As late as the 1940s, some Revolutionary-era buildings still stood in the vicinity of Queens Boulevard and Broadway in Elmhurst. But property values made development much more lucrative than any potential tourist attraction, so they didn’t last.
In 1939, Fred Reiner, who made his fortune in mortgages and real estate, bought the northeast corner lot. It had already been flattened by eminent domain when the subway was being built a few years earlier. Reiner had a real estate office at 87-12 Grand Ave. and lived in Forest Hills Gardens at 85 Ascan Ave.
He built an art deco limestone building on the Elmhurst site. The first tenant was Isaac “Izzy” Strauss, who had broken away from the Pep Boys automotive parts chain of Philadelpia to start his own auto supply business called Strauss Stores. The area was already zoned for car-related businesses.
The corner entered the history books on July 11, 1949, when John L. Miller, a clerk living on 54th Avenue in Elmhurst, left the bar on the corner opposite Strauss Stores and was killed by a trolley car. Miller has the unfortunate distinction of being the last person killed by a trolley in Queens, as the line was discontinued a short time later and replaced by buses.
The area is still crowded and hazardous — to both people and structures, as Reiner’s building didn’t last either. A seven-story office building stands where it had been.
But Strauss lives on in the Pep Boys mascot logo. His caricature is the one on the right, even though it’s called Jack after one of the company’s original founders.