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Queens Chronicle

17th Annual Celebration of Queens THE HOMETOWN OF HARD WORK

The children of immigrants, blue-collar residents make Glendale great

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Posted: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 10:56 am, Wed Jun 18, 2014.

Not every Queens neighborhood has a nationally known landmark like the West Side Tennis Stadium in Forest Hills or the Unisphere in Flushing.

And while Glendale may not be a tourist destination that draws thousands of people to its streets, its approximately 55,000 residents know the neighborhood’s respectable blue-collar work ethic and history of immigrant success make the area one of the city’s more historical hidden gems.

Originally named Fresh Ponds for its swampy appearance, the area that would eventually become Glendale was established in 1642.

Over the next 200 years, scores of German immigrants settled in the region, with many establishing farms.

The neighborhood was renamed Glendale in 1860, but the hardworking, blue-collar attitude the area was founded on has remained the same to this day.

That German heritage hasn’t escaped Glendale over the course of its history. In fact, it is still celebrated to this day.

One of the more famous German destinations in the city is Zum Stammtisch at 69-46 Myrtle Ave.

A watering hole for many German soccer fans and hungry residents since it opened in 1972, co-owner Werner Lehner, who operates the restaurant alongside his brother, Hans, said one of the more important aspects of the eatery is honoring both the history of the area and his German family.

“It’s really big for us. We just want to stay with a tradition that maybe has gotten lost a little over the years,” Lehner said. “Maybe it’s a bit old-fashioned, but we are too.”

Not only is the restaurant “vintage,” Lehner believes the type of people who occupy Glendale hark back to the days of when German was openly spoken in the street and work was just as important as leisure.

“It’s an old-school kind of town. Mostly blue-collar, family-oriented people live here,” he said. “There’s a middle ground. It’s not too upscale but it still has that friendly neighborhood feel.”

Lehner’s father, John, owned a restaurant in Germany in the 1950s before immigrating to the United States like so many other Germans throughout Glendale’s long history.

Lehner said the influx of Germans, like his father, have made the Glendale area the hardworking, blue-collar neighborhood it is known as today because of their already-instilled sense of purpose.

“Most of them already had skills. That was a big thing over there in Germany,” he said. “You came over with a trade, with something to offer and with something to contribute to society.”

The Lehner family even opened up a popular German pork store next to the restaurant, where just looking at the products’ labels, written in German, the antique decor and the building’s overall rustic appearance give off an historic colonial-era energy.

“A couple times a week, people come in and go ‘Oh my gosh, it looks just like Germany,’” Lehner said. “Visitors who are actually from Germany even come and say they wish they had more places like that back home.”

Speaking of visitors, longtime Glendale resident and Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri still remembers the reactions when people from more urban sections of the city would come to his scenic hometown.

“People would come from Ridgewood and say ‘Wow, this is the country!’” Arcuri said. “I grew up on 31st Street and there was a farm on that block until the 1960s. We would play stickball in the field and we would run through the barn while the farm owner would chase us out with his shotgun.”

While the area no longer maintains an agricultural presence, there are still opportunities for Arcuri and the influx of “hipsters” moving into Glendale to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

“Over where I am, it’s so nice and green,” he said. “Some of the hipsters, they love it. They love the area. And they love to sit on the rooftops and look over the tree-filled land at the Manhattan skyline.”

While the area may be the next stop on the gentrification pipeline after northwest Brooklyn, Ridgewood and Maspeth, it is still a neighborhood of immigrants.

“It’s always been an immigrant community,” he said. “People like to shop locally and shop with their own kind. It’s comfortable here.”

Eastern European shops, Italian pizzerias and German restaurants can be found often times just blocks from one another along Cooper and Myrtle avenues.

According to Arcuri, it’s the diversity of such small businesses, the hard-working attitudes of their owners and everyone’s love for their community are three of the most important traits that make Glendale what it is.

“It’s always been a hardworking community with a lot of small businesses. The butcher, the blacksmith, the mechanic, all the entrepreneurs came here,” he said. “And it’s still a nice, quiet place. Everyone here is concerned about everything because that’s the way we were raised.”

That concern for others is evident in the area’s numerous civic and community organizations.

The Glendale Civilian Observation Patrol, better known as GCOP, is one of the many civilian arms of the NYPD, but serves with unmatched pride.

The volunteer group formed in 1976 to aid the 104th Precinct in patrolling the area and is the oldest such civilian group in the city.

Today, representatives can be seen at public monthly meetings of CB 5 and the 104th Precinct Community Council to discuss their work and recruit new members.

The Glendale Civic Association and the Glendale Chamber of Commerce are also active members of the community, with the latter sponsoring holiday-themed events for families throughout the year, such as the annual Christmas tree lighting and the popular Meet the Easter Bunny gathering.

Arcuri, who has represented Glendale, Middle Village, Maspeth and Ridgewood on CB 5 for 39 years, including nearly 20 years as chairman, has seen the neighborhood change greatly under his watch.

In his time as one of the more recognizable faces in Glendale, he has seen retail development, such as The Shops at Atlas Park, spring up, multiple city councilmembers win and lose elections and area schools grow to be some of the most overcrowded in the city.

Despite the Glendale he grew up in being substantially different than the one he lives in now, Arcuri thinks the future of his hometown may be brighter than ever.

“I think if there’s no outside pressure or interference, such as the proposed homeless shelter, Glendale will get even better,” he said. “I don’t see why not.”

Welcome to the discussion.