AN OVERVIEW OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF REGO PARK
Written by Michael Perlman
Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council & Author of “Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park”
What’s in a name? Back in 1923, the Rego Construction Company, also known as the Real Good Construction Company, acquired land in Forest Hills West and named it “Rego Park” after their advertising slogan, “REal GOod Homes.” The firm consisted of president Henry L. Schloh and secretary and treasurer Charles I. Hausmann; natives of Germany.
Schloh and Hausmann came upon this rich farmland that had originally been settled in the 17th century by Dutch and English farmers, followed by German and then by Chinese farmers who sold produce to Chinatown. The sole road was Remsen’s Lane (now 63rd Drive), which was named after the prominent Remsen family who owned the Remsen family farm.
The Rego Construction Company began developing 525 eight-room single family Colonial frame houses between 63rd Drive and Elliot Avenue and south of Queens Boulevard, which sold for an approximate $7,500. To complement the houses, the firm developed three apartment houses, which 70 families each called home. They were the Tudor-style Remo Hall at 61-40 Saunders Street (1927), followed by the Spanish Mission-style Jupiter Court at 62-64 Saunders Street (1927), and the Spanish Mission-style Marion Court at 62-98 Saunders Street (1929). These significant buildings designed by architect Benjamin Braunstein survive mostly intact, and offer recessed facades and courtyards, which maximize fresh air and light. Architecturally, Marion Court boasts terra-cotta elements which feature animals, leaded glass depictions of castles, and a roof garden where residents would once recreate and keep cool come summer. As Schloh’s grandson, Bruce Powell, explained, “When the Depression hit, my grandfather refused to go bankrupt, so a lot of the money invested in his developments came from family and friends. According to my mother, he didn’t buy a new suite for 10 years as he tried to keep his building projects alive.
The children of Rego Park had their first public school, Public School 139 in 1929. Then on March 9, 1930, Schloh told The New York Times, “With the completion of the Queens Boulevard subway now under construction, that section must continue to gain in valuation and in development.” That came true, as other firms developed buildings such as the Saunders Gardens complex featuring a private park on Saunders Street, as well as the Oxford-Cambridge group on Queens Boulevard and Saunders Street. A widely recognized model of urban planning south of the Long Island Railroad is the early 1930s Rego Park Crescents, named after alphabetical concentric semicircular roads. Tudor rowhouses were developed by Rodman & English alongside Colonial and Tudor freestanding homes.
The 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park increased the need for residential development, such as the English-style Queens Gardens apartment complex, where 4 out of 6 acres offer lush gardens. Commerce increased too, most notably with Art Deco limestone-appointed shops lining 63rd Drive, which once housed F.W. Woolworth and McCrory’s. Noteworthy Queens Boulevard shops included Bartons, the Hamburger Train, Evelyn’s Bake Shop, Jahn’s Ice Cream, Scott’s Seafood, and the longtime survivor Ben’s Best Delicatessen, which opened in 1947 and is owned by Jay Parker, who builds on the legacy of his father Benjamin Parker. Nearby stood Howard Johnson’s, which resembled a Georgian Colonial mansion on Queens Boulevard and was deemed the “Largest Roadside Restaurant in The World.” Further west, Boulevard Tavern hosted receptions and accommodated Big Bands and singers including Patti Page. Everyone felt like a kid again at Fairyland Amusement Park. A major attraction on Woodhaven Boulevard is the family-owned and operated restaurant, London Lennie’s, which originated as a small fish market in 1959. Today, the community is thankful for the dedication of the Barnes family.
In 1939, the Works Progress Administration funded Lost Battalion Hall, which honored the 77th Division of the U.S. Army for its WWI heroism, and offered a firing range and drill hall for the Queens Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. Today it is a recreation and community center. After the 1939 World’s Fair, some major Mid-Century Modern planned developments followed with Walden Terrace (1949) and Park City (1955), as well as Alexander’s department store (1959).
As a result of Rego Park’s architecture, urban planning, social spaces, and accessibility, even celebrities called it home. Some were composer Burt Bacharach, actor Eddie Bracken, comic actor Sid Caesar, actress June Havoc, dancer Gypsy Rose Lee, 1945 Miss America Winner Bess Myerson, comedian Marty Ingels, and television producer Fred Silverman.
In response to Rego Park’s 90th anniversary in 2013, locals shared memories and expressed their pride. Longtime resident and member Ruth Loewenstein of Rego Park Jewish Center (erected 1948) explained, “We have been a beacon for more than 7 decades as the largest spiritual, cultural, and recreational center, and a lifeline for the Jewish community and other denominations. We congratulate Rego Park on its 90th anniversary.” The Bauhaus-style synagogue earned State & National Register of Historic Places status in 2009.
Other longtime religious sites include Our Lady of the Angelus Church on 98th Street and Resurrection-Ascension Church on 61st Road. A charming frame church on 63rd Drive is Our Savior Lutheran Church (erected 1931). Congregant Ruth Mueller, who was born in 1922, witnessed Rego Park’s rural to urban transformation. She lived in a frame house at 97-51 63rd Road, which was elevated while the land was made level. She said, “My life has been a very full life, and I am thankful I can remember all the history.” She also reminisced, “I would see movies at the (1939 World’s Fair-inspired) Trylon Theater and the Drake Theatre (1935), go on a date with my husband and have butter crunch and pistachio ice cream at Winther’s Confectionery on Woodhaven Boulevard, swing on Weeping Willow trees, and walk 5 minutes to the new IND subway (established 1936).”
Today, Rego Park’s residential and commercial development is on the rise, while a number of unofficial landmarks and buildings with distinctive character remain and merit preservation. One major development is The Alexander, a rental building which stands above the outdoor/indoor Rego Center mall, home to Century 21, Costco, and Dallas BBQ.