Wartime Queens a boro in transformation

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In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history

In June, 1944, the Allies invaded France. In October, a gang of Queens soldiers at a U. S. Army hospital had been overseas so long that, if they were dropped off at Queens Plaza, they probably would have gotten lost.

One of them, Corporal Edward Bodenmiller, when asked his address, scratched his head and admitted he didn’t remember. There were 26 enlisted men and one nurse, all from Queens, in this outfit. All but two came into the Army at the same time in July 1942. Most of them came from local draft boards 245 and 246. After being interviewed, several of them called out to the reporter: “Give our regards to Draft Board 245!”

Thousands lined the streets of Queens on Oct. 21 to watch President Roosevelt’s motorcade sweep by on its way to the Bronx and Manhattan in an unprecedented citywide tour. It was the first time since Pearl Harbor that a visit by FDR was announced in advance. More than 1,000 uniformed policemen lined the route.

In Astoria, the motorcade passed one of the most politically historic sites in the country. At Broadway and Steinway Street, it passed the site of Schuetzen Park, by then occupied by a furniture store. In the large assembly hall, which once stood in the park, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt had made some of the most important campaign addresses of their careers, and all but Bryan reached the White House.

On Oct. 26, Mayor LaGuardia and other dignitaries spoke from the platform of a huge concrete mixing machine in a ceremony to mark the beginning of the paving of the first 10,000 foot-long runway at Idlewild, which then was slated to be the largest airport in the world. LaGuardia also announced that the city had already made plans for a temporary administration building to be followed by a permanent administration building with ticket offices and passenger accommodations. The airport opened to commercial traffic in 1948.

In one of his Sunday radio broadcasts, Mayor LaGuardia launched a crusade to end smoking in subway cars and stations. At least 5,047 summons for these offenses had been issued the previous year, and many in Queens had been fined. His talk further went on to ask restaurants to conserve butter by serving butterless lunches; urged consumers to not buy more choice meat cuts than they need; reported that the Health Department would soon issue “drastic orders covering the entire city” to meet the menace of unleashed dogs; and decried the practice of shaking mops out of windows.

Two 15-year-old youths escaped from the Jamaica Children’s Shelter and were apprehended 52 hours later, but not before the boys confessed to committing 30 burglaries in that time period. Most of the jobs were gasoline stations, but apartments and Flushing High School were also entered. When they were caught, they had a mere $30 and some jewelry, candy and cigarettes, but had fenced two expensive wrist watches stolen in Woodside. Some of the break-ins were not even reported, as nothing was taken. Instead of their shelter clothing, they were found wearing new suits and neckties from a Jamaica burglary. Their explanation for their escapades was that they were seeking funds for train fare to Arizona, but could give no reason why.

Playing at the movies were “Brother Rat,” starring Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman; “Tiger Shark,” starring Edward G. Robinson; “Suspicion,” starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine; and “Dead End,” starring Humphrey Bogart.

For further information, contact the Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at

Posted 12:00 am, October 18, 2017
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