Grace Kelly Weds Monaco's Prince Rainier In April 1956
Welcome to April 1956!
On April 4, the Star-Journal happily reported that legendary screen actress Grace Kelly, 25, was boarding the ship that would take her to marry Monaco's Prince Rainier III. Once wed, Miss Kelly would assume all her royal husband's titles. The principality was like one huge carnival and the wedding itself constituted a two-day national holiday. All of Monaco's 4,000 citizens were invited to a ball at the royal palace and a garden party the following day.
On April 21, the Star-Journal sadly informed the public of the death of another royalty of sorts, Mrs. Irene Langhorne Gibson, a.k.a. the "Gibson Girl", who died at 83. Her husband, Charles Dana Gibson, first sketched what would become the female sensation of his age in 1896, a year after they were married. The Gibson Girl, considered America's very first pinup girl, was "a tall, slender, wasp waisted, vivacious type whose beauty was set off by a huge pompadour and a long, flowing gown". How many people actually know that she emerged from a garret at Main Street and Sanford Avenue in Flushing, Queens?
On April 20, another institution died when the Transit Authority issued a statement that the last trolley lines, both of which were located in Brooklyn, were about to make their last runs. When they were shut down, only one privately owned trolley remained in the city: the Queensboro Bridge route between Second Avenue and 59th Street and Queens Plaza.
Boss George Steinbrenner wasn't the first Yankee head to gripe about the city's treatment of his beloved Bronx Bombers. The Star-Journal reported that the Yankees were chagrined at the attention accorded their foes in Brooklyn, and demanded that Mayor Robert Wagner have the city take control of Yankee Stadium and operate it "as a 100,000-seat municipal oval".
The Yankees went so far as to agree to have the Giants play in this projected municipal stadium in order to help stave off a baseball and sports center on West 59th street proposed by Manhattan Borough President Hulan Jack. Mayor Wagner was open to the idea, which would have allowed the city to purchase the stadium and its property, convert surrounding properties into municipally operated parking spaces and have the city appropriate a sum of $12,000,000 to add 34,000 seats to the stadium. Though the owners of the actual Yankee real estate, the Knights of Columbus, agreed to the plan, one potential impediment was the city's loss of the revenue incurred by its annual $150,000 property tax.
Although the rivalry between the Brooklyn and Bronx baseball teams took center stage, the outlook for Manhattan's own New York Giants was grim. Veteran Star-Journal sportswriter Lou O'Neill broke the story. "Where do they fit in the changing New York baseball scene?" he wondered.
In a move to help reverse their fortunes, the Giants organization replaced veteran manager Leo "The Lip" Durocher with Bill Rigney, a low-key personality but just as determined as his predecessor to win ballgames. Yet in the minds of many was whether the rivalry between the Bums and Bombers would surpass the new skipper's ability to revive fan interest at the Polo Grounds. O'Neill pointed to some freshly acquired talent, most notably "possibly the best ballplayer around today", Willie Mays. Still, Rigney harbored no illusions since Giants fans "won't settle for a team unable to 'handle' the Dodgers". The writing appeared to be on the wall; anything less than a pennant could mean the venerable organization relocating to Minneapolis. "A terrible thought," O'Neill concluded, "but it could happen."
An April 7 editorial in the Star- Journal examined the issue of abolishing the Local Boards of Improvement and agreed with Queens Borough President James Lundy's proposal to terminate them. First established in 1898 along with the new five-county Greater New York, the boards were designed to give rural villages an official local body to "pass on assessable local projects" (namely streets and sewers), which had become a near meaningless civic exercise, the Borough President believed. According to Lundy, his reform measure meant greater economic efficiency for the benefit of everyone. A few decades later, Community Planning Boards replaced the Local Boards of Improvement.
On April 14, the Star-Journal reported on a vicious incident of teen gang violence at the Queensbridge Houses community center, in which a 17-year-old uniformed sailor and native of Long Island City was stabbed and beaten. In what constituted a nearly "king sized riot", the sailor's attackers were reportedly "mauled by a dance crowd". Were it not for the swift thinking of Special Patrolmen Robert Mengel and Leslie Foss, who together bolted the center's doors to prevent the fracas from spreading to the street, matters would have clearly gotten worse. Four police cars rushed to the scene to restore peace.
In a civics assignment, Maspeth's 10- year-old James Meinck wrote about his overcrowded classroom in a letter that began: "Dear Mr. Honorable Mayor, I'm tired of sitting behind a sink in my classroom…". The 10-year-old's plight was expanded upon by then president of the PTA at his school, Mrs. Betty Freeman. "The reason Jimmy sits behind a sink is that the school is so crowded that the home economics room is used for classes," she stated. It seems that little Jimmy, along with more than 700 children, was attending P.S. 78, a school designed to accommodate 500. Neighboring P.S. 73 was to become a junior high school, further aggravating the dire conditions P.S. 78 faced.
At issue was the community's demand for a new school. Little did Freeman realize that 50 years later, in the face of massive population increases in the borough of Queens, school overcrowding would be even worse.
That's the way it was in April 1956!
The latest in Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series, The Queensboro Bridge, is available through the Greater Astoria Historical Society or at local stores. The story of the bridge that built a borough, the book is crammed with hundreds of images of the borough's favorite bridge, tracing its history from blueprints to the eve of its 100th birthday.
Come meet Jason Antos, author of Shea Stadium, another in Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series, on Monday, May 5, at 7 p.m. for a talk about the soon to be vacated home of the New York Mets. Relive its history and experience again its legendary concerts and the two World Series that were won within its walls. The Greater Astoria Historical Society meets on the first Monday of every month from September through June at Quinn's Gallery in the Thomas M. Quinn & Sons Funeral Home, 35-20 Broadway, Long Island City.
Shop on line at www.astorialic.org for the perfect gift for the Astoria buff in your family.
For more information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718- 278-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.