Putting some air back into my burst bubble
by Ed Wendell
Jul 15, 2020 | 596 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The headquarters of the Woodhaven Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association at 95-11 101st Avenue in Ozone Park is currently a medical center and an archery. It was also home for a brief period of time to the Ozone Park Library.
The headquarters of the Woodhaven Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association at 95-11 101st Avenue in Ozone Park is currently a medical center and an archery. It was also home for a brief period of time to the Ozone Park Library.
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The statue peeking over the top of the building bears a striking resemblance to the statue that sat atop the Woodhaven Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association for many years. It is not known if it is the same statue.
The statue peeking over the top of the building bears a striking resemblance to the statue that sat atop the Woodhaven Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association for many years. It is not known if it is the same statue.
slideshow
Shortly after last week’s column about the Great Cyclone of 1895 was published I got a call from a friend, saying “I hate to burst your bubble, but...”

Now, as a wee side note, whenever anyone (even a good friend) says they hate to burst your bubble, they’re not being entirely honest. They absolutely want to burst your bubble. They also want to rain on your parade and spoil your party!

“I hate to burst your bubble, but most of what you described didn’t happen in Woodhaven, it happened in Ozone Park,” he said.

And he’s sort of right, depending on when you’re talking about.

You see, Woodhaven used to stretch way further south than it does today. Woodhaven’s border to the south sits at Atlantic Avenue, meaning that the old clocktower built by Florean Grosjean in 1876 is currently in Ozone Park, but used to be an important part of Woodhaven.

In fact, in those days if you referred to Woodhaven, what you were really referring to was Old Woodhaven Village, the area that sat behind the factory between 95th and 101st avenues.

Back then 95th Avenue was called University Place, a name given to the street in honor of the shoemaking school that John Pitkin opened nearby.

It was quite the busy stretch back then, with the Hotel de Paris and the Eagle Hotel and dozens of rowhouses built by Grosjean and rented at a fair price to workers imported from France.

Further along University Place is the Woodhaven Athletic Club, which moved into the building they currently occupy the very same year as the Great Cyclone. In fact, it you walk through this area keep in mind that almost every building you see was a survivor of that destructive and deadly storm 125 years ago.

One of the more fascinating buildings currently in Ozone Park, but a significant part of Woodhaven’s history, is the headquarters of the Woodhaven Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association.

What did “exempt” mean in their title? Keep in mind that this was before the creation of the FDNY and all firefighters were volunteers. And as a volunteer, you were exempt from certain things, like jury duty and military service and certain taxes.

The Woodhaven Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association was pretty well off and they had their own building, which not only had a large meeting room in which they held parties and dances, but it had a library and a billiards room.

The building itself was gorgeous, with three large windows facing Jerome Avenue and a statue of the Blessed Mother on the roof at the base of the flag pole.

Florian Grosjean, ever so mindful of the need for firefighters, was a big supporter of the volunteer group. In fact, 20 years after he passed, his daughter Amy donated all of the Grosjean Mansion’s gym equipment before it was torn down.

With the rise of the FDNY, most of the volunteers decided to take paying jobs with the city and the Woodhaven Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association began to fade away.

The building was sold, which allowed them to pay out small pension dividends to former volunteers for decades. In fact, the last pension payment was sent out in the mid-1970s.

If you scan through the old papers, you’ll see how important this building was to our history and yet, it’s nowhere close to today’s Woodhaven, sitting at 95-11 101st Avenue a few blocks east of Woodhaven Boulevard.

Today’s it’s a medical building, but its better known to most people as the Archery. The next time you pass by, take a good look at the building and picture how it might have looked decades ago when it was the center of so much activity in Woodhaven.

And while you’re taking a good look at the building, take a look at the roof and peeking over the top of it is a statue. It looks very similar to the statue of the Blessed Mother that sat watch over our community so many years ago.

Is it the same statue? I honestly don’t know, but until someone comes along to burst my bubble or takes the wind out of my sails or does something awful to my cornflakes, I’m content to believe she’s still watching over us in both Woodhaven and Ozone Park.

I hope she’s watching, because we really need it right about now.
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