In April 1938, a local newspaper profiled Frank Frontera of Maspeth. He was retired by then and preferred to tend his garden and dote on his family, particularly his grandchildren. Frontera’s reflections on his past and his adopted community pleased him to no end — and for good reason.
He was someone who lived life to its fullest in what was perhaps a simpler time, an era when everyone lived in a small town, knew each other and pitched in to make their community work.
Frontera, a native of Florence, traveled the world but eventually settled in Maspeth and became the town barber. Customers in his shop could blithely observe horse-drawn trolleys going about their way as they awaited a cut or shave.
But he did more than just cut hair for a living on Grand Avenue. Frontera’s place was also a forum where farmers from neighboring Middle Village or Newtown lingered to discuss issues and politics.
As if all this was not enough to fulfill anyone’s existence, there was still one wonderful aspect to Frontera’s worth mentioning: his role as a local volunteer fire fighter with Maspeth Engine Co. 4. Frontera’s involvement took place in an age when horse-drawn steam engines were state of the art.
That is, of course, when a horse belonging to one of the volunteers happened to be at hand. When none were available, firemen would rush along Grand Avenue to flag down any driver whose horses they would use until the job was done. Lest these drivers feel unduly deprived, the company would later compensate them with $3 for the use of their steeds.
Frontera retired from his heady firefighting days in 1905. His son, Joe, succeeded him.
Frontera reminisced about his role in quelling two large fires, one in the Ridgewood Car Barns and the other at a lumberyard in Maspeth. But at any time when the emergency whistle — located on top of an industrial building behind Mount Olivet cemetery — blew, Frontera’s barbershop door slammed shut “and many times a farmer had to respond to a fire with lather on his face.” This might easily be construed as a comical scene out of a silent movie were it not so serious.
Although he is now long gone and there is no one likely around today who could claim to have known him personally, we should still do well to pause and remember him because he has a lesson for us.
Service to the community was the top order of the day.
For more information, call 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.
©2010 Community News Group
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