2017-09-06 / Star Journal

Long Island Star Journal: Welcome to September 1916!


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

On September 15, monstrous rumbling contraptions known as tanks made their first combat appearance in the Battle of the Somme in France. Meanwhile, the first Piggly Wiggly self-service grocery store opened its doors down in Memphis, Tennessee. Before this new concept, grocery stores did not allow customers to gather their own purchases. They gave a list to a clerk, who went through the aisles for the customer.

Back home in New York, a devastating polio epidemic that swept the nation hit the city especially hard, claiming some 2,000 lives going into September. That month, the Daily Star carried the names of children afflicted by the disease. In 1916, polio claimed the lives of some 25% of its victims. It wasn’t until the 1950s that medical researcher and former Queens resident, Jonas Salk, developed a vaccine for this dreadful menace to public health.

While polio and other scourges of the past would continue to stalk Queens well into the 20th century, that September New York’s largest borough looked to the future. With news outlets announcing that the Mathews Building Company had acquired a vast expanse of undeveloped land east of Steinway Avenue, hundreds of the still ubiquitous Mathews Model Flats soon sprouted from roughly 500 empty property lots. Proudly commenting on his ambitious building project, company President Ernest Mathews proclaimed, “The fact is more evident day by day that Long Island City and its adjacent sections are logical residential sections… for those dissatisfied with conditions in the over-crowded sections of Manhattan and Brooklyn.…The advantage is ours because of our close proximity to the heart of the greatest city in the world.”

While building for a bright future, Queens said goodbye to a cherished part of its past in September, 1916. Out at North Beach, a spectacular three-alarm blaze reduced the Unter Den Linden amusement resort to a pile of charred timbers and severely damaged surrounding buildings. Set back from the Boulevard at North Beach by a series of impressive terraces and embellished with seemingly countless cupolas and ornate trellis work, the resort was one of the best-known destinations of the “Coney Island of Queens.” With the summer resort season nearly over, it was unclear at the time whether owner Theopole Schurchler would rebuild his beloved casino.

When Prohibition shuttered its once lively dance halls and saloons, North Beach and its seemingly endless summer nights soon disappeared beneath present-day LaGuardia Airport.

Although summer was indeed coming to a close, there was still time left for outdoor revelry, for one final jaunt. What better venue could there be than the old Whitestone Yacht Club? That September, some 100 guests bid farewell to the season with a clambake on the club’s grounds. After feasting on the baked mollusks, partygoers took in yacht races and danced the night away as the sun set on a late summer evening.

That’s the way it was September of 1916!

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

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