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.

No comments: