A COMMUNITY DISCOVERS ITS VILLAGE ROOTS

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At the Kew Gardens Winter Get-Together
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by DIANA SHAMAN

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If anyone ever doubted the description by PBS host and historian Barry Lewis of Kew Gardens as an Urban Village in the Big City, those doubts would likely have been dispelled at the Kew Gardens Winter Get-Together that was held February 10th at the Kew Gardens Community Center at 80-02 Kew Gardens Road. The free event had every bit the flavor of a village setting.

Despite a bitter cold and blustery wind, over 80 neighborhood residents, young and old, gathered in the Community Center's sun-swept space on the second floor of the office building to chat and partake of abundant platters of assorted sandwiches, along with cheeses, cakes and fruits -- all purchased locally and prepared by a hardworking Hospitality Committee that also served wine, soft drinks, tea and coffee to the assembled guests.

The hosts were the Kew Gardens Improvement Association, the Kew Gardens Civic Association, and the Kew Gardens Council for Recreation and the Arts, the three local groups that co-sponsored the event.

Bari Goltzman, Director of the Kew Gardens Community Center, a program of the Queens Community House, also welcomed visitors. Her Center offers daily classes in a broad variety of interests -- from Painting to Creative Writing, from Chorus to Italian and Spanish -- all free-of-charge except for an optional contribution of $1. It is one of the community's best-kept secrets, Ms. Goltzman said, and an asset she hopes will attract many more people because of the interest generated at the Winter Get-Together.

The highlight of the Sunday afternoon was "The History of Kew Gardens," a video presentation by Joe DeMay, a local resident, of the community's evolution from lakes, forested hills, and a golf course, to an urban oasis that owes much of its continuing ambience to the thoughtful planning by Alrick Hubbell Man. Man, its original developer, envisioned a community of tree-lined streets and spacious homes, with a village center and an intermingling of low-rise apartment buildings. Mr. DeMay, a lawyer by profession and a historian by avocation, is the webmaster of www.oldkewgardens.com, the popular and comprehensive compilation of historic and often little-known facts, portraits and memoirs of the community.

The 36-minute-long film, shown twice, was compiled from archival material collected by Mr. DeMay, as well as from archives made available by Dave Keller, Art Huneke, and Nancy Cataldi. The abundant selection of photographs, many of them rare, depicted the original landscape and early architecture and, by comparison, photographs of the community as it looks today, showing many of the old dwellings still miraculously well preserved. Mr. DeMay's fact-filled yet vibrant narrative brought photographs and history to life.

Efforts have been underway to preserve the Kew Gardens neighborhood by having appropriate areas designated as a Historic District. In his welcoming remarks, Dominick Pistone, President of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, invited guests who support such efforts to write to the Chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, urging him to consider the landmark designation that would ensure that architecture would be preserved, and tear-downs curbed.

Visitors were also encouraged to send letters to Senator Chuck Schumer, formerly Kew Gardens' Congressman, requesting that he assist the community in its efforts to retain the endangered Kew Gardens Post Office on Austin Street, whose lease expires in 2011.

At the end of the afternoon, guests expressed their delight at the afternoon's event. "Community functions are an ideal way to bring people together," said Aaron Adler of Austin Street, a Kew Gardens resident for 50 years.

"This was a good beginning and we/ll continue to have events that enhance the community because we want the neighborhood to know what Kew Gardens has to offer," said Carol Lacks, a Hampton Court resident and member of the Events Committee of the Kew Gardens Improvement Association.

"It was a lovely event, the food was delicious, and it was lovely being with neighbors," said Judy Novog, who, with her husband Harold, has lived on 81st Avenue for 48 years.

Earlier Articles:
  •   Spirits Alive! (2007) at Maple Grove Cemetery
  •   Day of Remembrance at Maple Grove Honors the Dead with a Celebration of Life
  •   Summer in the City
  •   Concerns Over P.S.99, Post Office, And Impact Of Potential Landmarking Draw Large Crowd To Town Hall Meeting
  •   Kew Gardens Community Day (2007)
  •   A Parking Lot Becomes a Flea Market
  •   A Touch of Soho on Austin Street
  •   Kew Gardens Merchants - The Bliss Café
  •   Kew Gardens Lights Up for the Holidays
  •   Queens Borough Hall Garage in Kew Gardens
  •   The House on 116th Street
  •   New Development in Kew Gardens
  •   Autumn Scenes in Kew Gardens
  •   Lantern Festival at Maple Grove Cemetery (2006)
  •   They Lift Up their Voices Every Friday