Queens History Shared

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The past and present converged last week as Peter Vallone Sr.-father of the city council member and chair of the public safety committee, Peter Vallone Jr.- spoke before the Greater Astoria Historical Society about his life of public service. It may be tough in politics, but Mr.Vallone Sr. has had practice. He was elected in 1974 to represent Astoria in the city council and went on to serve as speaker and majority leader of the council between 1986 and 1991.

The Vallone family has long been intertwined with Astoria’s history: The late Judge Charles Vallone (father of Vallone the elder) was a civil court judge and community leader.

In addition to talking about his life in politics, Mr. Vallone addressed various issues such as term limits in the city council. He argued against their use in city council saying they had “upset the balance of power.”

On the walls of the historical society’s hall was a new exhibit called “Laughter, Lager, and Leisure: Long Island City at Play.” Mr. Vallone drew laughs when he recounted an entertaining anecdote about one of the several times he met Mother Teresa. As he relates in his book “Learning To Govern: My Life in New York Politics, From Hell Gate to City Hall” (Chaucer Press), Mr.Vallone recounted:

On one occasion she held my hand and said, ‘Mr. Speaker, I need help in Vietnam’ – when her assistant politely cut her off. ‘Mother, he is the Speaker of the City of New York, not Mr. Gingrich of the United States Congress.’

‘Oh yes…’ Mother Teresa replied. ‘Mr. Speaker, I need three parking spaces in front of this convent.’ ‘Well, Mother,’ I said, ‘that I could help you with.’

A few slides were shown before Mr. Vallone spoke. One showed Mr.Vallone and his wife, Tena Marie, as teenagers. They had met upstate at Mountain Lodge Park where she was vacationing and he was a lifeguard, and married in 1958.

The audience included author Jeffrey Kroessler, a librarian at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Mr. Kroessler is at work on a sports history of New York City, from bull baiting in the 1700s to the present.

Introducing the program was president Robert Singleton. Active board members present included Rita Normandeau, Richard Melnick, and Debbie Van Cura, who has researched the beer gardens in Astoria.

On one wall of the society was a photo of a former local resident, George Casey of the Veteran Firemen’s Association of Long Island City. His grandson was William Casey, the late director of central intelligence.

The Knickerbocker learned about the role the Greater Astoria Historical Society played in saving the cornerstone of Congregation Mishkan Israel, the third oldest temple in Queens.It had been sitting near the sidewalk until a Greek American, George Stamatiades, and others helped to get a hearse from Quinn’s funeral home, whose historical background is Irish Catholic, to save the synagogue stone. After all, that’s what community spirit is all about.

For those who would like to hear more Astoria history, it will be part of a talk on Thursday, June 29 at 5:30 pm at the Science, Industry, and Business Library in Manhattan, where three members of the Greater Astoria Historical Society – Thomas Jackson, Richard Melnick, and Erik Baard – will speak on their book on “The East River.” It recounts the history of the East River from the nativeAmericans to today and includes an account of deaths aboard the General Slocum.

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HIT THE ‘HEIGHTS’ What do actors John Leguizamo and Susan Sarandon and comedian Don Rickles have in common? They were born or lived in Jackson Heights in northwest Queens. The area was farmland that a banking and real estate syndicate bought in 1908 and developed.

Local historian Daniel Karatzas, who works at Beaudoin Realtor, gave a slide lecture on the history of Jackson Heights this weekend as part of program sponsored by the Jackson Heights Beautification Group. He drew comparisons between Queens and the other boroughs. He said what Jackson Heights and San Francisco had in common were street names for Presidents Polk, Fillmore, and Hayes. Those were former names of 37th, 35th, and 34th Avenues, respectively, in Jackson Heights.


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