Woodhaven block almost returns to 'Hell'
by Ed Wendell
Oct 10, 2012 | 4341 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Five weeks ago, here on the pages of the Leader/Observer, we brought you the story of a house on 90th Street the media would soon dub the “Hell House.” It was an appropriate name as, 18 months earlier, that abandoned house had been the scene of an illegal party where a young man was attacked and beaten to death.

In the wake of 18-year-old Anthony Collao’s death, a moving candlelight vigil was held and elected officials and activists vowed to do everything within their power to ensure that nothing like that would ever happen again. Sadly though, once the candles went out the memories of how that night began extinguished as well.

Within hours of publication, the story was picked up by the New York Daily News and WPIX-11. And by the very next morning there was a crew on site, starting the work that should have been done a year and a half earlier – funny how that worked out.

It took a few days to seal all of the windows and secure the property, but in just under a week the workmen put the last cinderblock in place, sealing the back door and bringing this sorry story to a close.

Or so we hoped. Less than an hour after the workers left, a group of squatters returned, upset that they were locked out of their illegally occupied “home.” A few loud expletives were followed by the tremendous crash of a cinderblock wall falling down. You see, a cinderblock wall isn’t as strong as it looks when the cement is still wet.

And so we were almost back at square one. With the house still not secure, the squatters were seen entering and leaving through the back door on a regular basis. One resident reported seeing movement on the third floor at night, punctuated by candlelight. When you put all of this together, and with colder temperatures rapidly approaching, all of the ingredients for a tragic recipe were in place.

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association kept in regular contact with residents of 90th Street. Late last week – three weeks to the day that the cinderblock wall was knocked down – we spoke with Councilman Eric Ulrich’s office and a representative for Mayor Bloomberg, expressing frustration that this problem had lingered so long.

They promised that it would be taken care of immediately and, true to their word, within 24 hours a team of workers were back and, this time, the back door was sealed shut when they left.

The residents of 90th Street have lived with this dangerous eyesore for too long. People in the immediate area have walked blocks out of their way to avoid it. Children were not allowed to play in front of their houses.

The volunteer members of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association were not going to be satisfied until the residents of 90th Street were satisfied. In that regard, we are very much like a union. We hope that our efforts have brought some much deserved relief to these neighbors of ours. We hope they feel like 90th Street is theirs again.

But we have no room for relaxation. There are other abandoned houses in Woodhaven, including another one just down the block from the “Hell House.” We need to stay vigilant and in touch with one another – you need to let us know what’s happening on your block. And we need more neighborhood involvement in the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association.

If you are not currently a supporting member, you need to ask yourself why? Membership dues are $15 per year – that works out to just four cents a day. There is no better investment you can make and no excuse for not making it.

Email the WRBA at info@woodhaven-nyc.org for more information. Or give us a call at (718) 296-3735. Our next public Town Hall meeting is on Saturday, October 20, at 1 p.m. at the Woodhaven Volunteer Ambulance Corps, 78-15 Jamaica Avenue.

At this meeting we intend to lay out a plan for how we will work together to effect positive change in our community. If you are looking to be part of something special, if you feel you have talent and energy, opportunity is knocking. We hope to see you there.

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