Friday, October 20, 2017

Ode to the Last Great Estate in West Hempstead

The following essay appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of  the WHCSA News & Views newsletter

Last year’s demolition of the large estate at 764 Hempstead Avenue and subsequent subdivision provides an opportunity to reflect upon the development of West Hempstead as a residential community.  At 1.66 acres, the parcel represented the last remaining large residential tract in West Hempstead, and has given way to the erection of eight homes in its place.  Over the past three years, the process took on a certain inevitability ever since the place was sold to a developer in 2014, knowing that it was only a matter of time before proper permits were obtained to tear the structure down.  As a historian, I view this event with the sad realization that the transformation of West Hempstead from a once sprawling rural suburb into an overdeveloped neighborhood, is now complete.  This transformation began at the start of the 20th century with the development of the Fairlawn Park subdivision in 1906, and continued steadily with two notable growth spurts; one, after the West Hempstead LIRR line was electrified and the Southern Parkway was completed in 1926 and 1927, respectively; and the other, after WWII and the coming of the baby boomer generation. 

To me, the moment a suburb has been denuded of its great residential landmarks and replaced with neatly packed in 60x100 cookie cutter homes reminiscent of the green and red properties of a Monopoly board, it has lost a large part of its unique identity, and in many ways becomes indistinguishable from its neighboring megalopolis to the west. In this, I am reminded of what Allen Ginsberg once referred to as the “invisible suburbs”, having fallen prey to Molloch, the pagan god of industrialized overdevelopment.  

In my mind, the lovely home was emblematic of West Hempstead’s working class roots, a domicile that seemed roomy and comfortable but not overly ostentatious like the grand estates of Garden City; one that seemed to place greater value upon its expansive surrounding open spaces than its living quarters per se.  The style of the house, with its stucco exterior and Mediterranean roof, perhaps reflected the tastes of the two families that occupied it over the years, both of which were of Italian extraction.

The origin of the home follows the story of American upward mobility in the 1920s, when an Italian immigrant named Joseph Cavallaro and his wife Annie moved out from Brooklyn, after Joseph built up a successful business importing fruit and other goods.  He died in 1939, and Annie continued to live in the home until her passing in 1947.  The following year the home was sold to Theodore Gaeta and his wife Rose.  Gaeta was a well known restaurateur on Long Island who owned and managed a number of popular upscale eating spots across the Island. Early on, he managed the Cas-Albi Lounge and Restaurant, located inside the Mineola Hotel on 2nd street in Mineola.  In 1966, the Mineola Hotel became victim of a terrible fire and never reopened.  Thereafter Gaeta embarked upon a prolific food service career, running eateries that were well known jaunts on both the North and South shores: the Swan Bay Inn in Centerport, the Gaetway Harbour Restaurant, the West Wind Yacht Club and the Schooner Restaurant, all in Freeport, the Vernon Valley Inn in East Northport, the Gaetway North Steakhouse in Huntington, and the Gaetway South in Bay Shore.  In the mid 1960s, after being inspired by a trip to Hawaii, he opened the Polynesian themed Bali Hai Restaurant in Northport.  Ted Gaeta was reportedly a ubiquitous presence at all his establishments, and would often know and greet his regular patrons by name.  He was an active member of the Freeport Chamber of Commerce and received numerous accolades for improving the business character of the Village and was involved in numerous toy and food drives over the years.  He was well acquainted with celebrities and politicians, like Alfonse D’amato, who would frequent his restaurants.  Gaeta died in 1989 at age 92, and Rose passed away in 2000. 

There was a time, recently enough for people who are still alive to remember, when travelers could drive along Hempstead Ave. from Nassau Blvd. to Locust Street and spot perhaps a mere half dozen homes that lined the avenue.  As they would travel north, to the left was the picturesque watering hole that was Halls Pond, and on their right, they would pass the stately home of interior designer Edith Hebron at the northeast corner of Eagle Ave, which was eventually turned into the Maison Pepi/ Gum Ying restaurant before it was knocked down and replaced by a CVS.  (In that instance, the words of the Joni Mitchell song seem all too appropriate: “Don't it always seem to go That you don't know what you've got til its gone, They paved paradise And put up a parking lot”).  Further up on the right was they would pass the Cavallaro/ Gaeta home and then the large Norwood Villa Hotel at the corner of Oak(ford) St.  Another 200 yards and they would see the Alexander Nelson estate at Elm st, and across the street from there they would find the Collins estate.   With the demise of 764 Hempstead Ave, an irreplaceable piece of old West Hempstead has died along with it, and signaled the close an era when our neighborhood was once characterized by country homes and open spaces.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

In Memory of Police Officer Matthew Giglio, Forty One Years after His Murder

The following essay appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of the WCHSA New & Views newsletter

NCPD Officer Matthew Giglio

The recent deaths of two individuals with a local connection provide an opportunity to revisit the somber history of a cop shooting in West Hempstead whose effect still carries strong reverberations, despite the long passage of time. The shooting occurred on October 7, 1975 and took the life of NCPD Officer Matthew Giglio, after a courageous two month struggle for his life at Mercy Hospital. This past August 4, Giglio’s killer, John MacKenzie, died in prison after an apparent suicide, while serving a 25 years to life sentence. And more recently, our friend and resident of nearby Malverne, NYPD Detective Steven MacDonald, himself a victim of a 1986 shooting while on duty, passed away on January 10.

There are few residents of West Hempstead who have resided here long enough to remember the only cop killing to have occurred in our hamlet. Indeed, most people walk right past the scene of the crime, right in the center of town along Hempstead Avenue, with nary a clue as to what transpired there. The following is a synopsis of the incident.

Since 1948, the row of shops at the corner of Hempstead Ave and Locust St. have occupied a prominent place on West Hempstead’s landscape.

One of these stores, Filnord’s Pharmacy at 492 Hempstead Ave, was the site of WH’s first permanent post office. The 1960s saw the popular Tony’s Delicatessen as the occupant at 486 Hempstead. By  1971, Tony’s gave way to a boutique clothing store called Thelma J’s, the kind of which was more common back in those days but rarely seen today. It was outside this boutique where the shooting occurred. On October 4th, MacKenzie and his accomplice, Colleen Irby, cased out Thelma J’s in the guise of customers, when MacKenzie asked to use the bathroom in the back of the store which contained a window facing the rear of the building. On a typical cool early morning of October 7th, 1975, two Nassau County patrol officers responded to a burglary at Thelma J’s, where it was reported that hundreds of articles of clothing were stolen. At 2:30am, the two officers on the scene questioned Irby, who was sitting in a car at the back of the store and called for backup, whereafter Officer Giglio, working as a police EMT, promptly arrived at the scene. Upon arrival, Giglio spotted MacKenzie exiting the front of the store when MacKenzie fired his gun, striking Giglio in the abdomen. The two officers rushed to Giglio’s aid and drove him to Mercy Hospital in his own ambulance. At the hospital doctors made the bleak discovery that the bullet had hemorrhaged Giglio’s aorta.

Back at the scene, hundreds of police officers, as well as two police helicopters, descended upon West Hempstead and started a massive manhunt for the shooter. At 10:00am, officers found MacKenzie hiding out in a nearby garage and located the weapon nearby as well. At the hospital, Giglio underwent eight hours of surgery and received 35 pints of blood in a desperate attempt to save his life. In the first few days, Giglio was able to communicate by scribbling simple messages on a piece of paper, but then he slipped into a coma, never to recover. As weeks passed, Giglio developed an infection in his leg, which required an amputation. All the while, his comrades and family members kept a bedside vigil, praying that he might rally. Local churches and synagogues also held special prayer services for Giglio until he took his final breath after a seventy day battle, on December 16th.

Matthew Giglio was born in 1940 in Brooklyn. One might say he was a typical Italian kid who tore up the stick ball circuit on the Borough Park streets where he grew up, and savored the victory of the Dodgers’ World Series win when he was 15 years old. Giglio moved out to Long Island and chose his calling as a police officer, like his father who was a patrolman for the NYPD. Giglio was in his eleventh year of service, and lived in Valley Stream with his wife and three children in 1975. Nassau County later honored Officer Giglio by dedicating the Matthew F. Gilgio Memorial Plaza at intersection of Corona Avenue and Dutch Broadway, not far from where Giglio lived and a few blocks from the 5th Precinct headquarters where he was based. In July 1976, MacKenzie was put on trial and convicted with 1st degree murder and given a 25 years to life sentence. Four years later, the NY Court of Appeals vacated his sentence and a retrial was ordered after the US Supreme Court affirmed the decision, after it was established that MacKenzie’s confession was improperly obtained. The case established guidance for police officers that is in use to this day, that if the suspect immediately requests a lawyer, then any subsequent confession cannot be entered as evidence, unless in the presence of the suspect’s legal counsel. In any event, the case was retried and once again MacKenzie was convicted and sentenced, making him eligible for parole in 2000.

Every two years since then, MacKenzie’s parole hearing has stirred up the passions of politicians and police benevolent groups, urging that his parole be denied. MacKenzie had exhibited remorse for the killing but always maintained that he didn’t know that Giglio was a cop, and he couldn’t remember details of the incident because he was on drugs. After his last denial in June 2016, Mackenzie gave in to despair and committed suicide in his cell on August 4.

A couple years ago I had the privilege of meeting Detective Steven MacDonald after he and his wife Patty graciously offered to drive me home from Manhattan. During that ride, Mr. MacDonald gave me a copy of a book that he wrote where he outlined his remarkable journey toward ultimately forgiving his shooter and finding peace in his life. My brief encounter with Steve and his book left a deep impression on me and caused me to bring new meaning to my understanding of human strength and courage.

The confluence of MacKenzie’s and MacDonald’s deaths this past year, together with this past Law Enforcement Appreciation Day on January 9th, one day before MacDonald’s passing, gives us all cause to be grateful for the lives of our loved ones and those tasked to protect them.

May the memories of Officers Giglio and MacDonald be for a blessing.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Tanglewood Preserve - Site of First Revolutionary War Skirmish on Long Island

The following essay appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of the West Hempstead Community Support Association newsletter, News & Views

Image result for tanglewood preserve
A view of the pond at Tanglewood Preserve, Nassau County

Some time ago, while browsing through some of the West Hempstead Historical Society website’s growing collection of local historical material, I came across an item regarding a little known Revolutionary War incident that took place just down the road in present day Lakeview, at the current site of Tanglewood Preserve. The episode became known as the Skirmish at Hempstead Swamp. While the incident in and of itself was a relatively minor one, I decided to find out some background about it and was surprised to learn that it actually represents the first action during the American Revolution that involved bloodshed on Long Island between the warring parties.

There are scant details of the event. One of the only sources we have about it comes from a book published in 1844 entitled Revolutionary Incidents in Queens County, by Henry Onderdonk Jr.

Here is some brief background about it.

In colonial times, Pine Stream used to run free and clear from Hempstead Plains down through modern day West Hempstead, where it formed a series of ponds and swampland all the way down to the Atlantic Ocean. Part of that tributary, Tanglewood Preserve was once a swamp that sat just north of Smith’s Pond, known in those days as DeMott’s pond, named after Michael DeMott and his son Anthony, who ran a mill at the southern end of the pond, where the water crosses Merrick Road in Rockville Centre. In fact, the name Tanglewood bears an echo of testimony to the swamp that once enveloped the property.

Throughout the South Shore of Long Island, there was heavy loyalist sentiment among residents in the leadup to the American Revolution. Parenthetically, this was the apparent reason for the Break-off of the Town of North Hempstead, whose residents were frustrated by their southern neighbors’ loyalty to King George III, from the greater Town of Hempstead.

According to George Combes, historian for the TOH in the 1940s, many South Shore residents were initially sympathetic to the Patriot cause, particularly after British troops landed in Boston in 1775. But a series of actions perceived to be too aggressive on the part of the Patriots, including a raid upon Long Island by the New Jersey militia in April of 1776, crystallized sentiment in the area solidly for the British.

In July of 1776, around the time of our Nation’s independence and a full month before General Howe’s troops arrived in New York, some loyalists had tried to subvert the cause of independence by attempting to poison George Washington by planting Paris green into his soup. The attempt failed because it made the soup taste terrible, but it certainly got the attention of our founding father. It was determined that the scheme had been hatched by loyalists from Long Island and so Washington promptly dispatched troops to Hempstead to arrest the perpetrators. The loyalists were warned in advance of these troops’ arrival and so they packed provisions and took shelter in the swamps south of Hempstead village. The DeMotts were also loyalists and they agreed to hang a white sheet in the window of their mill as a signal to warn the fugitives of the troops’ impending arrival. Onderdonk Jr. recounts the episode as it occurred on the third Saturday of July, 1776:

“...a party of Whig soldiers went to Hempstead Swamp at the head of DeMott's mill pond to take
up some Tories who were hiding there. ... A party of nine of them in two sedge boats were concealed in the swamp at the head of the mill pond. Stephen Rider climbed an oak tree to reconnoiter, when a ball whistled by his head. He saw the smoke whence it came and, a loaded gun being handed him, he fired, and the ball passed through the body of George Smith.” The Tories were then cornered and soon after surrendered. They were then rounded up and taken in chains to a jail in Jamaica but were soon freed after the British had occupied Long Island. George Smith was badly wounded in the shoulder, but was treated by a local physician named Dr. Searing, and recovered from his wound. 

By then the Revolutionary War was well on its way, but most of the famous battles would be fought in other parts of the country, while for the most part, Queens (Nassau) County quietly remained under British occupation.

Although the event could hardly be considered a major action in the annals of the Revolutionary War, given the impetus for its occurrence and the fact that it saw the first blood spilled on Long Island soil in the War for Independence, in my opinion, consideration should be given to add the site to the list of New York State Revolutionary War Trail Sites of Long Island.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Brief History of 472 Hempstead Avenue - the Cong. Anshei Shalom Building

The following article appeared in the Summer 2015 edition of the WHCSA's News and Views newsletter
The following paragraphs chronicle the history of 472 (formerly 318) Hempstead Ave., the subject of the accompanying photo.  We begin the story in 1911, when Violet Hutcheson, daughter of Aubrey G Hutcheson, was entered into marriage with Walton McClelland Blackford, a native of Hempstead village.  Aubrey Hutcheson was a very wealthy fruit importer whose name was ubiquitous at Washington Market, New York City’s most important wholesale produce market located in Tribeca.  In 1890, he purchased a 100 acre country seat in West Hempstead on land that later became known as the Presidential Section, along the west side of Hempstead Avenue.

Hutcheson had nine children in all.  In 1913, Hutcheson built three homes across the street for three of his children, Ralph E. Hutcheson, Howard B. Hutcheson, and Violet Blackford, shortly after her marriage.  Two of these homes, those of Howard, where China Connection is currently located, and Violet, the current site of Congregation Anshei Shalom, still survive.  In a sordid postscript to the original occupant of 318 Hempstead Ave., Walton Blackford remarried in 1923 whereafter he moved to Springfield, MA where he worked as a paper company executive.  In May 1948 at the age of 61, he suffered a severe cerebral hemorrhage that left him paralyzed and one month later, his wife plunged a carving knife into his neck in what was described a “mercy killing”.

Some time during the Great Depression, the house was converted into St. Ann’s Health Resort, a convalescent home for the aged and infirm.  In those days, such “health resorts” were common for people who were in need of extended and rehabilitative care.  The accompanying picture from a 1939 postcard, was taken from the rear of the building and shows the resort’s quaint little shaded terrace in its backyard.  (The postcard identifies that address at 318 Hempstead Ave., before the addresses were re-numbered by the US Postal Service in the late 1940s).

Just before WWII, the building once again changed hands and was sold to a newly married young physician named Eugene Jennings Jr. and his wife Susan. Born in the Bronx, Jennings saw action in the South Pacific theatre as a lieutenant in the the US Navy during WWII aboard the destroyer John W. Weeks. An alumnus of Columbia University and Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, he was also an All-American Masters Swimmer on Columbia’s Swimming team and part of the US Masters Swimming Organization, the highest honor that can be achieved from the organization.
After the War, Dr. Jennings opened a medical practice in West Hempstead at his home.  Many of our older long-time residents remember Dr. Jennings as the de facto resident physician for West Hempstead back in the days when towns all over the country had such doctors to serve them.  Before the advent of urgent care and before EMS was established, Dr. Jennings’ office was the place to go locally for any medical emergencies.  As well, he was the on-site first responder for all mishaps in the general vicinity that required required medical attention, such as when two Lakeview firefighters were injured when their ladder snapped during a training exercise at the Eagle Avenue school on Oct. 31, 1948.  Dr. Jennings faithfully served the West Hempstead community for 27 years before retiring and moving to St. Petersburg, FL in the early 1970s.   He died in 2000 at age 85, leaving a son, Eugene Thomas, two daughters, Mimsie and Leslie Ann, and many grandchildren.
In the 1980s, a young burgeoning congregation named Anshei Shalom was looking to move out of their cramped quarters on a Hempstead Avenue storefront into bigger space.  When their current address became available across the street in 1985, they purchased the home and converted the main hall of the building into its sanctuary.  In the early 2000s, the congregation was once again pressed for space and in 2005, they completed a new sanctuary in the rear of the building, while still preserving the front part of the house.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Norwood Chapel - First Church in West Hempstead

The article below appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of the WHCSA News & Views newsletter.
From the 1906 Belcher Hyde map of West Hempstead.  Woods (Halls) Pond is in the middle of the image and the Norwood Chapel, just to the north, is labeled

The following is a brief history of the first church in West Hempstead, the Norwood Chapel.  

As with so many early communities in the United States, the one feature that gave our neighborhood its unique identity and distinguished it from being a mere loose collection of farms and homes was the establishment of a community church.  The church was much more than merely a house of worship.  It served as a central meeting house for neighbors and was where all important social and civic gatherings would take place.

Until the 1880s, farmers and residents of the area the would come to be known as West Hempstead were served by the various parishes located in Hempstead Village.  Beginning in 1885, a series of meetings were held in the old District 17 schoolhouse on John St (Nassau Blvd.) for the purpose of establishing a local church.  The meetings were well received and well attended.  Shortly thereafter, an organization called the Young People’s Christian Association was created, with James H. Rhodes voted as president and Henry H. DuBois as vice president.  James Rhodes was a member of the prominent Rhodes family who owned a large farm along the east side of Woodfield Road that comprised most of what became known as Hempstead Gardens. Henry DuBois was a well known grocer who ran a store on Hempstead Ave. near the current location of Exit 17 of the SSP.  

In 1886, it was decided that the YPCA would start a fundraising campaign to build a church edifice, but a debate ensued as to where this building would be located.  Two factions emerged from this debate, each favoring either of the two tiny local commercial districts that existed in our area at the time, Washington Square and Norwood.  (Washington Square was located at the intersection of Hempstead Turnpike and Nassau Blvd, and Norwood was located at the south end of Halls Pond).  A vote was taken and the Washington Square faction overwhelmingly won out with 60 out of a total of 72 votes cast.  However, after Hempstead Town Supervisor Martin V. Wood agreed to donate some of his land at the north end of Wood’s (Halls) Pond for the project, it was decided that the church would be built there.  (The exact location was along Hempstead Avenue, opposite the intersection with Oak(ford) St.)

Fundraising continued for the next couple years, and in 1890, the church was built.  Opening exercises were held on Sunday, February 2.  By then, James Rhodes had moved to New Jersey and Henry DuBois took over as president.  The new non-denominational church, named Norwood Chapel, was a tremendous source of pride for the community, as the funds and actual construction of the building were almost exclusively the results of local efforts.

In 1892, the building was enlarged to accommodate a Sunday School.  For the ensuing decade, the pastorship of the church was given to a roving group of guest preachers who were invited to address the congregation.  It’s worthy to note that at times some local women also took turns to preach, including Viola DuBois (Henry H DuBois’ daughter and Josie Hull, daughter of John P Hull, a local carpenter who lived across the street from the chapel).  By 1898, it seems that Rev. Joseph McCoun from Floral Park became the regular preacher for the next number of years.

The chapel also became the default location for social and civic activity in WH. Before the Chestnut Street schoolhouse was built in 1912, it was literally the only viable public place of assembly in West Hempstead.  In fact, it was was where School District 27 was conceived and voted for.  The chapel played host to the civic meetings of the West Hempstead, Lakeview and Hempstead Gardens Association and WH gas and lighting district was also formed from a series of meetings there.

Some time in the late 1910s, the Norwood Chapel disbanded and West Hempstead was once again left without a church, until the establishment of the Church of the Good Shepherd in 1925.  The Church of the Good Shepherd currently resides in its second location on Donlon Ave. after it moved from its original location on Maple Street in Hempstead Gardens.  (The original building burned down in the 1960s, however, the WH Historical Society has a nice photo of the original church in its archives.) Thereafter, in a very short period, WH gained three more churches in short succession.  Starting with Union Gospel Tabernacle on Morton Ave. in 1926 (currently a Haitian church); Trinity Lutheran Church in 1927, and St. Thomas the Apostle in 1931.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Photo Essay - the Recreation at Wall's (Hall's) Pond of Yesteryear

The following collection of photos below tell the story of a bygone era when kids from West Hempstead and its environs would frequent Wall's Pond year-round for an array of recreation opportunities, from swimming and boating in the summer, to skating and sledding in the winter.  All photos (with the exception of the above photo, courtesy of the WH Historical Society) come from the pages of the now defunct Nassau Daily Review-Star between the mid '30s and early '50s, the paper of record for all local news in Central-Southern Nassau County during that period.  As can be seen in the photos, Wall's Pond got alot of heavy use in those days as a favorite watering hole for youngsters looking for a good pastime activity, and they highlight just how rural our community was back then. In 1961, Nassau County purchased the land surrounding what was then called Wall's Pond and developed a park that they named Hall's Pond Park, to honor the family of an early owner of the property, Martin V. W. Hall.  The irony contained in the County's purchase and development is that it marked a turning point for Hall's Pond Park when it was no longer used for the activities illustrated below, but was instead converted into a "passive park".  A separate post is needed to explain (i.e. complain about) how that ended up happening.  For now, step back into yesteryear and enjoy the photos. As a frame of reference, I left in the photo captions included in the newspaper for better explanation.  BTW - virtually all references to the pond at that time had it as "Wall's Pond", not "Hall's Pond".

1) The old Boy Scout rhyme about ice-pond safety went something like this: 1 inch - stay away, 2 inches - one may, 3 inches - small groups, 4 inches - O.K.  The photo below shows that back in the 1930s, winters were cold enough for a sufficiently long time to freeze over Wall's Pond and make it safe for any kind of winter activity.

2) In the summer of 1935, a 12 year-old boy named Walter Frederick, who lived just down the road from Wall's Pond on Hawthorne St, got a nasty bite on his leg while swimming at the north side of the pond.  A year later, he got his revenge when his attacker was caught, a 35lb turtle who would angrily fend off anyone who dared invade his habitat.  The photo below (which unfortunately got overexposed when converted to .pdf) shows the police officers in the process of corralling the turtle, to be later transported to a menagerie that State troopers maintained at Belmont Lake State Park.

3) Below is a scene that would be utterly unimaginable today; on an unusually hot spring day in April 1938, a group of four boys took the opportunity to raft out on the pond on a makeshift boat made by cutting an oil tank in two.

4) Here's another great shot from late June, 1939 of a boy paddling out with an acquaintance on a home-made boat that he christened the H.M.S. Foo.

5) June, 1940.  Apparently at least some of the shoreline of Wall's Pond was sufficiently deep enough for brave divers to jump headlong into the water.  Bottom image, on the shore, a sunbather smiles for the photo.

6) Most people today who would catch the scene depicted below would undoubtedly call the police - two boys, ages 9 and 8 on their skiff, getting their rods ready for a day of fishing on Wall's Pond.  In 1949, it was a common sight.

7) As late as the summer of 1951, much of West Hempstead was still rural farmland.  A favorite pastime of the young farmhands of the area, such as Christian Limbach, below, whose family ran a farm down the road in Lakeview, was fishing.  The Daily Review-Star photographer caught the young boy napping, while holding onto his rod.

8) In 1937, the Nassau Daily Review-Star ran a contest called the "Lucky Circle" where they would publish a photo of a crowd engaged in some activity somewhere in Nassau County, and circle one face in the crowd.  If the person circled in the photo would then call up the newspaper's office and correctly identify themselves, they would win a prize.  The grand prize for the lucky winners? A whopping $2 (no small sum during the Depression).  The photo below showing a group of ice skaters on Wall's Pond appeared on the front page of the Dec. 14, 1937 edition of the Daily Review-Star.  Two days later Eileen Dillon of Rockville Centre correctly identified herself and claimed her prize.

9) Below is a photo of two girls lacing up their ice skates at Wall's Pond during a late winter cold spell in early 1950.  From the newspaper's masthead, which I have included, it looked as though the snow would turn to rain the following day

10) The old conventional wisdom states that back in those days, Pine Brook, which flowed into Wall's Pond, ran clear as a mountain stream and provided swimmers with clean and sanitary conditions in the pond.  The photo and article below from the summer of 1941 showed that this was not always the case.  Pollutants from the Garden City waste transfer station on Cherry Valley Ave further upstream, as well as dangerous contaminants from Nassau Hospital (forerunner to Winthrop University Hospital) in Mineola further north, got into the water and forced health officials to close down Walls Pond to swimming, much to the chagrin of the young bathers shown in the bottom photo.  The top photo shows the lillies that used to blanket part of the pond.

11) Finally, the terrific photo below taken at the southern end of Wall's Pond in June 1939, shows a group of young swimmers along the shore.  In those days, County policemen would be stationed to protect the youngsters from traffic on Hempstead Avenue and, if needed, also assume the role of lifeguard.  The photo also contains an old relic that no longer exists - the concrete and steel of the northern wall of the old bridge that carried Hempstead Avenue traffic over Pine Stream.  The bottom photo puts some NCPD humor on display with a deliberately misspelled sign pointing to the Wall's Pond Swimmin' Hole

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Alwyn E W Bach - Winner of Radio’s Prestigious Gold Medal

The Following article, with slight modifications, originally appeared in the Summer 2014 edition of the West Hempstead Community Support Association Newsletter.
Alwyn E W Bach

The Golden Age of Radio is a term used to describe the period between the 1920s and 1950s when radio was the dominant medium for home entertainment, before it was supplanted by the television in the ensuing decades.  While the technology for radio transmission had been available since the 1890s, it wasn’t until the 1920s when the seemingly boundless potential for commercial radio was uncovered.  In today’s world it’s hard to imagine the impact, but at the time this technology burst onto the scene, the possibility of hearing a live broadcast of a marquis stage performance or sporting event occurring thousands of miles away from the comfort of one’s own home, was an absolutely tantalizing feat.  By 1929, the American Academy of Arts and Letters in NYC began distributing Gold Medal awards to radio personalities who reached the pinnacle of their profession.  
American Academy of Arts and Letters,
Gold Medal for Good Diction
To put in context, it can be said that, at the time, these Gold Medal awards were at least on par with the prestige of the 
Academy Awards for motion pictures which began that same year, and were given to radio actors, singers and announcers who were well known celebrities. It was in the second year of these honors in 1930 that the Gold Medal for Good Diction was awarded to a West Hempsteader named Alwyn E W Bach, the subject of our present sketch.

Alwyn Egbert Winfred Bach was born in 1898 in Worcester, MA to Danish parents who immigrated just two years prior.  Eager to become acculturated to their new country, the Bachs made sure that their children gained a good command of the English language.  After graduating high school, Alwyn found work in a print shop and as a proofreader, and also honed his skills as a talented baritone singer.  When WWI broke out, Alwyn enlisted in the US Army and saw action in the Somme-St. Michel Offensive as part of the 44th Coast Artillery Division.
Bach (sitting, at left) pictured with his troupe during WWI.

Returning home, Bach settled in Springfield, MA and married Olive C. Murphy.  In September 1921, WBZ in Springfield became the first licensed commercial radio station in the country and the following year, the station called upon Bach to sing for one of its programs.  Bach’s voice and delivery impressed the producers at WBZ and he was quickly hired as an announcer for the station.  In 1926, Bach followed the station in its relocation to Boston and three years later, he was hired away by WNBC, a national syndicate in New York City.  Shortly thereafter, he gained renown as a top-rate radio announcer.

The Bachs were now in the hunt to find a home in the New York area.  A new development of quaint, Tudor-style homes called Plymouth Colony caught their eye in the up-and-coming Long Island neighborhood of West Hempstead.  As an avid tennis player, Alwyn was attracted to Plymouth Colony’s exclusive tennis courts and clubhouse.  (The courts were originally located on Sycamore St. and were dedicated on Sunday October 20, 1929, one week before the great stock market crash.  The dedication ceremonies included the championship tournament for Brooklyn High Schools.  The courts remained for a few years before finally giving way to further subdivision).  The Bachs purchased their home at 16 Lindbergh St. (still there at 243 Lindberg St) and quickly became deeply involved in their new community.  As the mother of their 7-year old daughter, Joyce Elizabeth, a new student in the Chestnut Street School, Olive ran for and was elected president of the Chestnut PTA.

The following year, in June 1930, Alwyn Bach received radio’s most prestigious prize, the Gold Medal for Good Diction, and was praised for his style and professionalism.  Bach had a distinctive low and commanding voice, with a measured and deliberate articulation.  At WNBC, Bach offered a good contrast to his more famous colleague, Graham McNamee, who offered a more high-pitched, frenetic and rapid delivery.  McNamee was known for broadcasting Yankee games and other events like Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, and his announcing style was more suitable for those types of exciting events.  Bach, on the other hand, was assigned to read the intros to radio shows and sponsorship spots, as well as provide coverage to events like the Lindbergh baby kidnapping (and subsequent murder), a riveting episode that had the entire country glued to their radios for two months straight. Bach was a firm adherent to the maxim that an announcer should never interject his or her personal views or feelings when broadcasting a news story. But, as a father himself who lived on a street that, only 4+ years earlier had been renamed for America's aviation hero, he veered slightly from that principle when, after reading out Charles Lindbergh's plea for the safe return of his son, he added, "That is the plea of all of us".

(Although unfortunately most of these early broadcasts were not taped or preserved, Bach’s voice appears in the earliest known NBC station call recording, preceded by the famous thee note C A F chime that NBC still uses to this day. Bach's voice can be heard in a sound clip at a website dedicated to the NBC chime. Scroll about a third of the way down the page.). Bach’s award was celebrated across the country and his reputation spread far and wide.

Back in West Hempstead, the Great Depression was taking a heavy toll on residents.  Many locals had lost their jobs and their homes went into foreclosure.  As president of the PTA, Olive Bach organized a welfare fund for needy residents in WH, and leveraged her husband’s connections at WNBC to host a series of concert revues featuring well-known radio personalities, in order to raise money for the new fund.  These concerts were held in the Hempstead High School auditorium so that they could accommodate the large turnout,. Though few people today would recognize the names of the featured artists, in 1931 and 1932 they represented a veritable who’s who of headline acts of their time: The Landt Trio, the famous female ukulele player May Singhi Breen and her husband Peter DeRose, The Tasty Yeast Jesters, Stebbins Boys, the famous impersonator Ward Wilson, and on and on.  Admission was between 75 cents and $1 and the hundreds of tickets sold at each event raised thousands for the benefit of needy locals during the Depression.

In 1942, Bach was hired by KYW Philadelphia, ending his long run at WNBC.  The landscape of broadcast radio was changing.  Eight years later, he moved out west to join KNBC San Francisco, until his retirement a few years later.  Alwyn Bach died in 1993 in Portland, OR at age 95, a relic from the days when whole families would stop their routines to gather ‘round a beautiful mahogany piece of furniture called the radio to listen to their favorite programs.