Get into a conversation with a long-time Queens resident and you’re likely to discover a subscriber to the Long Island Star-Journal, a daily paper that informed the community about local and world news until it folded in 1968. A banner across the Star-Journal masthead reminded readers that the newspaper’s name came from the merger of the Long Island Daily Star (1876) and the North Shore Daily Journal—The Flushing Journal (1841).
Welcome to two stories from the Summer of 1930.
Story 1: An Airport Is Born
Time in the Old Bowery Bay district that jutted out into Sanford’s Point came to a standstill. The trolley car tracks that led to the once-famous Gala Park owned by George Ehret and William Steinway became overgrown with weeds and the formerly gay amusement park that once bedecked the shore with a blaze of glory became a mass of tumble down wreckage.
Charles Rae and his family still operate some fishing huts where once they had a dance hall. Of all the roller coasters, barrooms, dance halls, chute-the-chutes and merry-go-rounds, the place is the last remnant of the rat-infested amusement park. His yard is littered with planks, rowboats and the whatnot of fishing stations.
Mr. Rae’s old dance hall is still decorated with flags gone dingy—a reminder from happier days. Now it’s a storehouse for marine engines, oars, lanterns, tools, paints and other odds and ends.
From 1917 to 1929 nothing much happens at North Beach. A reporter viewing its remains writes “nominally still in existence but actually long dead.”
On the uplands, pleasantly endowed by nature with hills overlooking the East River and Flushing Bay, hay protrudes from barns carelessly patched with ancient gray shingles. Harness chains rattle when the horses stir. Old time farm horses sleep in the peace of the past and the turnips and corn in the fields were about the liveliest things in the neighborhood.
As Queens experiences its explosive building boom, inadequate transportation leaves North Beach a deserted hamlet while thousands of homes for commuters are built further out in Queens Village and Rosedale.
But when the airport opens on June 15, 1929, and the city proposes an adjoining park, North Beach finally shakes loose from its sleep.
New York Air Terminals Co., a subsidiary of Curtis Wright Air, purchases the North Beach tract along with 4,000 feet of shoreline. At about the same time, the city also announces its intent to purchase an adjoining plot with 2,000 feet of shoreline and 103 acres for a park. Soon it’s the final mopping up of the tangled weeds, distorted shanties, bumpy streets and straggling tidal marsh known as Jackson Mill Creek.
Inside the airport’s fence, within a year, everything changed. Bulldozers wipe away the picnic grove of trees. Even the old 1654 Riker Mansion accidentally burns down. The president of the Air Terminal Corporation intended to use it as an aviator club for his pilots and their guests.
More than one and half million yards of dirt are removed and 150 acres of land reduced to level grade. The only building that remains of the Gala Park, where excursionists come by the thousands, is the former police station. Revamped and painted it’s used as the air terminal’s temporary administration building.
Where carnival performers pranced in gaudy spangled tights and fireworks spent their fiery force on the air, toils a workforce of 70 men. Nine pilots operate out of two big hangars where 25 spic-and-span airplanes of all descriptions are lined up. The runway is 2,300 feet long and 150 feet wide. Everyone complains of the dust kicked up by planes landing on a surface of ash and pulp. The pulp, formerly used in a gas plant as a filter, oozes fumes giving the runway a sickly smell.
Daily flights are to Saratoga and Atlantic City. On weekends, service to Southampton and Lake George is available. The New York police air patrol, with three amphibious planes, 10 pilots, and 25 mechanics is also stationed at the field.
Every time a plane lands, William Rogers, the operations manager stationed in the waiting room, presses a button and a siren blows. The ground crew springs into action. If it is a sea plane, five men go down to the water’s edge where a channel is dredged and crank the plane up an incline to the washing pen. It is immediately gassed up and ready to fly.
Story 2: Beer
After going 6,000 miles to get a pilsner, Rudolph Friml and Joseph Majer are back home and busy on the music scores. Friml is the famous song writer who lives in Kew Gardens Inn.
Several weeks ago, the two friends were working in the Hammerstein Theater on the score of a new stage production for the fall. Suddenly Friml remarks that they were way ahead of the writer of the book. “Nice weather for a little holiday,” Majer said. “Nice weather for a little pilsner,” Friml corrected. “Suppose we run over to Bohemia and have a glass of real pilsner.”
Passports in hand, they taxied to their apartments, threw a few things into a bag, and were off to board a ship just in time. They wanted a German ship because there is a chance of getting the pilsner a bit earlier that way.
Majer continues, “there might have been a lot of pilsner when we got on, but nothing much when we got to Europe. We didn’t bother about sight-seeing but went straight on to Prague, world capital of pilsner and sausages.
“Just as we settle down in Prague and enjoyed playing hooky, we receive a wire from Mr. Hammerstein that the writer of the book for the show was catching up on us and that if we would come home all would be forgiven.
“We managed to find a ship that had plenty of pilsner aboard for the trip back. As this was Mr. Friml’s third trip this year, everyone on board knew him. They even gave us a bar to ourselves with a private bartender.” He stared at the sheet music before him with its curly-tailed notes. “I don’t mind admitting,” he said sadly, “that when you came in I was writing music with one hand and drawing a pilsner with the other.”
That’s the way it was in the dry, hot summer of 1930.
For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 278-0700.