Necessity, as the philosopher Plato once said, is the mother of invention.
A group of Maspeth residents proved that true once again when threatened with the loss of access from their dead-end street to Eliot Avenue.
Prior to 1997, residents of 75th Street in Maspeth could cut through land owned by a gas station to get onto the avenue. Without it, they would have to travel a rather circuitous route of going up to Caldwell Avenue and then down either 74th or 76th streets.
Back then the station was operated by Columbia Brothers and the owners didn’t mind the locals crossing the land. However, when the station changed hands in 1997, the new ownership was concerned with liability issues should anyone get injured on their property, and cut off the route.
Thus was born the 75th Block Association.
The Association spoke with CSX Railroad, which owns the property adjacent to the gas station, and was given permission to build a walkway through the land. The problem? It wasn’t exactly conducive to humans.
“It was just a dump,” said James Eldred, one of the leaders of the association. “We found parts of cars; you could have built a whole car.”
Frank Toomey, one of the association’s founders, said the group may have picked up as many as 300 car tires during the clean-up process. The trash attracted rodents to the area.
The association secured an annual lease with CSX for the property. While rent is free, the association has to provide liability insurance for use of the walkway, totaling $1,400 each year. It collects the money by asking homeowners on the street to donate $100 and tenants to donate $50.
Today, the area couldn’t look more different than the wasteland described by residents. At the end of the street now is a small garden area with a flower box. On one side of the paved walkway, behind a fence, is a neatly manicured lawn sprouting four bird houses as well as some plant life.
A pile of rubble sits on the gas station property, which, according to rumor, will soon turn into a bank.
On Friday, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) honored the association with a proclamation recognizing the members for cleaning up the area and creating a sustainable environment for residents and visitors.
“The 75th Street Block Association needs to be recognized for being proactive about improving their neighborhood,” Crowley said.
And the group is still working to upgrade the area. Eldred said the next goal is to get additional lighting for the walkway.
Eventually, the group wants to see the Department of Parks and Recreation take over the area. That likely won’t happen this year due to the economy, Eldred said, but he’s hopeful it will happen sooner, rather than later.
“Most of us that originated this thing, we’re getting on in age now,” Eldred said.