By Stanley Cogan
“Laurelton! What's Laurelton?” was the anguished response of various family members to my parents’ muted announcement that we were moving to that outpost of Queens County, just west of Rosedale (the southeastern most community in Queens).
The family was traumatized. Leave the comfortable familiarity of Flatbush, leave the warm embrace of Brooklyn, where so many family members lived for the alien, uncharted lands of eastern Queens. And in the depths of this Depression in the spring of 1932.
Never mind. My parents, rugged individualists and suburban pioneers, felt that Flatbush was getting too crowded, and the elbow-roomed Laurelton was the place for them.
Remaining firm against family opposition (which relented soon after), we took the trek from Flatbush to Laurelton and became residents of the Moss Homes, where we lived for 11 years, from 1932 to 1943.
The Moss Homes (named after the builder) consisted of a three-block development of Tudor-style attached houses, running from 230th Street to 232nd Street. It was one block wide, the Northern end adjoining Sunrise Highway (soon after the service road of the Belt Parkway). There were perhaps 25 houses on each street, with a row of stores and a service station at the western end.
A look at a map shows the development separated from Laurelton by the Long Island Rail Road and the Belt Parkway and separated from Rosedale by Brookville Park. The mailing address was Laurelton, but Rosedalians were inclined to think of the development as the Moss Homes, a distinct and detached appendage.
In effect, then, our community was an insular, self-contained one, belonging to the two larger communities but not really part of either.
To add to the separateness, to the west was perhaps a mile of nothingness, reaching to Springfield Gardens, while to the south was an endless plain that stretched perhaps as far as Rockaway Boulevard. But to us children, it was the world….
Being so isolated, it was necessary for us to make that world a viable and challenging one. “Our gang” did just that. We were a stable group of boys (girls were still a world apart) who, for most of the decade, played together, fought together, went to school together, and grew up together.
Many memories crowd upon each other. The endless card games we played. The rears of successive house rows were separated by alleys. During summer days or early evenings, boys would gradually emerge from different homes that lined the alleys (I would invariably emerge with bread smeared with mayonnaise), a convenient location against a garage would be chosen, and the game would begin. Or perhaps a game of marbles or a game of “Territory,” prompted by somebody's display of a pocket knife. Certainly Ringeleveo and Red Rover were part of our basic repertoire.
Seasonal sports were always to be enjoyed, whether touch tackle in the fall or sleigh-riding on the gentle slopes of Brookville Park in the winter. Among my happiest memories is roller-skating in the park, racing downhill, with sufficient momentum to have carried me back up all or part of the next hill. One remembers isolated fragments. The first time I heard “The Skaters' Waltz” was when Artie Mack and I, arms intertwined, skated to his whistling of the song.
How well,I remember Mr. and Mrs. Resnick, proprietors of the “Royal Scarlet” (I can still see the food-bearing butter 1ogo) grocery store. Remember, this was the Depression, and so daily purchases were always concluded with “charge it,”to be paid at weekly or semi-weekly intervals.
One of my sweetest memories is walking (what a long walk!) across an overgrown field on a narrow footpath to the Laurelton LIRR station to meet my father returning from work and walking with him, recounting the day's activities.
Sundays were softball games at one end of Brookville Park, with local young men as participants. I was a faithful fan at so many of those games.
The Belt Parkway was constructed during the mid-Thirties, and watching its construction was a standard spectator sport for us. Of particular enjoyment was watching the Sunday late afternoon/early evening return of automobiles bearing families from a day at the beach (Jones Beach, the Rockaways).
The Moss Homes were a strategic location between the beaches and Brooklyn. What cruel taunting delight we took in comfortably positioning ourselves along the roadway, watching the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the frustrated, sunburned weary beachers, and with superior disdain advising them to “get a horse!”
School (PS 138, Rosedale) was a mile away, through Brookville Park and Rosedale. We were a lunch-box group of students.
Over the subsequent years, at rare intervals, I would revisit the Moss Homes, keeping nostalgia nourished. Recently through a very fortuitous circumstance, I established contact with one of “Our Gang.” Bobby “Peanuts” Praver and I had not seen each other for more than 50 years. We went back to scenes of our childhood and for a short wonderful time refuted “You Can't Go Home Again.”
We walked every street of the Moss Homes. There had been changes (certainly after 50 years!) The service station office, with its wonderful round, white-stuccoed walls, was gone, and the service station itself was now a used-car lot. Stores were still there but considerably altered. The biggest change was wide-open spaces. Now for blocks, for miles, south and west were endless houses and blocks, one continuous developed mass.
Bobby, a builder, felt that our houses, well-constructed, had stood up very well. But how those alleys, those beloved alleys, had shrunk! They had become remnants of a long-gone time….
Brookville Park hadn't changed much, the trees 50 years older. There was one negative change, though. Way back when, there had been two lovely clear ponds. One was still fairly attractive, but the other was now a memory, a silted and overgrown bog, with flowing water a bare trickle.
The Rosedale that we had known was intact and unchanged (there are still people living there who had been our peers 50 years ago). But, we learned, that Rosedale was Old Rosedale, to differentiate it from New Rosedale, which filled miles of previously empty space.
We walked up Weller Avenue, through Rosedale all the way to PS 138, wandered around town, and back through the park to our starting point. The day was a sheer delight for both of us.
The Moss Homes were a comfortable though hardly luxurious set of houses, one of which (ours) cost $6,990 in 1932. It was our place, “out our way,” providing a secure and comfortable environment in which to grow. It will always be a happy part of my life.
I think I speak for all of us who grew up there.
(Reprinted from the Queens Historical Society newsletter, January/February 1991)