Queens Holiday Events Underway
Woodside on the Move Tree Lighting & Caroling
There's been a surge of holiday activities - which began just shortly before Thanksgiving Day - and which this past weekend went full throttle. And there's more to follow.
The temperatures were unseasonally balmy, with the mercury level near 60 degrees on late Saturday afternoon, as I headed down to Woodside to cover the Woodside on the Move annual Christmas tree lighting. As I approached Sohcke Square I could see a crowd gathered along Woodside Avenue just east of 58th Street where the street had been blocked, and a stage had been erected. I shot a few photos while listening to the speaker and surveying the crowd.
After a while I heard a marching band in the distance, and wondered how they fit into this event, as over the past decade a marching band had not been previously included as a part of the performances. As it turns out, there was a separate group celebration, which had put together a sidewalk parade, that included people dressed like the Biblical Mary and Joseph, who were followed by other marchers dressed up and carrying flowers followed by a sizeable marching band. I'll post a bit of video late today or on Wednesday.
The children of PS 11, PS 151, PS 152 & PS 361 were scheduled to give musical performances, so I recorded a brief video of one of them, which I'll include with the video mentioned above. Anyhow, the kids and the parents all seemed to be enjoying themselves and the tree looked really good, possibly better than ever. The moon was shining high in the sky, as I made my way west to Sunnyside to view the festival on Skillman Avenue.
Holiday Lights Festival on Skillman Avenue
Titan Theater Company Performs Vignette Queens Theatre Show
The 8th annual Skillman Holiday Lighting and 3rd annual Skillman Avenue Holiday Lights Festival began around 5 pm Saturday evening and ran until about 8 pm. A nine block stretch along Skillman Avenue, from 43rd to 51st Streets, had been cordoned off from vehicular traffic. And there was unseasonably balmy weather, with temperatures hovering between 50 and 60 degrees.
As I made my way toward the festival, coming from Woodside [see above story], I looked down the hill noticing that all of the blocks along Skillman Avenue, except between 48th and 49th Streets, were largely empty.
Ironically, it seems that traffic had been rerouted - possibly away - from the very businesses that this event had been designed to promote.
But that said, there was a healthy crowd gathered on Skillman Avenue between 48th and 49th Streets, with possibly as many as a couple of hundred people in attendance. This block is adjacent to the courtyard at Sunnyside Reformed Church, where the main stage was situated.
CCM Jimmy Van Bramer took the stage and told us how he had kept a campaign promise by investing in the Skillman Holiday Lights eight years ago, and this year - which I believe is the third year of the festival - he had allocated $15,000 of taxpayer dollars to support this holiday event. NYS Senator Michael Giannaris greeted the crowd, mentioning that CCM Van Bramer was currently one of those in the running to be the City Council Speaker.
Next up were the performers of the Titan Theater Company. The Titan Theater Company is the resident theater group at the Queens Theatre in the Park. This year, from December 8 - 22, they will be performing Dickens' A Christmas Carol, so they treated us to a bit of the holiday performance fanfare, which I captured on video.
The holiday music was so good that it just might put you in a holiday mood. I hope to post it late tonight or tomorrow. Enjoy.
The Old Kociuszko Bridge Comes Down
First Segment of the New Kociuszko Bridge Opened in April 2017
October 4, 2017 / Sunnyside Neighborhood & LIC Neighborhood / Queens Business / Queens Buzz NYC.
On Sunday, October 1, 2017 at 8 am, large segments of the old Kociuszko Bridge were dropped via explosives onto a sand bed which was laid to dampen the vibrational impact of the fall. Demolition crews had been working for months preparing for this event, by removing a lot of pavement and cement from the segments prior to the explosion. The old bridge was estimated to weigh approximately 232 million tons [verify] of cement and steel. The steel will be recycled.
Earlier this year, the main segment of the bridge that traverses Newtown Creek - and connects Brooklyn and Queens - was lowered onto barges in Newtown Creek on July 26th. In April of this year the first phase of the new bridge was officially opened for business, designed to accommodate the 180,000 daily crossings. The cost to NYS taxpayers was reported to be about $554 million.
Currently construction crews are working, pretty quickly, to remove the remains of the old Kociuszko Bridge to make way for the beginning of the second phase of the project, which entails the development of a second parallel stretch of roadway, of nearly equal width of the first, which will complete the NYS infrastructure project replacing the old Kociuszko Bridge. The second phase is expected to be completed in 2020. The second phase of the project was estimated to cost NYS taxpayers $335 million.
The first Kociuszko Bridge was opened in 1939 as the Meeker Avenue Bridge and renamed a year later by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to the Kociuszko Bridge. This renaming of the bridge after General Kociuszko, the American Revolutionary War hero, had a purpose, which we will see as we delve into the Brooklyn Queens history of the Kociuszko Bridge.
The story also includes a photo slide show of the old and new Kociusko Bridge over the past year.
Flicks & Jazz in Sunnyside Gardens Park
7th Annual Flicks & Jazz in the Garden Continues its Popularity
I headed down to Sunnyside Gardens Park to attend the 7th annual Flicks & Jazz in the Garden. The program started in 2011 as Flicks in the Garden featuring independent films, and morphed the following year into a kids film program - thanks to the curatorial efforts of an avid local animation film collector - Tommy Jose Stathes of Flushing.
Jazz at Sunnyside Gardens Park
It was a warm clear evening and the moon was out. There were kids playing in the open yard and on the basketball courts. Along the southern walkway, filling the picnic tables underneath the tall London plane trees, there families and friends finishing their late afternoon and early evening repasts.
In the main field there was a band playing at home plate. There were dozens of families spread out upon blankets - sitting, dancing and chatting up a storm - filling the baseball diamond and inner fields. I shot a short piece of video, which I'll post at a later date.
In the photo at right you can see friends and families enjoying themselves under the London Plane Trees in Sunnyside Gardens Park.
Flicks in the Garden - Sunnyside Gardens Park Events
Later in the evening the animated films - or as we say in the gardens – flicks – were shown as the night descended upon us. Popeye the Sailor Man, with his goyle, Olive Oil, showed the kids what eating your spinach is all about. Big Sailor Man Muskles and of course winning the goyle, the tall slim Olive Oil. Another lesson embedded in some of Popeye's tales was that one shouldn't forget to look out after their old friends, like Wimpy, who will “gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”.
The cartoon Betty Boop, is about a starlet who’s always been popular with men and women of all ages. She made a special return appearance on a couple of the films at the park – even with the Emmy Awards only a day away. This is only a false rumor, but I heard that she might be an Emmy nominee this year.
I had a chance to speak to Tammy Arnstein and Jennifer Porter, the two organizers of the event [see photo at right]. They told me that about 700 parents attended the event, and they were likely accompanied by half as many or more children [about 1000 total]. The cost of the event was $5 for members and $10 for non-members.
Sunnyside Gardens Park - Events Open To Public
In the photo at right you can see numerous kids and their dads enjoying an opportunity to watch animated films at Sunnyside Gardens Park.
There are currently about 500 [unconfirmed based on last estimate I received years ago] families which are park members and there is a long waiting list of families that want to become members. Members must live within a specified area in close proximity to the park the borders of which are posted on their website. There are park dues which costs hundreds of dollars per year [based on last published figure of years ago], and members must volunteer to help at a couple of events each year, like this one.
Sunnyside Gardens Park is hosting six events open to the public this year. In 2017 the events open to the general public hosted by Sunnyside Gardens Park were: Queens United International in July, Shakespeare in the Park in July and August, a Yard Sale, and Flicks & Jazz in the Garden in September.
And the next and final next event of the year that is open to the public at Sunnyside Gardens Park is Oktoberfest on Saturday, October 7th [rain date the Sunday October 8th].
The Taste Shines in Sunnyside
Taste of Sunnyside Hits Another High Note
I had the opportunity to attend the eighth annual Taste of Sunnyside on Tuesday evening last week. I arrived right on time for the General Admission tickets and was soon let in under the big tent. Music was playing in the background as I started to make my way to the food and beverage tables lining the tent walls.
It was slightly dark inside the tent, but the walls along the side had been opened to allow guest diners to make their way to the picnic tables lining the outer perimeter of the tent. Unlike in prior years, this year groups of people started gathering at the tables in large, casual groups - possibly because the corridors leading to the tables were more apparent - and it seemed like there were more tables made available for guests. In the photo at right you can see Sunnysiders enjoying themselves along the outer perimeter of the Taste of Sunnyside tent, underneath the #7 subway line at Queens Blvd and 46th Street.
The great benefit of this was that it had the effect of opening up the crowd flow in a very favorable manner, and enabled more moving around from serving table to serving table to sample the food and beverages that the Taste of Sunnyside had to offer. It also enabled more mingling in between the samplings.
The extra space was a good thing too, because the local bands that came to perform made people want to move with the music. In the latter part of the evening there was a Latin Jazz band, the afro-latineers, that kicked up one helluva dance storm at the far end of the tent … or so it seemed.
The net, net of it all was good food and drinks and music and people - which translates into one helluva Sunnyside party. Naturally I met some people I knew, and also some people I didn’t know ... until this night. In the photo at right you can see some of the food and beverage tables where people were sipping, munching and mingling.
To be continued later this week, with a photo slide show and a video.
Mayor de Blasio & Van Bramer at Sunnyside LIC Town Hall
The Mayor and Majority Leader Talk about the Issues Facing Residents & NYC
I attended a town hall given by Mayor de Blasio in tandem with NYC Councilmember Van Bramer. I had rsvp'ed for a ticket along with hundreds of other residents, to hear what the Mayor and the CCM had to say. I arrived a bit after the event had started, as CCM Van Bramer was concluding his introductory remarks.
Mayor de Blasio then took the spotlight, talking briefly about his Administration's successes in improving the public school system, increasing affordable housing, a continued low crime rate while nearly terminating stop 'n frisk, and a balanced budget [see Mayor de Blasio State of the City for details]. But the Mayor acknowledged that his Administration has miles to go before they can rest, in spite of making significant progress in these major areas.
Questions & Answers at Mayor de Blasio Town Hall Sunnyside
De Blasio kept his remarks short before opening up the town hall to questions by residents. The questions included queries about affordable housing. The Mayor noted that he lobbied Albany hard to get the 0% rent increases on stabilized apartments the past two years, and that his administration has made progress in creating new affordable housing units, but he acknowledged that many New Yorkers are still struggling to pay the rent. So he said there's more to do in adding affordable housing units and in creating decent paying jobs - including something already done, which is the raising of the minimum wage.
Another question was about the lagging investments the city has made in its transportation infrastructure for many years, noting that the MTA is running at near capacity on the #7 subway line during rush hours. The Mayor said they were trying to address the problem by adding bus service, and adding ferry service, but that the MTA is controlled by New York State, so he has significant influence, but that the Mayor's office is not in control. The city contributed $2.5 billion to the MTA budget last year.
Another question was about how one is supposed to handle the downside of gentrification, meaning the noise, filth and obstructions associated with a neighbor doing construction / renovations. The Mayor said there are laws which govern what people can and cannot do and that the city has an agency which looks into these issues / complaints. The woman said she'd contacted the agency [not sure whether it was the Department of Buildings - a good starting point is to dial 311 if you have such issues], but that she wasn't having much success. One of the people from that agency was there, so he talked a bit about what they can do and he followed up with her.
The town hall was scheduled to go on as long as people had questions, so I stayed only for a while to get the flavor of the event before departing.
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Taste of Woodside & Local Restaurants
The Food Show Goes On In Spite Of The Weather
Naturally the weather, particularly in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, dampened the turnout. But it also left more food and space for those of us who did attend to horse around; like the two charming young women shown in the photos above.
The proceeds of the Taste of Woodside event go to Woodside On The Move, the event sponsors. Woodside On The Move is a non-profit community based organization dedicated to improving the lives of the people living within the Woodside neighborhood - and sometimes beyond – such as in the case of their Hurricane Sandy relief effort.
Over twenty restaurants, cafes and bars had signed up to participate in the event. But eight of the restaurants were unable to make it, due to issues related to the inclement weather. I’m happy to report that I managed to taste the food from nearly all of the participating restaurants [missed two of them].
Click here to read our report and view photos of the Taste of Woodside 2012 which will be posted sometime within the next couple weeks.
New Bridge Over Troubled Water
Kociuszko Bridge Begins Transformation
August 11, 2014 / Sunnyside Neighborhood / Queens Business / Queens Buzz. I attended a town hall meeting at the Sunnyside Community Services Center in July where the Department of Transportation presented its plans for the erection of a new bridge over Newtown Creek, replacing the current Kosciuszko Bridge. The Kosciuszko Bridge is the main thoroughfare connecting Queens and Brooklyn.
We were told that this bridge represents the largest infrastructure investment by New York State ever. It's important to note that this statement was made based on total dollars, not the value of the dollars as measured in real terms [meaning a million dollars a century ago was worth far more than $1 million today].
The effort has already begun as the project has been awarded and the companies working on the effort have begun their preparatory work. Actual physical construction of the bridge will likely begin in Spring of 2015. The project will be done in phases. The first phase will be the erection of half of the new bridge alongside the current bridge. Once that is completed, they will tear down the Kociuszko Bridge and move traffic onto the new half bridge. Finally they will erect the second half of the bridge. The new bridge will include bike lanes and will have a far less steep rise than the old Kosciuszko Bridge. A rendering of the new bridge is shown above.
We'll post more, including a photo slide show later this week.
Giving Thanks In Queens
Sunnyside Reformed Church Hosts Communal Feast
November 24, 2014 / Sunnyside Neighborhood / Queens Culture / Queens Buzz. I attended the fourth annual Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by the Sunnyside Reformed Church. The purpose of the feast is to commemorate the Thanksgiving holiday and to celebrate community.
Reverend Neil Margetson and his wife, Gretchen, hosted the event along with the help of the Elder Vice President Marie Joyce and many others in the community [see slide 8 of the photo slide show]. The culinary crew, creators of the repast, included Chris and Karen Demarecaux who were ably helped by David Feffer [see slide 6 of the photo slide show]. There were a host of other helpers who set up the chairs and tables and attended the serving line. Reverend Margetson remarked that "Folks just chipped in and it all came together".
In the neighborhood of one hundred and fifty people came to celebrate the holiday, enjoy a good meal, and to socialize with others in the community. It was a record turnout for the event. The reverend started the feast with a prayer and the dinner was followed with spirited conversation. In the past the dinner has been followed by story telling and / or musical performance.
The next event is the ecumenical tree lighting on Thursday December 4th at 7 pm starting outside the church with a procession down to Queen of Angels Catholic Church followed by an appearance by Santa with hot chocolate and cookies. It's ecumenical because five neighborhood churches will be participating including All Saints Episcopal, the Grace Fellowship Presbyterian and the Christ Lutheran Church in Woodside. Reverend Margetson said that the Sunnyside Reformed Church is working to build a spiritual community through the hosting of cultural events.
Click here to view a slide show of the Thanksgiving Dinner photos at the Sunnyside Reformed Church. And click here to read a story about the Sunnyside Reformed Church.
'Damn I Look Good'
Art Exhibit At Topaz Arts In Woodside
November 17, 2014 / Woodside Neighborhood / Art In Queens / Queens Buzz. On Wednesday I attended a performance of the Theater of the Oppressed NYC at Topaz Arts in Woodside. The performance is one of a number of artistic and theatrical programs organized in conjunction with a year long effort entitled, Beyond Sacred: Unthinking Muslim Identity, by the LaGuardia College Performing Arts Center.
On exhibit at Topaz Arts was a related art exhibit entitled Beauty, created by Qinza Najm of Manhattan. Qinza's work included a couple of oil on canvas paintings and a video, a photo still of which, you can see in the photo to your right. The intent of the art project was to challenge people's perceptions about Islam and Islamic garb.
The 911 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center killed 2,977 people and irreversibly changed the lives of the countless more who loved them. It also created a negative perception of all Muslims in the public eye, and hence also changed the lives for many millions of Muslims living in America who had nothing at all to do with 911. It's estimated that between five and ten million Muslims live in the U.S. - of which a third are believed to be from Africa, another third from southern and eastern Asia, and the remaining third from the Middle East. Is it estimated that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, representing nearly a quarter of the world population.
Qinza's video has her wearing a black burqa in public places in New York City taking selfies [photos of herself as shown in the photo above]. The burqa has enscribed on it a Twitter hash tag followed by the art project name '#DamnILookGood'. The video includes Qinza's artistic statement that this is America and people of all cultures are free to wear what they want. In her video Qinza approaches people to try to get them to wear Islamic clothing for just a few minutes in public places in order to sensitize them to the current prejudicial feelings against them which is manifested through people's reaction to them while wearing traditional Islamic clothing. The burqa is the most conservative Muslim garb worn by Muslim women and is part of the ancient Islamic tradition of women completely covering their entire bodies when out in public.
We'll have more on this art exhibit and the Theater of the Oppressed at a later time.
Durga Puja Ends
Hindu Celebration Of The Goddess Mother Of Life
October 13, 2014 / Queens Neighborhoods / Queens Ethnic Culture / Queens Buzz. Sunday evening I was walking home along Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside. Near 42nd Street one of the buildings was all lit up and a small group of people were standing outside conversing. I could tell by some of the signage that this was the Hindu celebration of Durga Puja so I asked if I might take a few photos and talk to some of the people. And the folks from the Bangladesh Puja Samiti of New York cordially invited me in.
There were two floors of activity. On the top floor there was a musical performance in process. It was a Bangladeshi group playing traditional Hindu music with a female vocalist singing the beautiful operatic songs similar to those heard in the Hindu movies. The room was filled to capacity, with entire families sitting together enjoying the music. There were hundreds or more in attendance.
I made my way back to the front of the building and Das Gupta, President of the Bangladesh Puja Samiti of New York, invited me to visit the shrine downstairs and to break bread with them. We headed downstairs ... more to come about Durga Puja in Sunnyside - including photo slide show - at a later date.
SS Oktoberfest Draws Large Crowd
Through Rain & Cold Oktoberfest Goes On
October 13, 2014 / Sunnyside Neighborhood / Queens Buzz. On Saturday afternoon I headed into Sunnyside Gardens Park to attend their annual Oktoberfest. As the neighborhood continues to attract younger families the event has grown in size and attendant events and facilities. This year seemed to be a continuation of that trend, as new rides were added alongside some of the old ones.
It was a cold damp overcast day. The temperatures were hovering around 60 accompanied by an intermittent drizzly rain. But the weather didn't seem much to dampen the Oktoberfest attendance nor the spirits of those who attended.
In addition to the rides, which this year included a kiddy ferris wheel, there was a beer bar, a number of arts and crafts vendors and a number of performers who entertained many of the kids and their parents.
A photo slide show will be posted at a later date.
Not Laboring On Labor Day
September 1, 2014 / Sunnyside Neighborhood / Queens Buzz. Labor Day was signed into law by Grover Cleveland in 1887. The day was designed to commemorate the achievements of the American working class.
At the time Labor Day was made a holiday, the union labor movement was growing in strength due to the abuses of laborers by their employers. At the time the nation was emerging as an economic powerhouse and mining, agriculture and manufacturing were the primary sources of jobs. Long hours, child labor and poor working conditions fed the desire of workers to unite to bargain collectively with their employers.
Things have changed quite a bit since then, and agriculture which accounted for half the jobs and mining and manufacturing which accounted for another third of them, now collectively account for about 15 - 20% of the entire economy. America has become a nation of white collar and service workers.
Unions lost a lot of popularity in the latter part of the last century - not just because of the changing nature of employment - but also because union pay was invariably much higher than that of non-union workers, and many of the union jobs were paid for directly or indirectly by the government [eg. government employees, teachers, air traffic controllers, highway & other public construction, law enforcement, military gear manufacturers]. Perhaps more significant was that as international trade tariffs were decreased or abolished; American companies began exporting American jobs to other nations where worker compensation was far lower, and workers' rights and collective bargaining were not well established.
In the photo above a number of folks enjoy time off at a recently refurbished plaza underneath the subway line along Queens Blvd and 46th Street in Sunnyside.
Where For Art Thou?
Hip To Hip Theatre In The Park Keeps Wisdom Of Old Bard Alive In Queens
August 4, 2014 / Sunnyside Neighborhood & LIC Neighborhood / Queens Buzz. I attended one of the four Shakespeare in the Park performances this past weekend in Queens. Two Gentlemen of Verona was performed in Cunningham Park on Thursday and in Gantry State Park on Saturday and Cymbeline was performed in Sunnyside Gardens Park Friday evening and in Socrates Sculpture Park in LIC on Sunday evening.
Hip to Hip Theatre Company of Woodside was the theater company performing the 400 year old works which contain themes of love, friendship, greed, envy and (dis)trust that remain relevant to this day.
The actors wear microphones connected wirelessly to speakers, so that the audience is now able to hear every word they utter. In the early years of outdoor theater this wasn't possible. Thus technology has made watching outdoor theater far more enjoyable, not to mention easier on the actors' and actresses' vocal chords so that this weekend four performances were possible without so much as hearing one hoarse voice.
The free Shakespeare in Queens parks continues through the coming two weeks.
Apollonia Gallery - Art Gallery & Furniture In Sunnyside
July 20, 2014 / Sunnyside Neighborhood / Queens Shopping / Queens Buzz. Sunday was the grand opening of a new art and furniture gallery in Sunnyside. It was well attended by a number of local artists, photographers, musicians and prospective clients.
Queens musicians Smidge Mallone & Matthew Dallow were there to 'jazz' things up. And Murphy's Lobster Grill, only a couple of doors down, provided oysters to go with the wine that was being served.
As it was a near perfect day and the opening was well attended, folks also gathered outside. Photographer Greg Stowell was in attendance, as several of his works were on display. And Ged Merino of Bliss on Bliss Studio of Sunnyside also stopped in to check things out.
Ann Margaret O'Connor will be operating the gallery and store at 48-14 Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside. 917.832.6631.
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