On Sept. 15, 1922, Joseph Sendek, a Hungarian immigrant and professional wood carver, bought a 20-by-30-foot house at Queens Boulevard and 55th Avenue with his wife Mary, for $4,000. The lot was 52 feet wide and almost 170 feet deep.
The 1940 Census had six of their children living there: Mary, Victor, Edward, Ernest, Richard and Eleanor. The boys’ occupation was listed as “butcher.”
In 1963, Macy’s decided to build its most ambitious project in Queens, a revolutionary circular department store that was to be the showpiece of the boulevard. Macy’s had purchased five acres to do it, but Mary Sendek, by then a widow, decided to stay. The media followed the story as Macy’s kept upping its offer. Its final offer in 1964 was $200,000, over $1.5 million in today’s money.
At great expense Macy’s had to redesign the project and work around Sendek’s house. It was deja vu for the department store, as a similar thing had happened when it built its flagship on 34th Street in Manhattan decades earlier.
Mary Sendek died in 1980. By then, Macy’s was no longer interested in the property. It was sold to developer Paul Testa of Diplomat Enterprises for $280,000 — all cash — on Sept. 17 of that year.
The brick building which stands in its place today was designed by Elmhurst architect James Giacopelli, who retired in 1987 and is alive and well in El Cajon, Calif. The structure is a mixed-use building of offices and stores, with HSBC being the most visible on Queens Boulevard.
The Sendek house is mentioned in “Let’s Hear It For Queens,” a musical being performed twice this weekend in Flushing.