Saturday, September 29, 2018

Stickball in Queens

I started this at a Facebook post and am expanding

My wife put in a DVD of the movie "Field of Dreams" which includes director's comments, etc. from which I learned the film's pull for fathers-and-sons relationships. So, here goes my father-son baseball story.
My swing was not that good at a certain period. While I did play some Little League (my best was a triple), most of our game was actually stickball with a Spaulding on 204th Street in Queens.  Our building at Holliswood's Hilltop Village Co-ops was the Hampshire, the one on the left of 204th:

Our apartment overlooked the street (outlined in blue; l-r: living room, kitchen, bathroom, my and my sister's room, parents' room)

Hitting and running was done with an eye on the traffic that incessantly kept turning of Francis Lewis Boulevard. We played in front of my building in the Holliswood Co-op and I'm posting one snap of where home base was (a manhole), 

another stree scene with, again, our 2nd floor apartment (outlined in blue) overlooking the "field", 

and you can see Francis Lewis in the background and there's another, showing the length of the street (and a black arrow pointing to "second base") where my longest shot fell, marked by a white arrow. 

before it really curved to the left and continued all the way down (and where we ice-sledded)

It was at the entrance of the "B" side of the next building and luckily did not strike any of the women at the Laundry Room. 

My father was a "three manhole" hitter in the South Bronx and actually once took me to where he played on one of my trips back from Israel (his older brother was in charge of a miniature golf set-up there). I can't remember where that was now but when we were there, the landscape sort of reminded me of Berlin after the war as there were a lot of boarded-up places and empty lots. I myself lived on Faile Street until 1954 when we moved to Queens.
To get to the point, we were spending most of the summer at my Aunt & Uncle's summer place which was my uncle's father's house on Beach 65th Street in Arverne at the Rockaways maybe 200 meters from the beach. I asked him to help me and coach my swing to improve it. We both walked out towards the beach where there was quite a large parking lot (the area drew thousands on weekends). It was mostly empty and my father positioned me with the broom handle (the "stick") and walked back, turned and said, "so, let's see what's wrong."
He pitched and I connected. The ball flew high out of the parking lot and across the street. Now, you may think I was ecstatically excited at my success but I wasn't. I was extremely shamed that I had brought my father out in the heat with, he perhaps thought, was a false story. Not to mention I now had to run out and hopefully find it.
To his credit, my father sort of smiled and asked, "are you sure you need the practice?'


After posting this, I did some research and the results:

a contemporary map location

one from 1898 way before serious housing development:

and a 1923 map which displays what we called "the back", the private home located between Francis Lewis and 188th Street where we road our bikes and didn't become a real Jewish neighborhood until the 1980s:

My primary school was P.S. 135, now the Belaire School.

Junior High was J.H.S. 109

In 1960, after having skipped 8th grade, I entered Yeshivat Chofetz Chaim (Yeshiva Preparatory High School) then on Kessel Street, Forest Hills to where it moved in 1955

and from where I graduated in 1964, after participating in the beginnings of the Rabbis' Sons as I was in the class with Dovid Nulman with Burry Chait a year above together with Barry Septimus and others.

On my old neighborhood and environs:

The Grand Central Parkway on top and the Hillside Avenue below mark the length of Holliswood, which lies between the Francis Lewis Boulevard on its right and 188th Street as the Western limit. The area started out as farmland, and is just north of the site of a famous Revolutionary War incident in which an American general Nathaniel Woodhull was wounded and imprisoned in an Inn by the British for refusing to say “God Save the King.”  

(In October 1775 Woodhull was made brigadier general of the Suffolk and Queen's County militia. In August 1776, on the eve of the Battle of Long Island, Woodhull's militia was detailed to drive livestock east to prevent its falling into British hands. Woodhull's troops had driven 1,400 cattle out onto the Hempstead Plains and with 300 more ready to go. A severe thunderstorm drove the general to take refuge in a tavern run by Increase Carpenter, about two miles east of Jamaica in what is now Hollis. Relief was not forthcoming, and his situation deteriorated.

Woodhull was captured near Jamaica, at an inn at 197th Street and Jamaica Avenue, by a detachment of Fraser's Highlanders led by captain Sir James Baird. He was struck with a sword multiple times, injuring his arm and head by a British officer purportedly for not saying, "God save the King", as ordered, saying instead "God save us all". He was taken to a cattle transport, serving as a prison ship in Gravesend Bay.)

In 1884 Frederick W. Dunton, the nephew of the first president of the Long Island Railroad, was traveling East and he admired from his railroad car window the green and rolling hills of what is now Hollis and Holliswood. He purchased 136 acres of farmland and divided it into lots for sale. He laid out the curving streets of Holliswood and gave them Latin or Spanish names, such as Rio, Como, Marengo, etc.  Epsom Course, oval shaped, was built by Mr. Dunton as a trotting race course. Many famous trotters were seen on its turf. The nearby development of Hollis Park Gardens, built in 1906, stretched between 192nd and 195th streets between Jamaica and Hillside avenues.

For himself he reserved a big lot at the southern edge of Holliswood on Dunton Avenue and built a big and beautiful mansion called Hollis Hall with views all the way to the ocean.

The area developed slowly into a comfortable middle-class neighborhood. Because of its location, Hollis attracted a large number of people who commuted to Manhattan to work.  Carpenter’s Tavern, the place where General Woodhull was captured, was replaced by housing in 1921. The neighborhood continued to grow as stately Victorian houses were built along Woodhull Avenue between 188th and 198th streets. Starting in 1922, many new streets were laid out between Hillside and Jamaica Avenues and tract houses were built by the hundreds. Hollis had become a fully built up community by World War II. It even experienced a bit of scandal now and then, as when Hollis Hall, Dunton’s old home in Holliswood, allegedly became a speakeasy during Prohibition. (An apartment complex stands in that spot today.) Hollis grew slowly and steadily, from 4,000 people in the 1920s to 31,000 people today. Some of the first homes ever built by mega-developer Fred Trump, the father of Donald, were in this neighborhood and still stand today. 

After Mr. Dunton’s death, Hollis Hall was sold and became a restaurant named Brown’s Chop House. It was reported to have been a speakeasy during prohibition.

When prohibition ended, Brown’s Chop House was torn down. The hill on which it stood was leveled, and our garden apartment complex, the modern day Holliswood Garden Apartments, were erected in 1949.  



Carole DelSavio said...

My parents moved to Holliswood in the early thirties, first to a small bungalow on McLaighlin Ave., then to a house across the street at 195-18. It still stands surrounded my overgrown shrubbery and seemingly unchanged since they sold it in the mid sixties. My sisters and I attended P S. 35 on 191st St., a block north of Jamaica Avenue. I was part of the first students to attend PS 178 when it opened for my fifth grade. I, too, went to JHS 109 for the SP class, graduating in 1955. In the forties, we played all our games in Mc Lauh,In Avenue because there were few cars using it during the daytime. the GCP absorbed whatever traffic there was. Until 1950 little new building was done and we roamed the large wooded areas with its towering oaks, ice skated on small ponds and biked into Cunningham Park. It was a unique place even then and our parents were very proud that we had that type of area. I recall the water tanks over near Epsom Course. Every so often we saw numbers of people assembling there, picnicking and partying. We were told to avoid them. When we were a bit older, my mother told us that was a group from the German bund and she didn’t want us near them. Must have been a holdover from WWII era. Although we hated losing the freedom the woods gave us, we admired the lovely homes being built around us and the friendliness of all our new neighbors. Did you know Mario Cuomo grew up in Holliswood? And George Vecsey NYT sportswriter? It was a special place for me to have been born into in 1941- safest place on earth at a dangerous time in the world. I remember when your garden apertments were built. Up until then my older sisters has dubbed that area “the plains” and thought of it as a serene area. So nice to know that others have fond memories of Holliswood

Unknown said...

Very interesting history of Holliswood and your stickball exploits. I also went to PS135 and graduated from JHS109 in 1959, also skipping 8th grade via the SP route so I guess that you were one grade behind me. I lived on 209th near Hillside in an attached house with a big stoop. Most of my friends lived in Hilltop and it was quite a shock when upon graduating from JHS109, I realized that the school boundary between Martin Van Buren and Jamaica High Schools had been drawn at Francis Lewis Blvd, so all of my friends that had been my classmates for many years would be going to a different high school.

My parents sold our house in 1967 and over the years I have gone back a few times. Paraphrasing Thomas Wolfe, you can never really go back. All the shops in the Franhill Shopping Center (Goodys, Ritz bakery, Kirsten 5&10, Bohacks, Grand Union, etc.) were gone and the neighborhood no longer had a Jewish/Italian Catholic population. It was interesting that the Hillside Co-Op remained Caucasian for a number of years after the Cunningham Heights apartments became diverse.

I had my bar mitzvah at the Queens Village Jewish Center on Hollic Court Blvd, near Jamaica Ave. My parents enrolled me there despite it being inconvenient because they didn't like that the synagogue in Hilltop met in a storeroom in one of the buildings. Ironically, the week before my bar mitzvah I attended a bar mitzvah for one of my friends (Leslie Green) that was the first bar mitzvah in the new Holliswood Jewish Center building.

Denise Janer Irwin said...

I grew up on Marengo Street in the garden apartments. I attended Woodhull Prep School (graduated in 1967).....Thanks for the background history of the area!