2017-04-05 / Star Journal

Development Begins In Queens On The Eve Of WWI

The Greater Astoria Historical Society presents pages from the Long Island Star Journal, Compiled by Dan McDonald.

Welcome to April 1913!

In a world hurtling toward the epic tragedy of global conflict, April 1913 dawned during a time of great promise and technological progress. It was a month of great triumph for human ingenuity and endeavor. Over in Scotland, the 900-foot luxury liner, RMS Aquitania was launched in front of a crowd of some 100,000 onlookers. She was the largest British luxury sailing vessel at the time. Out in Highland Park, Michigan, the Ford Motor Company launched its first trial of the assembly line. Closer to home, the 55-story Woolworth Building opened at 233 Broadway in Manhattan on April 24th. The 792-foot structure reigned as the world’s tallest skyscraper until 1930.

In Queens as well, seeds of progress were sown that would shape the city’s largest borough through the 20th century and beyond. In the Rockaways, suffragist Maud Flowerton gave a speech at the Arverne branch of the Women’s Political Union, looking forward to the day when the women of Queens and across the country would earn their right to vote. The previous summer, Mrs. Flowerton brought a distinguished series of speakers to Queens, including fellow suffragist Florence Jaffray Harriman, who went on to serve as Ambassador to Norway and be decorated by President Kennedy at the age of 92.


Florence Jaffray Harriman served as Ambassador to Norway and was decorated by President Kennedy at the age of 92. 
Photo Library of Congress Florence Jaffray Harriman served as Ambassador to Norway and was decorated by President Kennedy at the age of 92. Photo Library of Congress Progress of a different sort came to St. John’s Hospital that month when the institution took delivery of its first ambulance. The $2,500 emergency vehicle was painted in dark green and adorned with the words “St. John’s Long Island City Hospital” in gold lettering, and the interior featured red leather cushions to accommodate patients. After a priestly blessing, the ambulance set out to collect its first patient, an eight-year-old girl who enjoyed the conveyance so much she proclaimed “Don’t take me out, doctor, ride around some more; it’s fine.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Star announced an upcoming housing boom in the Astoria section of Queens. With the recent purchase of 400 lots, bounded by 30th and 31st Avenues to the north and south and 42nd and 48th Streets to the east and west on the old street plan, the Mathews Building Company was set to build some 350 three-story brick apartment buildings, known as Mathews Model Flats. The buildings, which sold for $11,000 each, stood on the former property of the United Cabinet Workers, an organization of Steinway Piano employees. Hundreds of these sturdy flats still line the streets of Ridgewood, Long Island City, Woodside and Elmhurst.

That spring 104 years ago, Queens parted with an important link to its rich, pastoral past. Oliver Hazard Perry of Elmhurst, a well-known art lover and accomplished artist in his own right, passed away that month at age 74. He was married to Maria Moore, whose cousin Clement Moore reportedly penned The Night Before Christmas. The family homestead that was once on Broadway and Woodside Avenue once hosted a visit by the future King George IV when he was a midshipman during the American Revolution. The artist was also a direct descendant and namesake of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry of War of 1812 fame, cousin of politician and socialite Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, whose family lent its name to the Belmont Stakes horse race, and great-nephew of Commodore Matthew Perry, who opened Japan to trade with the west. He belonged to the Society of the Cincinnati, and was also a charter member of Newtown Volunteer Fire Company No. 1.

That's the way it was April 1913!

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

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