Roberta Kossoff and Annette Landau may have come from different generations and live on different coasts, but the two women share something in common: their enthusiasm for Laurelton.
Landau, 89, always cherished her time growing up in the southeast Queens neighborhood and does not hesitate to talk about the good old times. Kossoff, 54, of Bayside, grew to appreciate Laurelton while doing research for a possible move to the community.
“It’s a beautiful neighborhood,” Kossoff said. “I really am jealous. I wish I grew up there.”
Together the pair collaborated to bring the rich history of Laurelton to the masses through a new picture history book that shows the ups and downs of the 104-year-old community. Landau said she was delighted when Arcadia Publishing asked her to work on its newest edition of its Images of America series about the southeast Queens neighborhood that is available at bookstores across the nation.
Landau, a former librarian and short story writer, moved into the neighborhood when she was 10 and recalled how everyone was discovering the various aspects of southeast Queens, which during the 1930s was in its early years of development.
“Laurelton had a lot of woodlands at the time and we would go and explore the woods and take off our shoes and swim in the pond,” she said in a telephone interview from her California home.
The former suburban landscape is covered in the book’s early chapters with archive photographs that were given to Kossoff by various sources, such as former residents, libraries and historical organizations.
Kossoff, who has worked for the city Department of Housing, said she and her family were considering moving to the neighborhood a few years ago, so she did some research on the Internet and was amazed at the history of the location. She said she was most impressed by reading firsthand accounts of residents that were posted on online message boards.
“I was taken in about how these guys were talking about their memories, and it was a live and vivid place,” Kossoff said.
The Bayside mother of three spoke with Arcadia about writing the book and last summer started doing her research with Landau, who provided some photos and wrote the book’s introduction.
Although she moved out of the area in the 1940s after she got married, Landau still remained in touch with her old neighbors even when the demographics began to change.
During the 1960s, Laurelton became the victim of a blockbusting scam in which shady real estate agents would scare the mostly white Jewish residents into selling their homes at a loss due to the influx of black homeowners.
Landau, who is white, said a lot of people were taken in by the scam, but many of her friends knew the real estate agents were unscrupulous.
“Populations do change, there is nothing wrong with that,” she said.
A community-savvy rabbi from Laurelton stepped up to the plate to combat the fears, according to Kossoff, who included a whole chapter about blockbusting in the book. Rabbi Harold Singer of the Laurelton Jewish Center became a licensed real estate broker and made a strong effort to keep people from falling into the trap set by the bad agents.
“He tried to make it as integrated as possible and save families from unnecessarily moving out,” she said.
His strategy paid off and today the neighborhood still retains its middle-class identity.
The co-authors of the book said they had fun discovering the hidden treasures of the neighborhood and finding out some fun facts. Kossoff said the neighborhood was once home to a one-armed lion tamer and celebrities such as Dr. Joyce Brothers and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” director Amy Heckerling.
Kossoff noted that the book also prompted her family to catch the history bug as they helped with the research and writing.
“It was a whole summer of work, but it was very, very exciting. I felt like an archaeologist,” she said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@c
©2011 Community News Group
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