Saving a piece of Woodhaven history
by Ed Wendell
May 03, 2016 | 14427 views | 3 3 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Historic photos of Neir's Tavern.
Historic photos of Neir's Tavern.
There will be a rally this coming Saturday, May 7, at Neir’s Tavern at 87-48 78th Street to call for the landmarking of the legendary establishment, which opened in Woodhaven way back in 1829.

The rally will take place from 2 to 6 p.m., with guest speakers scheduled to address the gathering at 4 p.m.

This would be a good time to clear up a few common misconceptions regarding historical places and landmarks. To begin with, the only landmark currently in Woodhaven is the Forest Park Carousel.

There are a number of places in Woodhaven with blue-and-yellow metal signs, but those are historical markers placed by the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society. They do not signify landmark status by New York City.

Secondly, just because something is old does not necessarily make it historically significant. Recently, there has been much talk surrounding Pop’s Restaurant, with people calling it “historical,” but apart from the fact that it is very old, there really isn’t anything historical about it.

Compare it, for example, to the clocktower on Atlantic Avenue. It is also old, but it was also once part of the LaLance-Grosjean factory, which was so very important in the early years of this community.

After the great fire of 1876, which destroyed the original factory, the tall clocktower was built as a message that the community was strong and here to stay. Therefore, it has historical significance.

The Forest Park Carousel is also old, but it is one of only two remaining carousels carved by hand by master carver Daniel Muller, making it historically significant.

The Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery behind All Saints Episcopal Church on 96th Street is the oldest of them all, and it serves as the final resting place for many of the families that helped found this area, making it very historically significant.

While Pop’s is old, it hasn’t kept the same name over the years - it was originally Popp’s, named after the Popp family - and it has changed ownership many times.

Compare that to Schmidt’s Candies, which has not only kept the same name, the ownership has remained in a single family, and they have been using the same molds and recipes for nearly a century. It’s both old and historically significant.

A better term for Pop’s is beloved. Certainly the interior was unique with many old pictures and old fixtures, but it was missing that special intangible that makes it historically significant.

Like Pop’s, Neir’s Tavern has changed names and owners several times over the years. So what intangible does Neir’s have that makes it worthy of consideration for landmarking? Most people will point to the legend of Mae West performing there, but that’s really just a fun aside to what makes this building historically significant to Woodhaven.

Some 195 years ago, long before Woodhaven was even Woodhaven or even Woodville, this was a racing town due to the popularity of the Union Course racetrack. At the time it was built, the Union Course was the largest track in the United States, running from Jamaica Avenue to Atlantic Avenue from 78th Street to 84th Street.

The track held some very popular races pitting horses from the North versus the South. In 1823, a race between two horses, American Eclipse and Sir Henry, drew over 60,000 spectators to the area. Because of the popularity of the track, houses and hotels were built, streets were paved, and the Long Island Railroad built a line along Atlantic Avenue to reach it. In short, the community developed around the track.

As the decades passed and other tracks opened nearby, the Union Course's popularity faded and it eventually closed. In the 1880s, the land was sold and subdivided and homes were built and new streets paved.

So, what does all of this have to do with Neir’s Tavern? Well, if you look at the old maps you will see that the main entrance to the Union Course race track was at Snedicker Avenue and Grand Street, or 78th Street and 88th Avenue, directly across the street from Neir's.

This means that Neir’s Tavern was the prime gathering spot for bettors and spectators at the race track that was so integral to the development and existence of our community. And 187 years after it first served those patrons, it still stands, the sole physical remnant of the famed racetrack.

It’s important to preserve this last remaining link to our community’s origins and we hope many voices in our community will come out this Saturday to support the landmarking of this very old and historically significant building.

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May 08, 2016
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May 08, 2016
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Astoria Denizen
May 04, 2016
This attests to the significance of Neir's prior to the absorption of about half of Queens County into the City of New York in 1898. The other piece became Nassau County. Union Course was never in New York City and Neir's was already approaching 69 years of existence before the expansion.