A chance to explore Woodhaven's history
by Ed Wendell
Apr 12, 2016 | 1937 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
About 40 residents braving the cold to take part in the walking tour of historic Woodhaven.
About 40 residents braving the cold to take part in the walking tour of historic Woodhaven.
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Last week, the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society led a walking tour of old Woodhaven. Close to 40 people braved cold temperatures and high winds to visit the sites of two old race tracks, the spot where George Washington slept, Woodhaven’s first bank, several old hotels and more.

There will be an encore presentation of this tour in the future, and several more walking tours of Woodhaven are scheduled for this summer.

The Woodhaven Historians lead a virtual tour of our community’s past at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month at the Avenue Diner, 91-06 Jamaica Avenue.

We look back at old pictures and news articles mostly from the Leader-Observer, taking time along the way to reminisce about our past. The next meeting is on Tuesday, May 3. It is free and everyone is welcome to attend.

What’s unique about the Woodhaven Historians tours is its reverence for what I like to call “hyper-local history,” the kind of history that might not make the standard history books, but is the kind of history we all love talking about and sharing.

For example, last month we observed the 70th anniversary of the grand opening of the Circus Bar and Restaurant, which opened the first week of April 1946.

The Circus Bar opened the same week the circus visited Madison Square Garden, which the bar’s owner, Johnny Pesca, said was “of minor importance compared to the opening of the Circus Bar. The circus will come and go, but the Circus Bar is here to stay.”

Woodhaven Historian Karen has been researching and giving very interesting presentations on Woodhaven in the year 1916. She chose that year because it was 100 years ago that her grandparents came to Woodhaven and bought the home she now lives in.

Karen wanted to get a better idea of what kind of town they were moving into, and it turns out that the residents of Woodhaven’s past share many of the same problems and complaints that their present-day counterparts do.

Over the past few months, we’ve covered complaints that there weren’t enough police, and we’ve read about the different battles residents had with the city over changing Woodhaven Boulevard. Assemblyman Mike Miller attended the last meeting and got a kick out of hearing all of the complaints from Woodhaven in 1916 and 1941.

“It sounds very much like the same complaints I hear all the time,” he said.

One of the other things we read a lot about is crime. Stickups and burglaries and muggings were pretty common throughout the years, far more common than one might have thought.

Next month we’ll be sticking our nose into a bit of Woodhaven’s past history of gang violence when we look back at May 1961. The Saints were the dominant gang in Queens, with somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 members from different neighborhoods. Our gang here was dubbed The Woodhaven Saints.

That month there was tension between the Fountain & Pitkin gang from East New York and the Ozone Park Saints. One afternoon, the tension turned to violence and one young boy, 15 years old, ended up with a knife plunged deep into his chest.

The boy, a student at Franklin K. Lane, died at the scene and another boy, a classmate from Lane, was arrested along with other gang members. Come out next month and learn more about this tragic tale, which nearly repeated itself just a few months ago here on the streets of Woodhaven.

And no look back at Woodhaven would be complete without a look at the different stores and businesses along Jamaica Avenue. If you like reminiscing about what store used to be where, then you’ll fit right in at the monthly Woodhaven Historians meeting.

And if you like getting your hands dirty along with your history, the Woodhaven Historians will be at the Wyckoff-Snedicker Cemetery this Saturday morning on April 16 from 9 a.m. to noon. The work from volunteers, including students from St. Thomas the Apostle and scouts from Howard Beach, has been fantastic, recently winning an award from the Victorian Society of New York.

But we could really use some more help as we start Phase 2 of this project, turning the earth, flattening the land, and planting flowers. If you enjoy being outside and making new friends, this is a fun project to join.

There are several options and opportunities for those interested in our local history here in Woodhaven. It’s up to you to take the next step and join us on our journey into the past. Email us at woodhavenhistory@gmail.com if you have any questions.

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