Preservation for Elmhurst is Long Overdue
by Michael Perlman
May 15, 2018 | 4549 views | 0 0 comments | 134 134 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Claremount Terrace
Claremount Terrace
Elmhurst Baptist Church
Elmhurst Baptist Church
The recently established Elmhurst History & Cemeteries Preservation Society (EHCPS) is a nonprofit drumming up support for the preservation of Elmhurst, where many historic properties have been demolished in recent decades. Despite that, various landmark-worthy historic sites still remain.

The EHCPS executive board consists of president Marialena Giampino, vice president James McMenamin, secretary Jennifer Ochoa and treasurer James Ng.

“Our neighborhood is entrenched in history, everything from Colonial cemeteries, unique rowhouses, and historical churches to our early American oral histories of the Dutch and English settlers to the Revolutionary War,” said Giampino. “Elmhurst can be compared to places like historic Philadelphia.”

Elmhurst was formerly part of Newtown, a section of Queens that became Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, and Astoria.

“Newtown's history dates to 1642, making it the oldest continuous settlement after Flushing,” said McMenamin. “It is a rich, fascinating history to explore, and sadly, developers have bulldozed large swaths of Elmhurst, erasing much of our past’s physical evidence.

“We are strongly trying to educate and unite our community to instill a passion and zeal to see that what is left can be preserved and documented,” he added. “We tried to save the Horsebrook house across from Newtown Field, a last link to Newtown’s Colonial past, but to no avail.”

In recent years, a few sites have received protection. In September 2017, the Old St. James Episcopal Church at 86-02 Broadway, which was built in 1735 and is the city’s second oldest church, was designated a landmark.

In September 2013, First Presbyterian Church of Newtown on Queens Boulevard and 54th Avenue was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The High Victorian Gothic Revival edifice from 1895 embodies the spirit of one of the city’s earliest congregations, which dates to 1652.

In 1924, the city announced plans to widen Queens Boulevard and the church was transported 125 feet on greased logs. At the time, the church lost its steeple, but now a plan is underway to rebuild it with funds from an anonymous donor.

Although it will be approximately half the height of the original, the authentic stonework will be closely matched.

“Our organization is thrilled to learn that Elmhurst’s oldest congregation is continuing to honor its legacy by restoring its steeple,” said Giampino. “It took almost 100 years, but we are anticipating its return. The architectural marvel of this church will be even harder to miss with its steeple.”

Years ago, McMenamin was the sole individual advocating to preserve Claremont Terrace.

“It was accessible only by hill, and was on Samuel Lord's land, but now has a mammoth ugly graffiti-laden structure since work stopped around 2005 after the demolition of the 1853 house,” he said. “It was built for Lord’s fourth daughter.”

In 2011, bodies were discovered in an African-American burial ground, including the “Iron Coffin Lady,” who succumbed to the small pox epidemic in the 1850s.

“We are trying to preserve the cemetery, as developers built a huge residential complex on the site of Corona Avenue and 90th Street, and they are fighting to utilize the actual cemetery space,” said MeMenamin. “Its first congregation was the Union Church formed by freed slaves in 1828.”

Elmhurst also had a thriving Jewish community.

“The Iglesias de Cristo church over the Hampton bridge overpass on Corona Avenue was the site of the Newtown Theatre and then Temple Emanuel for a few decades,” said McMenamin.

He also praised the 1896 “cupola building” on Hampton Street and 43rd Avenue.

“This is the first building attributed to real estate maven Cord Meyer, who laid the grid and renamed it Elmhurst,” McMenamin said.

“Baxter Avenue was beautifully lined with rowhouses, but only half a block remains,” said Ochoa. “Progress is inevitable, but not at the risk of robbing history, displacing people of homes and not addressing the proper needs like infrastructure and population. Preservation and landmarking of homes and other sites is vital to educate and control the chaos.”

The EHCPS recently submitted an application with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to create the Judge Street Historic District. Between Whitney and Elmhurst avenues, it consists of 20 mostly intact Colonial brick rowhouses completed in 1905.

EHCPS is hopeful the district will be calendared for a public hearing. The growing list of supporters includes Councilman Daniel Dromm, State Senator Jose Peralta, Community Board 4, Historic Districts Council, and the Queens Preservation Council.

Last November, EHCPS members led a three-hour historic walking tour beginning at Elmhurst Baptist Church. Attendees were given a 16-page guide authored by McMenamin, which can be used to explore Elmhurst's past.

Elmhurst was also selected as one of this year’s “Six To Celebrate” communities by the Historic Districts Council. A tour will be held on Saturday, June 2, at noon. For more information, visit the EHCPS page on Facebook.
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