Three Years Later, Memories of Neir’s Salvation

The jubilant scene outside Neir’s after it had been announced that the historic tavern had received a reprieve.

By Ed Wendell
What if you went to a funeral but the corpse didn’t show up? That’s what it was like at Neir’s Tavern, three years ago last week, when it rose triumphantly from its deathbed to become the toast of the town.
In the hours and days after the news broke that Neir’s was closing after 190 years of service, people began suggesting ways that this historic location could be saved.
Ideas came forth ranging from calling Martin Scorsese, who directed “Goodfellas” or Robert De Niro, who starred in it, to pulling together a large pool of investors to donate $1,000 each to make a down payment on the building.
But the problem that could not be solved in 10 years now needed to be solved in just a few days, before Sunday.
And the way the eulogies were pouring in, it seemed like Sunday was going to come and go without a resolution. People were leaving heartfelt messages of grief. The closest nearby bar, Geordie’s, posted a beautiful message of support for Neir’s owner Loy Gordon.
But as it turned out, there was a solution in the works, and the ball had gotten rolling on that nearly a year earlier when Assemblyman Mike Miller began a dialogue with Tom Grech, Executive Director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce (QCC).
With just days to go, Mike and Tom were able to pull together a meeting with the building’s owner and as Mr. Grech joked later, he locked the door to the meeting room and said no one was allowed to leave until they struck a deal.
The Mayor’s Office got involved after Loy called into a radio show and asked Mayor de Blasio for help. And Councilman Bob Holden was at the table, offering aid and support to this beloved historic location within his district.
And once everyone got together, a deal was reached and the next few hours were bedlam.
I was in the doctor’s office for a routine checkup. Even in the waiting room, the nurses were talking about the impending closure of Neir’s, I couldn’t get away from it. And while I was waiting in the doctor’s office, my phone rang.
It was Assemblyman Miller. The connection was bad and every time he started to tell me the good news, the connection would cut out. Finally, when we had a 10-second window of clear connection Mike gave me the good news, but told me to keep quiet, that it would be announced later.
We stopped by Neir’s which was solidly packed with revelers from around the city who had seen the news and came out to say farewell. For many, it was their first trip to this historic treasure.
Other people came from long distances to say farewell, including one gentleman who drove from Pennsylvania just to have a beer. And locals were wandering over all afternoon, many as they often do, to kick off the weekend at their favorite gathering spot.
We were surrounded by people who had come to see a funeral, and yet this good news was bursting to be let free.
It was the reporters who broke the news by asking those they were interviewing how they felt about it being saved. Quickly, word began to spread, tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. Hugs of comfort turned into hugs of relief and celebration.
Mayor de Blasio came out to Woodhaven and stood behind the bar and made it official. It was a remarkable night for this community.
There is a very old saying that success has a thousand parents but failure is an orphan. When it came to saving Neir’s, this old saying was very apt.
Every person who came to Neir’s, for lunch or for an evening out; each person who shared news stories about the place, who told friends or relatives about it, were all part of a 10-year campaign to get the city to stand up and recognize this historic location. And though it had been saved, it would soon face the same dangerous fight that doomed many bars and restaurants in New York City: Covid-19.
And yet it survived.
It survived thanks to every person who ordered out. It survived thanks to every person who sat outside in frigid temps to eat dinner.
Like a cat with many lives, Neir’s lives on, now just 6 years from what will be a remarkable 200th birthday party. Look forward to seeing you all there!

The scene from inside Neir’s while Mayor de Blasio came to announce the good news. We were way at the back and couldn’t see or hear anything, but word of the good news had already spread.

Believe in Christmas Magic

By Ed Wendell

[email protected]

 

Back in 2015, the following message was sent to me via the Leader-Observer’s ‘Contact Us’ page. My mom had just passed away and it was my first Christmas without her.

“All my friends are telling me that Santa is not real and I don’t know what to believe. I saw the Virginia letter and it makes me think he is, but everyone says that it’s just my mom. Their moms even said straight to their faces that it is them! Please tell me! I want this to tell me if I should believe in Christmas magic or not. Is he real? From: Hannah, age 10.”

Dear Hannah,

Yes. Absolutely, positively, and unconditionally, you should believe in Christmas magic and don’t let your friends, or anyone else, tell you otherwise.

Santa’s smiling face has brought joy and happiness to hundreds of millions of children and adults alike for centuries. People love him so much that he’s been the subject of poems, songs, movies, cartoons, all translated in every language there is on Planet Earth.

Think about this, Hannah; you could walk up to a young girl like yourself in any remote corner of our planet, a total stranger that you have nothing in common with. You grew up in different countries, in different climates, speaking different languages, but if you handed this little girl a picture of Santa Claus she’d know who he is and what he represents. And she’d smile.

If that isn’t magic, Hannah, then magic doesn’t exist. Except that you and I both know that it does, and it is real.

If you walk down Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven on Christmas Eve, you’ll find that Christmas magic casts a powerful spell over people. Suddenly, people who are usually impatient and short with each other are patient and expansive. Quiet strangers with blank faces are, for a brief period of time, warm and friendly

There’s no other word for what Christmas does to people than magic, Hannah.  And yes, it is real.

But there’s one thing that your friends got right. Sort of. You see, moms are a lot like Santa. They watch over us, not just one day, but all year round. Moms know exactly what you need and they know the right thing to say when you’re feeling blue.

Moms can make a tummy ache disappear just by rubbing you gently with their hand. Moms can chase the bogeyman away if you’re having a bad dream. And moms can always tell you that everything’s going to be okay, and make you believe it.

Moms can turn the most ordinary thing into something extraordinarily special. When I was your age, I loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, made by my mom. There’s nothing complicated about making a PB&J, and as I grew older I could always make them myself.

But a PB&J made by mom always tasted special. And it was that way for years and years. And so, this wee boy found himself as a 50-year old man, still enjoying a mom-made PB&J every now and then, and enjoying it more than I would a gourmet dinner in a fancy restaurant.

That’s because moms have a special ingredient that they sprinkle over everything they do. Simply put, that special ingredient is love. And the wonderful thing about a mom’s love is that it isn’t confined to just one day or one season.

A mom’s love is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for your entire life. And it’s a Christmas gift that keeps on giving, Hannah, for as you grow up and have little kids of your own, you’ll love them the same way your mom loves you.

And so, as we get ready for another Christmas, you take care to notice how extra-nice everyone is treating each other. Take care to notice how friendly people are, how caring, and how generous they are to people who are less fortunate.

It’s the most wonderful time of year; a magical time that brings out the very best in people. And at the center of it all is Santa Claus and your mom. It’s really no surprise that your friends get the two of them confused for Christmas is a time of year where we all try to be a little bit more caring, just like our moms.

Merry Christmas, Hannah, and Merry Christmas to all.

Walker Funeral Home Recognized by New York State

By Ed Wendell

The original location of Walker Funeral Home, which moved to Woodhaven in 1912. In those days you could rent cars from Walker’s, kept in their garage on nearby Forest Parkway. Today, this is the Law Offices of James Rooney.

Many years ago, if you were looking through the pages of this paper you would see numerous ads for funeral homes in Woodhaven.

There was Brome Funeral Home (later Kaiser & Koos) on Woodhaven Boulevard; J.P. Eldridge on 78th Street; Kennedy Funeral Home on 86th Road; C.H. Thompson (later Walsh & LaBella) on 87th Street; Shalins Funeral Home on Jamaica Avenue near Forest Parkway; and N.F. Walker on Jamaica Avenue.

Today, Walker stands alone as the only remaining funeral home in Woodhaven. One by one, all of the rest of the funeral homes went out of business and shut their doors.

In recognition for their longevity, Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. recently notified Walker Funeral Home that they have been added to the New York State Historic Business Preservation Registry. He presented Funeral Directors Paul and Annmarie Rudolph with this award at a recent WRBA meeting.

Walker Funeral Home’s story begins in Brooklyn in 1898 when Nathaniel Francis Walker opened on De Kalb Avenue. His business was so successful that he opened up a second location on Jamaica Avenue with his son N. F. Walker, Jr.

In Walker’s early days in Woodhaven it also doubled as an Auto Service where you could hire cars by the day from their garage near Forest Parkway. This was pretty common for funeral homes in those days as they would rent their vehicles out when not being used for funeral processions.

Walker was located at a location that all of you will recognize. With its distinctive marble front, the Law Office of James Rooney at 86-07 Jamaica Avenue stands out from every business around them and was Walker’s home in Woodhaven starting in 1912.

In the window of Rooney’s Law Office is probably one of the most well-known clocks in Woodhaven, one that hundreds of people pass by and glance at every morning on their way to work.

Walker Funeral Home was successful from the start and the director, N.F. Walker Jr., became a very active and beloved figure in Woodhaven for over half a century. For example, he was a founding member of the Woodhaven Patriotic League during World War 2.

He managed a Rest Center for the American Red Cross during WW2, a place where people could go in the event they were bombed out of their homes. Accommodations for over 150 people were set up under Walker’s direction at the Forest Park Reformed Church 86th Street and 86th Avenue.

N.F. Walker Jr. served on the Board of Directors of Columbia Savings Bank in Woodhaven and his face was featured in the pages on the Leader-Observer many times over the years.

Eventually, they needed larger quarters and in 1942, N.F. Walker Jr. built a brand new modern facility at 87-34 80th Street where they are still in business today – the last funeral home standing in Woodhaven.

Paul and Annmarie Rudolph holding a certificate given to them by Senator Joe Addabbo, noting that Walker’s Funeral Home has been added to the New York State Historic Business Preservation Registry.

If you’ve been doing the math, it means that Walker’s (which opened in 1898) will celebrate its 125th year in 2023. It has been doing business in Woodhaven for 110 years. And it has been doing business at its new location on 80th Street for 80 years. And the Rudolph Family took over the funeral home nearly 40 years ago, in 1983.

That’s quite a history and well deserving of the recognition bestowed upon it by Sen. Addabbo and New York State. Congratulations to the Rudolph family, Paul Sr. and Jessie, Paul Jr. and Annmarie.

NF Walker Funeral Home’s services are affordable and you can also arrange direct cremations. They are also adept at handling funeral services from many different cultures and religions – Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. You can call Walker Funeral Home at (718) 296-4343 or email them with questions at [email protected]

On a final note, on Friday, December 16th, the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society is sponsoring “A Woodhaven Christmas Carol,” an evening candlelight walking tour of Old Woodhaven Village complete with Christmas Caroling at specially selected spots.

We start gathering at Neir’s Tavern (87-48 78th Street) between 5 and 6 p.m. with a departure scheduled for 6:30. We will make our way to Pop’s Cocina at 86th Street and Jamaica Avenue and end up at Geordie’s Joint at 80th Street and Jamaica.

But along the way we will be stopping at Walker’s Funeral Home for a moment of silence dedicated to all of the thousands of residents of Woodhaven whose families have bid farewell to them there. They are the true Ghosts of Woodhaven’s Christmas Past.

Remembering the Jamaica Avenue Trolley, 75 Years Gone From Woodhaven

By Ed Wendell

The Jamaica Avenue Trolley Line, now 75 years gone from Woodhaven. Trolley service (horse drawn) started in 1865 and the line was electrified in 1887.

It was 75 years ago this month that Woodhaven bid farewell to an old friend. Trolley cars, which had served Woodhaven along Jamaica Avenue for over 8 decades, trundled to a halt, replaced by a brand-new fleet of modern buses.

These days, there is a lot of nostalgia for the old trolley cars. However, the switch to bus lines was quite popular among residents of our community. “Woodhavenites Hail Bus Line as Jamaica Avenue Trams Go” read a headline in the Leader-Observer which praised the much faster service the buses offered.

“With the buses stopping at every other block instead of every other block as was the custom of trolley cars, a speed-up in transportation is already in evidence,” the article from December 1947 stated.

The Leader-Observer profiled trolley motorman John Horgan, who they described as being well-known in Woodhaven. He should have been well known as he was the oldest motorman on the Jamaica Avenue trolley line.

Over the 40 years that Horgan rode the rails on Jamaica Avenue, it was estimated that he traveled over 900,000 miles, or nearly 4 trips around the world!

Trolley service in Woodhaven started in October 1865 as horse-drawn coaches rode on tracks along Jamaica Avenue. The ride between East New York and 78th Street in the Union Course section of Woodhaven cost 10 cents, which was considered very high. 

The horses and cars were kept in an old barn that used to be a part of the Union Course racetrack on the southeast corner of 78th Street and Jamaica, where Domino’s Pizza sits today. When the trolley car reached that corner, the driver would get off and walk the horse around to the other side of the car for the return trip to Brooklyn.

Once a passenger reached Woodhaven, they could catch an old fashioned stage coach to Richmond Hill or Jamaica for an additional 10 cents. Within a few years, the horse drawn trolleys were so successful that single-fare service was extended all the way to Jamaica.

In 1887 the trolley line along Jamaica Avenue was electrified with large generators now housed in the old barns of the racetrack. This was so successful that within a few years, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit took over and modernized the entire line.

With brand new trolley cars and reliable power, the standard for local travel would be in place for the next 60 years. The elevated trains would be built above the trolley lines in 1916 and the two modes of transportation co-existed for several decades.

In 1947, the Leader-Observer described the last trolley ride through Woodhaven:

“On Woodhaven Boulevard, a street cleaner leaned wearily on the handle of his broom as he watched a passing phenomenon. A train overhead rumbled a farewell, for they had been friends for a long time, with no misgivings.”

They described the “lumbering” trolley’s last run, and how it was easily passed by a fast bus trailing a cloud of evaporating diesel fumes. And they wondered just how long the elevated train would remain before being replaced by a modern underground subway. 

75 years later, trolley cars have become a romanticized piece of nostalgia for those who never rode them, and a fond memory for those who were lucky enough to experience them.

The story of the old trolley line will be a part of “A Woodhaven Christmas Carol,” a candlelight historical walking tour of Woodhaven complete with Christmas caroling this Friday, December 16th. 

We will be meeting up at Neir’s Tavern between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. before heading to Jamaica Avenue, stopping to sing holiday songs along the way. Email us at [email protected] for more information.

We will be making stops at Sal’s Pizza (for a song in honor of the late Dominic Brienza), Pop’s Cocina, the Tree at Forest Parkway before ending up at Geordie’s Joint at 80th and Jamaica. 

Come out and enjoy a night of song and local history, everyone is welcome. The trolleys of Jamaica Avenue will be just one of the Ghosts of Christmas Past we’ll be conjuring up!

 

Combining Talent to Help Women in Woodhaven

By Ed Wendell

[email protected]

Participants in the Fall Artist Showcase, sponsored by the Woodhaven Art Circle and held at Emanuel United Church of Christ in September. A portion of the proceeds were donated to the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center for Women here in Woodhaven.

Inside the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center for Women there is a large collage entitled “The Wall of Fame.” It contains the photos of dozens and dozens of women who achieved their goal of going back to school, either to learn English or to get their high school diploma.

Sister Cathy Feeney, Executive Director of SSNDEC, stood in front of the Wall of Fame and pointed out some of her former students.

“This one here is now a social worker,” she said. “And this one here ended up serving on our board of directors.”

The Wall of Fame is full of many remarkable success stories she has seen in the years since the center was founded in 2004. And they are but a small fraction of the number of students whose lives were improved by the opportunities that the tuition-free center on 87th Street and 88th Avenue offers women.

Sister Cathy was giving a tour of the center to Mahfuza Shammy Rahman, Executive Director of the Woodhaven Art Circle, who was there to deliver a very special donation.

Near the end of September, the Woodhaven Art Circle held their first Fall Artist Showcase, with a portion of any sales to be put aside for SSNDEC. The event brought families, neighbors and friends together for a full day of art appreciation and celebration.

This week Ms. Rahman, professionally known as MSR, presented a check for $250 to the center on behalf of the artists of Woodhaven.

“We had a total of 25 artists in our Fall Artist Showcase,” MSR said. “With help from the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society and Emmanuel United Church of Christ, we were able to put on a very successful event and are proud to have raised enough money to be able to make this donation to the center.”

Mahfuza Shammy Rahman (at right), Executive Director of the Woodhaven Art Circle, presents a $250 donation to Sister Cathy Feeney (at left), and some of the students at the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center for Women in Woodhaven.

Sister Cathy took MSR on a tour of the facility, which has been home to the center since they moved to Woodhaven back in 2009.

Currently over 90 students are attending the center, taking classes in English and Math and Social Sciences and one by one, they introduced themselves to MSR. Many of them expressed their gratitude to the center for giving them this opportunity.

Many of the students attending the center are from Woodhaven though they come from many different countries from around the world. In one class we visited, the six students we spoke with were from six different countries, all learning their lessons together.

Many of the students are mothers of young children, many of them you students themselves, right here in our schools in our community. These students’ achievements at SSNDEC not only improve their own lives but the lives of their children. This can only serve to benefit our community as a whole.

MSR was deeply moved by her introduction to the center. “Walking through the facility with Sister Cathy, I was able to feel the great energy of the space and meet some of the lovely students in various levels of ESL and GED programs,” MSR said.

 “I am very touched by Woodhaven Art Circle’s generous donation,” Sister Cathy said. She took MSR to several classrooms, introducing her to all the students and their teachers.

Artists can do many things with their talents. Their works can inspire any type of emotion. A painting may make you happy or sad; an artist’s work may disturb or comfort you.

In this instance, a group of artists came together and pooled their talents to support the community they belong to.

“We were very honored to give back to an organization that is helping foster community growth for nearly 20 years and counting,” MSR said.

In less than two years the Woodhaven Art Circle has grown from an idea into something special, bringing added value to our community. We look forward to seeing what’s next for the group.

History Repeats itself on Woodhaven Boulevard

By Ed Wendell

[email protected]

History repeated itself Monday morning. We woke up to the sounds of helicopters and text messages asking us if we knew what happened on Woodhaven Boulevard. 

July 25th, 2019 started the exact same way. That morning, just before 5 a.m., 56-year old Sivananaintha Perumal was struck and killed at 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard as he crossed the street to catch a bus to his job at Dunkin’ Donuts in Howard Beach.

The driver, 26-year old David Garcia from Woodhaven, was estimated to be going 92 miles per hour when he mowed down Mr. Perumal. He didn’t stop to see if the man was okay. He didn’t stop to call for help.

He killed a man and kept on driving. He was eventually arrested and charged with manslaughter.

On Monday, just before 5 a.m., a 54-year old woman was struck at 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard as she crossed the same street, leaving her in critical condition with severe head trauma. 

And the driver did the same thing, not stopping to check, not stopping to call for assistance. We have faith in the NYPD and expect that this driver will share the same fate as David Garcia did in 2019. 

They already have the make and model of the car (a Grey Kia) and with all the cameras on Woodhaven and Crossbay Boulevards, it’s a very good bet that they’ll catch this criminal quickly.

According to reports, the driver had turned onto the boulevard from 91st Avenue, which leads one to think that the driver may live here in Woodhaven. If they do, and if they read this column, here’s some advice:

Turn yourself in. Now. Today. You will face punishment but it will go easier for you if you confess rather than waiting for the police to figure out who you are and apprehend you. 

Your life, as it was, is over. This is who you are now. And you better pray really hard that your victim recovers or else you’ll soon be facing manslaughter charges and prison time, as you deserve to.

It’s galling that another family has to go through this. This boulevard in general and that intersection in particular, have been a persistent danger for far too long.

Back in 2019, residents in Woodhaven gathered late at night at that exact location to make a plea to drivers to slow down.

Close to two dozen residents joined the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association to hold homemade signs with simple messages. One asked drivers to slow down. Another reminded drivers that a man was killed at this spot by a car going 92 miles per hour.

Another sign appealed to their own interests, reminding them that speed kills drivers, too. Indeed, earlier that month in 2019, a 23-year old resident of Woodhaven was killed in a high-speed collision with a tree in Ozone Park. His car was traveling so fast that it was split in two.

One tragedy after another; one life lost after another. How many families destroyed; their lives never to be the same again? And the one thing most of them have in common is a speeding vehicle.

This accident has shined a light on this intersection and it is time to speak about solutions again. For starters, we need more enforcement. They need to cover that area with speed cameras, not only to discourage speeding, but also to make sure the next driver gets identified straight away.

Next, they should move the stoplights on the boulevard back 35 feet, putting some distance between where vehicles have to stop and the space where pedestrians walk. They also need to extend the time pedestrians are given to cross at that intersection. 

And finally, they need to severely punish any driver who flees the scene of a collision. If you can turn your back on a person you just struck with your vehicle, then we as a society should turn our back on you and tack an extra 10 years onto any sentence you might receive.

It is galling and heartbreaking that we are having this discussion again and again, over and over. So many lives ruined. It has to stop somehow.

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