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Jamaica Estates students unveil historic marker

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State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), hundreds of students and civic leaders unveiled a historical marker in Jamaica Estates last week that they said will remind residents of the neighborhood’s rich history for decades to come.

Students from the Aquinas Honor Society at the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates wrote the text for the plaque that now stands at the park at the intersection of Wexford Terrace and Midland Malls after they received a $2,000 grant from Padavan’s office to conduct extensive research on the neighborhood.

The marker details the origins of the neighborhood, which came about in 1907 when two wealthy real estate speculators, Ernestus Gulick and Felix Isman, bought 500 acres of land, including what is now Jamaica Estates, because they wanted to create a picturesque area for people to live that was still close to Manhattan.

“This marker will serve as a guiding point for future community members and leaders,” Padavan said at Friday’s ceremony.

More than 50 students from the Aquinas Honor Society, and their adviser, Carl Ballenas, worked for two years to research the history of Jamaica Estates. Their efforts culminated in a 128-page book, “Jamaica Estates,” published in March by Arcadia and the plaque that has been feted by people throughout the neighborhood.

“We’re all very proud of our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural community, and we’re especially proud of the Aquinas Society,” said Michael Bookbinder, former president of the Jamaica Estates Association who has lived on the Midland Malls since 1946. “We owe them tremendous thanks for what they’ve done.”

Students said they spent countless numbers of hours pouring over historical archives to conduct research for the book for which they have been holding signings throughout the borough, including at the Fresh Meadows Barnes & Noble. Once they finished the book, they were able to focus their efforts on writing the text of the plaque, which is shaded by the cherry trees that line the park across from Immaculate Conception.

“We put a lot of work into the plaque and the book,” said Michelle Gan, vice president of the Aquinas Honor Society. “We’re very proud.”

Gabriella Ulloa, the society’s president, said the unveiling ceremony was an honor for herself and the other students.

“Not every student has the privilege to be part of something like this,” she said. “We’ll be able to show it to future generations. When we have grandchildren, we can take them here.”

Howard Fried, president of the Jamaica Estates Association, agreed with the girls and called the marker a tribute to the neighborhood.

“May it continue to be an important marker in this city,” Fried said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 5:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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