What makes a “real good” community?
Fortunately for Rego Park residents, the clues are all around them — even in the neighborhood’s name.
Henry Schloh, a German-American real-estate developer, got the ball rolling in 1923. That’s when Schloh’s Rego Construction Company, a name derived from the first two letters in the words “real” and “good,” began work on a six-year venture that resulted in 525 single-family row houses and various multi-family homes and apartment buildings.
The middle-class bastion first envisioned by Schloh is now home to more than 44,000 residents and an increasingly diverse population of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
And while the people may be changing, their reasons for coming to Rego Park have stayed the same, according to Chris Kara, owner of the iconic Shalimar Diner on 63rd Drive and Austin Street.
“It’s a safe, good neighborhood. They’re very good people,” he said. “This is a family place.”
Although he was worried when he first arrived, his concerns soon vanished as he became more familiar with the neighborhood and its people. Kara said he has never thought twice about working late and being robbed — a big concern for the hands-on small-business owner.
Kara believes Rego Park’s family-friendly qualities, which led him to start his business here more than 33 years ago, are at the core of the community’s continuing success.
But according to Jeff Gottlieb, founder and president of the Central Queens Historical Association, the real triumph of Rego Park isn’t simply its present-day success — it’s that the community exists at all.
From White Pot to melting pot
For much of the more than 300 years since Dutch settlers began developing the five boroughs, the area now known as Rego Park remained rural farmland.
In 1665, the British consolidated a large swath of land — an area now divided into the present neighborhoods of Maspeth, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Middle Village, Glendale, Ridgewood, Forest Hills, Rego Park, Woodside, Jackson Heights and Corona — into Newtown Township. Newtown’s southeast portion — the area now home to Forest Hills and Rego Park — was dubbed White Pot, supposedly based on the area’s Dutch name, “Whiteput,” or Hollow Creek.
While much of the city’s waterfront grew at an astonishing rate throughout the post-colonial era, White Pot remained largely undeveloped and uninhabited until the early 20th century, according to Gottlieb.
Barred by expansive wetlands covering most of present-day Rego Park and spanning from Newtown Creek to what is now Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, major builders mostly avoided the area until 1904, when developer and industrialist Cord Meyer began purchasing plots of land in White Pot.
Fresh off successful endeavors in Elmhurst, Meyers began building homes north and west of Continental Avenue in 1906. He dubbed the new community Forest Hills.
While Meyers had initially envisioned projects like Forest Hills Gardens as havens for poor and middle class New Yorkers, development costs eventually eclipsed initial estimates, leaving the homes affordable for only the city’s richest.
Nearly two decades later, Schloh attempted what Meyers had failed to accomplish in Forest Hills.
The eight-room houses that formed the foundation of Schloh’s Rego Park were a steal at $7,500 — the equivalent of $95,000 today.
Residential development was closely followed by the 1928 construction of the Rego Park Long Island Rail Road Station — a site eventually shuttered in 1962 — and the opening of the community’s first public school, P.S. 139, in 1929. The new community became a bastion for a growing population of Italian, German, Irish and Jewish immigrants.
Mass infusions of public cash on projects like the 1939 World’s Fair, the expansion of Queens Boulevard and the introduction of subway lines helped fuel Rego Park’s growth in the decades following its creation.
The construction of the new Rego Park Jewish Center on Queens Boulevard in 1948 — the result of a more than decade long effort to replace the first center, which was destroyed in a 1937 fire — helped cement the neighborhood as a prime spot for Jewish immigrants in the post-war era.
A place to call home
During World War II and accelerating after the 1970s, Rego Park was increasingly defined by its large population of Jewish immigrants.
The community drew large numbers of Jews fleeing persecution in Europe during and after the Holocaust — a fact immortalized in Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel, “Maus.”
Rego Park and neighboring Forest Hills later became a haven for Jews emigrating from Central Asia in the 1970s, when thousands of Bukharian Jews fled Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
The small group of Jews, whose ancestry can be traced to settlers in Central Asia, Russia and parts of Iran as far back as the 4th century, made Rego Park and Forest Hills into the second largest Bukharian population center in the world — behind only Israel.
Rego Park’s reputation as a bastion for Bukharians was further cemented in the early 1990s, when the last major populations fled the former Soviet Union after its collapse in 1991.
In 2000, people claiming ancestry from Eastern Europe, Russia and the former Soviet blocs made up more than 20 percent of the neighborhood’s population — a figure that becomes evident strolling down the community’s many busy commercial strips.
Queens Boulevard and 63rd Drive
Commerce in Rego Park has mostly developed along a handful of major thoroughfares, the most prominent of which are Queens Boulevard and 63rd Drive.
And while Queens Boulevard has developed into an anything goes hodgepodge of mom and pop shops, chain retailers and restaurants, 63rd Drive took a distinctly local route.
The thoroughfare connecting Woodhaven and Queens boulevards is home to an eclectic mix of storefronts and restaurants.
Acclaimed ethnic eateries like Cheburechnaya have attracted foodies from throughout the city. Here, ancient memories of the Silk Road embedded in Rego Park’s Central Asian community are given form — a diverse mix of cuisine with strong Russian, Middle Eastern, Indian and Chinese influences.
A stone’s throw away, one of the borough’s largest malls is under construction between 62nd Drive and 63rd Road. The Rego Park Mall II will house at least two department stores, Kohl’s and Century 21. Although the timeline has been fluid, the mall is expected to open late this year or early next year.
While the development had initially caused a stir after its announcement, much of the community’s resistance seems to have evaporated with the lure of higher property values.
Something for everyone
Like its population, real estate in Rego Park is a diverse affair.
From upper-middle-class enclaves like the Crescents, where graceful Tudor style single-family homes flow down narrow, tree lined streets, to the low and middle-income apartment complexes dotting Queens Boulevard — homeowners in Rego Park span the city’s economic spectrum.
Single bedroom co-ops and modest condos start from less than $200,000 in most of Rego Park, while multiple room condos range anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000. Single family homes run from nearly $600,000 to as much as $1.5 million in the Crescents.
Vacancy rates are low, hovering at about 7 percent, and real estate values have remained remarkably steady despite deep initial losses when the market collapsed more than a year ago. Median sales prices in Central Queens as a whole remained flat in the third quarter — about 9 percent below their mark a year ago, according to a report by the real estate firm Prudential Douglas Elliman.
Rego Park’s family orientation, ability to attract long-term residents and its top ranked school district have all contributed to its market stability.
Only the best
Rego Park is home to some of the city’s best public schools. The independent schools watchdog group Insideschools gave the District 28 schools its top honors — P.S. 139, P.S. 174, P.S. 175 and P.S. 206 all received the site’s blue ribbon for noteworthy schools. J.H.S. 157 also received top marks for reading and math scores from the organization.
Top-rated private schools in Rego Park include Our Lady of the Angelus, the Jewish Institute of Queens and Our Saviour Lutheran School. The neighborhood is also home to a special education facility, The Life Skills School.
Coming and going
Public transportation is abundant in Rego Park, which is served by the R, V, and G subway lines at three locations. The Q88, Q38, Q53, Q11 and the express x51 buses also cross through the neighborhood.
The neighborhood’s major arteries for vehicular traffic include Queens Boulevard, Woodhaven Boulevard and the Long Island Expressway.