintage images and intimate messages reveal a way of life that the senders thought would last unchanged forever. As a rock song from another vanished era, the 1960s, put it, however, "Nothing's quite as sure as change", and very little in the scenes on the postcards remains the same today. Comparing what once was to what now is has a certain fascination for the reader, however, and the Postcard History Series representation of Long Island City offers many opportunities to do just that.

History buffs, students or anyone interested in glimpsing a way of life that, although long vanished, served as the foundation for the Long Island City of today, will enjoy Arcadia Publishing's Postcard History Series' Long Island City. It belongs on holiday gift lists and in public, school and private libraries everywhere.

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