Borough issues show history repeats itself

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And 1989 was a landmark year for the nation, and noted historians have claimed it to be an important chapter in our nation's emergence as a world power. That year George Bush, father of our present chief executive, was inaugurated as the 41st president of the United States. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met with the president on the island of Malta and all but agreed that the Cold War was over.

The Panamanians declared war on America, and U.S. troops were sent to Panama until Gen. Manuel Noriega surrendered to American authorities and was arraigned on drug-trafficking charges in Florida. The Gulf War was on the horizon.

Earth Day celebrated its 20th year and the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

In 1989 the Bayside Times mirrored many of the same basic concerns we still have today. In the late '80s, articles highlighted such issues as efforts to enforce laws against illegal construction, which continues to be a concern. The Queens Business Bureau held a "smoking forum," and the defacing of buildings and problems with graffiti held the attention of reporters and readers alike.

Letters to the editor reflected such sentiments as the following: "The mayor's current campaign for more housing has led to wholesale demolition of stable northeastern neighborhoods to make way for more family housing, and the bulldozers rumble on." Does that sound more than familiar to those of us who are dealing with trying to preserve that quality of life in our suburban communities?

Interest in the role of women in society was reflected in reports of new college courses in Queens that dealt with women in the workplace as well as their role in family life and education.

In the late '80s the effort to save a valuable Flushing landmark was begun and plans were made to move the Latimer House to Leavitt Field. Lewis Latimer, an African-American scientist, had worked with Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.

At that time the quality-of-life issue was again reflected when the Utopia Estates Civic Association challenged the conduct of the Buildings Department.

For years the problem of adequate parking has been a topic of concern to local businesses and to the citizens of Queens, especially so in Bayside, and the problem of drag racing on Francis Lewis Boulevard was one of long duration. It continues today as letters and articles indicate it did 15 years ago.

In October 1988 contractors wiped out the trees on Bell Boulevard and after much civic concern, trees were again to grace our main street, because our citizens cared then as they do now.

And citizens took things into their own hands in the late '80s in Weeks Woodland, when the area was plagued by a series of burglaries. The residents banded together, forming units to patrol the area with success.

Fifteen years ago the impending building of a nine-story structure in Bayside also set off a struggle by residents to defend our way of life. In the same year a crisis arose when again the quality-of-life issue came to the forefront and led to an impasse between the County Builders and Contractors Association and the legislative leaders and civic groups who supported lower density residential neighborhoods.

It was the same old problem of profit vs. overdevelopment. As happens today, the citizens of the area wished to reinforce the character of their existing communities.

It was 15 years ago that the Bayside Yacht Club, which was founded in 1902 and patronized by famous personalities, opted to sell a part of its property because of financial difficulties. It was a harbinger of what was to come.

One of the most shattering civic crises happened in April 1989 when the district school board was superseded, having its hiring power revoked. On a happier note, in June of that year Queens celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Whitestone Bridge. It was originally designed as a "gateway to the 1939 World's Fair." At the time it was known as the longest bridge in the world.

Other significant events of the period filled the news including the vandalizing of the exterior of the RKO Keith's Movie Theater. Claire Shulman won election as borough president by a decisive margin and her daughter, Ellen Shulman Baker, was an astronaut on the Oct. 18, 1989 mission on the space shuttle Atlantis, which launched "Galileo," a Jupiter probe.

Through the years it appears that many of the issues that concerned us then are relevant today: From vandalism and the quality of suburban life to parking and problems of overdevelopment, we have a prime interest in having concern for our community. History, it seems true, does repeat itself.

Joan Brown Wettingfeld is a historian, and free-lance writer. She can be reached via e-mail at

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