2015-11-11 / Star Journal

Silver Screen Entertains; Fire Reigns In 1925 Queens

The Greater Astoria Historical Society presents pages from the Long Island Star Journal.

Welcome to November 1925!

Ninety years ago, panic prevailed in the streets of Damascus, Syria, as rebels drove to within eight miles of the ancient city of Damascus. Shops closed and people fled in front of an army bent on expelling the French, who had been in control of the area since the Great War. On safer ground, over in London, construction workers digging the foundation for an office building unearthed the bones of a 20,000 year old woman. Scientists speculated that the prehistoric Londoner was left-handed, and her remains were found with wooly rhinoceros bones many feet below a long-forgotten Roman road that once ran through the city.

Back home in New York, the crossroads of global commerce for much of the 20th century, the luxury liners Berengaria, Majestic and Leviathan, the largest vessels of their kind in the world, were tied up at piers on the West Side of Manhattan on the same day. All three ships were built in Germany and handed over to the Allies as reparations after the War.

Charlie Chaplin Charlie Chaplin Across the East River in Queens, more than a hint of winter was in the air as many locals headed indoors to the local theaters to catch a show and escape the chilly autumn air. Patrons at Loews Astoria were in for a rather risqué production in Cosmo Hamilton’s Exchange of Wives, a comic drama revolving around two women who are attracted to each other’s husbands. As the Daily Star noted in its review, “Naturally this is a rather delicate subject and one which gives author, producer and artists fine opportunity to work out complicated situations in a most pleasing manner.”

Cecil B. DeMille Cecil B. DeMille For those in search of less controversial silver screen entertainment, the New Meridien in Astoria Square was showing The Gold Rush, a silent comedy starring Charlie Chaplin as a prospector in the great Klondike Gold Rush. Meanwhile, the Victoria Palace in Elmhurst, touted as “Playing the Best Photoplays,” attracted theatergoers with the 1923 Cecil B. DeMille epic The Ten Commandments.

November 1925 also brought with it a solemn reminder of the winds of war that swept the world and jolted the nation from a sense of security and isolation in the previous decade. That November 11, all work stopped and Queens stood still for two minutes at 11 o’clock in the morning as part of the nationwide observance of

Armistice Day. At a ceremony in Flushing High School, Dr. Raymond T. Rich of the Foreign Policy Association gave a speech titled, “The Furtherance of World Peace,” and those in attendance were also treated to a showing of the motion picture, The Signing of the Declaration of Independence. Out in Bayside, area veterans unveiled a granite shaft bearing the names of five local boys who never came home from the war.

That month, the Woodside section of Queens was enveloped by a conflagration of a somewhat different sort. On a dark, wet, fog-shrouded evening, locals emerged from their homes to a 100-foot-high sheet of flame consuming the buildings of the old Windmuller estate between Roosevelt and Woodside Avenues. Louis Windmuller, a German immigrant who came to America penniless but earned a fortune in the grain commission business, purchased the estate as a countryside retreat that he enjoyed until his passing in 1913.

The flames, which could be seen all the way to Maspeth, consumed the 60-year-old barns and other out-buildings on the property, but spared the gracious 1845 Windmuller Mansion, which Mrs. Windmuller occupied during the summer. The Windmullers and their estate held on for another 11 years, and were one of the last tracts of land in Woodside to be sold to the relentless march of development through Queens. Since 1937, generations of Queens children have enjoyed seemingly endless summer days on the former Windmuller Estate, now known as Windmuller Park.

That’ s the way it was in November 1925!

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718- 278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

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