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Pictures dated c. 1907 and 2003
Pictures did not appear in original article
Click images to enlarge
For a brief time after it was first organized, the Kew Gardens Civic Association met in the Union Hall Club on the southwest corner of Hillside Avenue and Beech Street (today's 120th Street) in Richmond Hill. This view is looking west to Lefferts Avenue (Boulevard). In the black and white photograph, the turret of the Vetter Mansion (today's Simonson Funeral Home) can be seen at the end of the block.



Pictures dated c. 1920 and 2001
Pictures did not appear in original article
Click images to enlarge
After the Kew Gardens Country Club opened in 1917 at the corner of Lefferts Avenue (Boulevard) and Austin Street, the Kew Gardens Civic Association held its meetings there.
Kew Gardens Civics Had Varied History
[Reprinted from the October 10, 1941 issue of the Forest Hills-Kew Gardens Post]

The Kew Gardens Civic Association, which has had so much to do with the progress of the Community, has had an interesting history.

It was organized in March, 1914 at the home of a Mr. Cook who at that time was a resident of the section.

At this meeting, W.C. Cuntz was elected president; R. Lawrence, secretary-treasurer. The first few meetings were held at the homes of members, but very soon the regular meeting place was transferred to the Richmond Hill [Union Hall] Club which was located on the south side of Hillside Avenue a few doors east of Lefferts Avenue.

This Club ultimately formed the nucleus of the Kew Gardens Country Club and the old [Union Hall] club building gave way later to a row of small apartment houses. The Country Club has always generously permitted the association to hold its meetings at its new home.

In the association's second year, that is, in 1915, James F. Pierce was elected president; W. H. Smith, vice president; and Charles S. Clark, secretary-treasurer.

As required by the by-laws, an executive committee of five members was named, the selection being W. C. Cuntz, Charles Earl, Harry Hoffman, J. F. Sniffen and J. Arthur Finchbeck.

The by-laws of that day also required that there should be appointed by the president four standing committees, namely: sewer and light, streets and water, transportation and schools.

At this period, as shown by the little "Year Book" printed in 1916, there were enrolled eighty-nine members.

Underground Wiring

The association's first noteworthy achievement was that of having the Kew Gardens electric lighting system placed under ground. This was a result attributable wholly to the efforts of the association.

In a call sent out by the secretary on Novenber 20, 1915 for a meeting on the twenty-ninth of that month there occurs the following statement:

"Unusually important business will be discussed including the subject of the installation of modern electric light poles. This will be the only opportunity which the association will have to thresh this matter out and take such action as may be deemed necessary to prevent unsightly poles being placed in Kew Gardens."

There was a protracted fight ahead which the association fought to a victorious conclusion, but before it was won prices rose so high that the job of the installation of wires underground cost substantially more than originally estimated and the Kew Gardens Corporation (in accordance with the agreement that the property owners would pay the difference between the cost of an underground system and the overhead plan) paid a deficit of more than $1,000 as well as the substantial sum it had to pay as property owner.

Zoning Laws

In the report of the Association printed April, 1925 the story of the zoning law activites of the group is treated of [sic] in a chapter entitled, "Effort at Zoning and the Result."

The report says: "It was inevitable that so attractive a locality as Kew Gardens should awaken the interest of the builders of apartment houses. When the industry started in earnest, the citizens of Kew began a vigorus effort to combat it by attempting to create an 'E' building zone and a serious conflict of interests was immediately inaugurated. While the building of such structures was along the rim of the district and on areas which could not be sold for dwellings, it was felt that such invasion, even when confined to the outlying streets was damaging to property values, especially to the adjoining residences.

"The story of the two-year contest between the parties in interest is too long to be included here but the net result was failure to secure the authorization of an 'E' zone.

"The next step was an effort to obtain through negotiations with Kew Gardens Corporation an agreement with that company which would guard against apartments possessed by the corporation, from falling into the hands of those who might be indifferent to the future of Kew and permit such structures to be erected in any part of Kew Gardens.

A committee of the civic association conducted these negotiations with Alrick Man of Kew Gardens Corporation.

"An agreement finally was reached which places the release as to restrictions as to apartment houses in the hands of a committee composed of the Trust Officer of the Bank of Manhattan Company and four other members elected by the Civic Association. To be eligible to serve on this committee the designee must be a resident of Kew and the owner of a on-family [sic] dwelling house therein.

"Opinions differ as to whether or not this agreement can be considered legally binding, but at least as a gentleman's agreement it should be effective in protecting Kew for many years to come. The agreement has been executed and delivered following the ratification at a general meeting of the association and is now in force."

  • Antique photograph of the Union Hall Club from the Lucy Ballenas Collection courtesy of Carl Ballenas.

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