George Gershwin, one of our most beloved composers, was born in Woodhaven, Queens. Our knowledgeable guide, Katherine Mooney of Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley’s staff, shared this and other intriguing facts as we Greeters walked around the neighborhood.
Woodhaven, bordering Brooklyn, was originally populated by German immigrants. Once known as Woodville, it changed its name in 1853 since a town upstate was also called Woodville and the mail kept getting mixed up.
Katherine showed us what used to be Dexter Park, once an impressive baseball field where greats like Casey Stengel, Jackie Robinson and Joe Di Maggio played. We then came upon a plaque dedicated to Fred Christ Trump (Donald’s dad) at the spot where he started a grocery store, one of his first real estate ventures! This commercial part of town had its own rhythm – the beat-beat-beat of the overhead el train was a constant, percussive presence.
From there we walked to the residential area, a small and sleepy village with closer-than-close townhouses and beautiful back yards. At the end of one street was an unlikely establishment: Neir’s Tavern. The oldest bar in the country, it opened its doors in 1829 and survived prohibition. Inside, on the original tin walls was a poster of a famous local girl-turned celebrity, Mae West.
There is unexpected history in the area. The post office has a dramatic WPA mural (Works Progress Administration) painted by Ben Shahn in 1941. The next neighborhood over, Richmond Hill, has the house where author Betty Smith wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Our final stop was Forest Park, one of New York City’s natural treasures, since 1898. The Park has 583 acres of which 165 acres are trees. And oh, what trees they are: massive oak trees at the entrance, each one planted in honor of a fallen World War I soldier. There is an entirely different rhythm here: a sense of poignancy and serenity.
Within the park are amazing recreational facilities: a golf course, tennis courts, playgrounds, hiking trails, biking paths, a band shell, a landmarked carousel, even a bridal path. If George Gershwin were alive today, he’d want us to know that Forest Park “S’Wonderful!”
PHOTOGRAPHER: M.A. CHIULLI