Clean up 88th Street, says Tom Pappas, who lives in the area, and that could be the key to a safer neighborhood and higher property values. It might even help bring much-needed foot traffic to Atlas Park - the road is an important local route to the out-of-the-way mall, which has struggled to gain traction with area shoppers.
If driving to the mall were a nicer experience, said Pappas, a vice president and private banker at JP Morgan Chase who has quietly worked to improve the area, more people would drive there.
But not if the graffiti isn't cleaned up, he said.
“I just have absolutely no tolerance for graffiti,” Pappas said as he drove his car down 88th Street recently, slowing often to point out trouble spots. “I wince every time I see it.”
He lives on 74th Avenue between 88th Street and Woodhaven Boulevard in a pocket of eastern, or upper, Glendale that boasts some of the area's nicest homes, many of them built in the Tudor style with small front yards and ample parking.
When United Associates Homes developed several blocks in the area in the 1920’s, an original brochure shows, they billed the neighborhood as Forest Hills Crest, advertising comfortable homes and the nearby Long Island Rail Road station, 17 minutes by train from the city.
The area has retained its charm since being built up (though the LIRR stop no longer exists), but Pappas said the blighted stretch of 88th Street between 77th and 74th avenues is dragging the neighborhood down.
The stretch includes a desolate eyesore of a railroad crossing, several small businesses consistently tagged with spray paint and an empty lot slated to become a community garden. In an elaborate ceremony elected officials broke ground on the farm in the summer of 2009, but it remains completely barren today.
To brighten things up, Pappas - with no fanfare, using backdoor channels - requested new trees and lampposts from the city. Last year the Parks Department planted five trees on his block. The lampposts have been approved by the Department of Transportation as part of a larger project and are on their way.
Pappas called them small measures, but ones that “make a little bit of a difference” towards improving the quality of life for himself and his neighbors. He hopes to see the railroad crossing at 76th Avenue cleaned up also.
The neighborhood’s problems start with graffiti, however, and there’s a lot to work with.
The front of Albert and Harold’s auto service store on 88th Street, diagonally opposite P.S. 113’s new annex, is covered in tags. So is the next building, a long, squat structure belonging to the Long Island Tinsmith Supply Company.
Farther north, recurring graffiti on a building owned by the entity Cosmetic Components was the subject of a letter written by Congressman Anthony Weiner in October of 2008. In his letter Rep. Weiner asked the building’s owner to put up lighting to discourage would-be taggers.
More than a year later, there are no new lights, just more graffiti.
The problem has attracted the attention of local officials as well. By one account, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley personally helped repaint one fence on the street that vandals refused to leave be.
So far these efforts have had little impact in deterring graffiti vandals.
Kathy Masi, president of the Glendale Civic Association, said in fact there’s little anyone can do to pressure property owners to join the fight against graffiti vandals; they must sign a waiver allowing a community board-run graffiti removal squad to repaint their property after its tagged.
If they don’t, said Masi, and don’t clean the graffiti themselves, it just stays there.
“Graffiti is always a concern,” said Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5. Giordano hears complaints on the issue from residents of Glendale and other communities at nearly every monthly board meeting.
Perhaps the most effective way to control the graffiti is through law enforcement, but Masi and Pappas both contend the 104th Precinct doesn’t direct enough resources towards policing eastern Glendale. “We really don’t get enough attention up here,” said Masi, who lives in the area.
In an August 2009 letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Pappas even suggested redistricting the 104th and 112th precincts to give the latter control of eastern Glendale.
Less than one month latter, Pappas received a reply from the 104th’s Deputy Inspector, Keith Green.
Green wrote that the precinct is committed to improving the quality of life for its residents. “All the police officers of the 104th Precinct,” wrote Green, “are constantly attempting to identify and apprehend graffiti vandals.”