JHBG Celebrates 25 Years Of Service
Jackson Heights Beautification Group Celebrates 25
September 30, 2013 / Jackson Heights Neighborhood / Queens Issues / Queens Buzz News. I had the pleasure of spending some time at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group’s existence. During the course of the evening I had the opportunity to talk to a number of members, many of whom had been with the organization for decades. And during the course of these conversations I came away having learned something about their collective accomplishments, and in some senses, the early to modern history of Jackson Heights.
Some of the JHBG's Accomplishments
The Jackson Heights Beautification Group [also known as JHBG] started when a group of residents decided to 'take back the neighborhood' from vandals doing property damage [grafitti], real estate developers knocking down high quality historic buildings, people breaking sanitation laws [doggie doo], and developers trying to obtain zoning variances that would downgrade the neighborhood. But the community organization was not just about participating in the governance process and ensuring that the city laws and ordinances were enforced; they also sought to enhance the quality of neighborhood life.
Hence the Jackson Heights Beautification Group sought funding for summer concerts, helped bring a farmers market to Jackson Heights, worked collaboratively to create more public parkland [78th Playstreet & the Garden School Athletic Field], and most recently helped start an orchestra. They will be the first to tell you that they didn't do these things by themselves, but however modest, they did play an important role.
In the photo above City Councilmember Daniel Dromm gives an award to Jackson Heights Beautification Group President Edwin O'Keefe Westley honoring the neighborhood group's service to the community.
And so you may click here to learn a bit about the formation and history of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, as well as a bit about the 20th century life in Jackson Heights as told by those who lived it.
JHBG Celebrates 25 Years Of Service
Jackson Heights Beautification Group Celebrates 25th
September 30, 2013 / Jackson Heights Neighborhood / Queens Issues / Queens Buzz News. Edwin Westley and most folks I spoke with, told me that the Jackson Heights Beautification Group started in 1988 in response to unwelcome development efforts in the neighborhood.
The formation of the group was due in part to the need to oppose developments that would destroy the historic character of the neighborhood.
The group’s founder and first president was Mike Crowley, now deceased, who one member described as being a great leader.
Real Estate Development In Jackson Heights Circa 1990
In the late 1980’s, Jackson Heights property-owners watched as a real estate developer demolished six historic Queensboro Corporation houses along 86th Street between 35th and 37th Avenues; and replaced them with inexpensive multi-family units that many described as tenement-like structures. From that time forward, the group became active participants in the political process to ensure that future developments - like the one just described above - would not go unopposed. The group believed that over time changes like this would completely destroy the aesthetics, history and character of the neighborhood.
Throughout the early 1990’s the group laid watch on efforts by developers who wanted to build structures not in line with the zoning ordinances. Some of the variance efforts included erecting buildings along commercial streets, with plans that called for the new structures to come up to the end of the lot, in places where all the other buildings were set at least 3 feet back to accommodate pedestrian traffic. Other plans sought variances to build structures higher than existing zoning would allow. Many folks recalled that fires broke out during this time, burning some of the existing structures, and thus paving the way for new development and more profitable real estate investments.
In the photo above is an empty lot where one and two story structures once stood that were consumed in a fire. The new development is expected to retain some of the look and feel of the surrounding neighborhood.
Large Swath Of Jackson Heights Becomes Historic District 1993
You can see the designated area in the map to your left by following the boundaries. The outer perimeter streets are noted with Northern Blvd on the north, 88th Street on the east, Roosevelt Avenue on the south and 76th Street on the west.
The members and organization of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group were among many of the core supporters of the effort to obtain historic district status for the Jackson Heights neighborhood.
One of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group members, Daniel Karatzas, wrote a history book about the neighborhood and every June he gives a weekend of lectures and a tour around the neighborhood. The Jackson Heights Beautification Group also has collected numerous items from the early period of the neighborhood which are on display during the Jackson Heights Historic Weekend - and generally that is the only time you can view them [see photo to your right].
Another JHBG member, Judge Rudolph Greco, wrote a Children's History of Jackson Heights, of which we'll discuss more about later in this report.
Betty Morris - Winner Of The Baby Parade Award Circa Late 1920's
I met Betty Morris, whose photo first appeared in the New York Times in the 1920’s when her mother won the Baby Parade Award. She’s featured in the photo on the right - as well on the far left as in the photo she's holding, standing next to her sister and ‘the twins’ [a brother and sister]. Betty talked fondly of Edward A. MacDougall who was the primary master architect [in general sense not literally] and developer of the Jackson Heights community.
Betty's father was a surgeon in the Bronx who decided to move to Jackson Heights around 1924. He wanted a sense of country that one could get in Jackson Heights at the time [see photo below]. And he liked the architecture and the quality of the buildings that the Queens Boro Corporation were building at the time. She made mention that the quality of building began slipping in the 1930’s after MacDougall quit supervising the development.
In the photo above right, Betty Morris shows a photo of her mother, siblings and self in a photo that appeared in the NYT in the late 1920's when they won the Baby Parade Award [larger photo shown in slide show below].
Doris Wurgler Recalls Sandlot Baseball In The 1940's
Doris Wurgler is also a longtime resident as well as member of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group. She also moved from the Bronx to Jackson Heights, although sometime around 1940. She told me that oneof the most striking features of the neighborhood were all the ‘unimproved lots’ – which were the open lots in the neighborhood. The kids used them as playing areas and one of the larger ones became a sandlot baseball field where league games were played. If I recall correctly she said that the baseball field was where Roosevelt Terrace now stands between 85th and 86th Streets.
In the photo to your left, which was on display at the Jackson Heights Historic House Weekend, shows one of the league teams from the Jackson Heights area.
Jackson Heights Community Federation From 1920's - 1980's
The Jackson Heights Community Federation was a community group that had been organized in the 1920’s. It was, in some senses, the predecessor to the Jackson Heights Beautification Group. It expired in the 1980’s, not long before the formation of the JHBG in 1988. When I asked her why the Jackson Heights Community Federation closed, Doris told me, “because my husband didn’t want me to run it”. Doris and a number of other members of the Jackson Heights Community Federation joined the Jackson Heights Beautification Group not long after it started.
NYC & Jackson Heights Weather Duress Of 1970's & 1980's
New York City, Queens and Jackson Heights were very different places back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. At the time New York City nearly defaulted on its debt in October of 1975, when President Gerald Ford refused to bail the city out. The Teachers Union Pension Fund bailed out the city just in the nick of time by investing $150 million in NYC Municipal Bonds.
Likely related to the economic duress, property crime peaked in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and violent crime spiked in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Queens and Jackson Heights were not immune to these trends, and the crime that once ravaged the city, was also an issue in Jackson Heights.
JHBG & Community Youth Programs In Jackson Heights
One of the problems was that kids were left unattended without access to after-school programs and facilities. Left unattended and to their own devices, they would inevitably get into trouble. The Jackson Heights Beautification Group began to help government officials address this problem by instituting programs such as the Children’s Halloween Parade.
The Halloween Parade turned out to be a big success, so they added one for Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony, which is open to people of all religions. One of the members, Judge Rudolph Greco, wrote a Childrens history of Jackson Heights which is distributed to 1,500 students, as well as several grades of teachers and the library staff in the public schools. Hist book was first published in 1996 and is now in its 4th printing. You can purchase both history books by contacting someone through the Jackson Heights Beautification Group's website.
In the photo above right you can see the 2012 Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony which was held in front of the Jackson Heights Post Office [how about moving it to Travers Park in 2013?].
'Dooing' What's Right In Jackson Heights
One member told me that the JHBG was formed in response to a plethora of urine and doggie doo being dropped on the public sidewalks. In the late 1970's and into the early 1990's doggie doo on streets was a citywide problem. According to the NYT, it was around this time that the NYC Bureau of Animal Affairs and the Coalition for Dog Control began to work with neighborhood organizations [like the JHBG] to bring "sane and constructive education programs" to the public.
The poop scooping law had been passed in New York State a full decade earlier [in 1978] after a long battle with dog owners who labeled the initiative as anti-dog. Over the next ten years irate pedestrians began calling on the police department to enforce the law. Today most dog owners are respectful of the general public’s right to bile-free sidewalks, although one occasionally hears tales of irate pedestrians sending cell phone photos with times and locations to the police department.
All said, times have changed, and the Jackson Heights Beautification Group was also supportive of the creation of a dog park in Jackson Heights along the BQE at 69th Street. It's call JH Crew. The photo above right is the Jackson Heights Farmers Market at Travers Park which now runs year 'round.
JHBG & Quality Of Life In Jackson Heights Today
Since the 1990’s the neighborhood has, along with the rest of the city, seen a dramatic reduction in its crime rate, improved sanitation, improving performances in schools and a general uptick in the general quality of life. And here again the Jackson Heights Beautification Group has played a role in the evolution of the neighborhood.
The Jackson Heights Beautification Group played a huge role in opening up the Travers Park Farmers Market and a compost center. They also played a similar role in opening up 78th Playstreet to provide neighborhood kids with more recreational space sometime around the latter part of the last decade [guessing 2009 – 2010]. And they joined the Jackson Heights Green Alliance in pushing for the purchase of the Garden School Athletic Field, which is adjacent to 78th Playstreet and Travers Park.
The Garden School Athletic Field is shown in the photo above left. It's located just east of 78th Playstreet which is adjacent to Travers Park in Jackson Heights.
The Jackson Heights Beautification Group also helped start a summer concert series of at around the same time as the opening of 78th Playstreet. And recently the group helped form the Jackson Heights Orchestra.
While covering these events I met and got to know both Edwin Westley and Len Maniace, longtime members of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group who worked to initiate these programs. Please note that this is not meant to be a complete list of the JHBG accomplishments – there’s not enough space here to do that : )
A gig from the Summer Concert series is shown above right.
The JHBG - A Recognized Neighborhood Asset
The Jackson Heights Beautification Group Members
Several government officials were on hand to award the group with community service plaques. City Councilmember Danny Dromm, who I believe is also a longtime member, went first in awarding the group a plaque. State Senator Peralta followed, then a designee for NYS Assembly Member Dendekker and Ms. Baruch who represented City Comptroller John Liu.
I want to thank the current President of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group, Edwin O’Keefe Westley for introducing me to a number of members of the group. Many provided me with some of the anecdotal stories contained herein, or gave me information that I could put together with prior news coverage and / or additional research to bring you the report above. Also special thanks to historian and realtor Daniel Karatzas, Supreme Court Justice Rudolph Greco, Jackson Heights Beautification member Doris Wurgler, journalist Len Maniace and the eternally young Betty Morris.
Photos - Jackson Heights Beautification Group 25th
The following are Jackson Heights Beautification Group photos, including those taken at the 25th anniversary celebration.
Click here for a photo album containing photos of the 25th Anniversary of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group as show below.
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