By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
In a century of living in Bayside, Hazel C. Gilmore has seen fields of flowers turn into houses, a lake replaced with a gas station and a penny candy store become a CVS pharmacy.
Gilmore, who turned 100 last Thursday, reflected on how times had changed as she received family, birthday phone calls and baskets of flowers in her 219th Street house across the street from where she was born.
“We used to go to Flushing every weekend with a horse and buggy to get our supplies for the week,” said Gilmore, recalling the early days when there were few stores in Bayside. “My mother used to get a yard of bologna in one piece.”
Gilmore’s father, developer Herman Anderson, built all the houses on the block where Gilmore still lives.
But before there were houses, there were fields with greenhouses where the young girl would help her father sell flowers to the wholesale market.
Gilmore’s mother Elizabeth grew up in a house with a water well in the front yard on Northern and Bell boulevards where a White Castle restaurant stands today. The house was across the street from a lake that occupied the current site of a Mobil station.
As a child, Gilmore would make the trek on foot four times a day to and from PS 31, sometimes stopping to buy candy from the store that is now a CVS pharmacy on Northern and Bell.
Soon enough, Gilmore became the first female driver in Bayside, tooling around town in her father’s Model T at age 15.
“The men used to stand on the corner and gape at me,” said Gilmore with a laugh.
After graduating from Flushing High School, Gilmore attended secretarial school in Manhattan where she learned shorthand and typing.
She would use an $8.80 monthly pass on the Long Island Rail Road to get to the Midtown real estate firm where she worked or sometimes she would drive into the city and park her car on 42nd Street the entire day.
The enterprising Gilmore even owned a bakery, the Bell Boulevard Bake Shop, from 1925 to 1938 when she got married. A loaf of bread cost 11 cents.
“Bell Boulevard had trees and we parked at an angle,” said Gilmore, who marveled at today’s congestion on the commercial strip.
Gilmore had two sons, Robert and Jack, with her husband John L. Gilmore, who worked in the textile business. Robert died of a brain tumor at age 35 and her husband died in 1974.
Once an avid bowler on a team called the Crazy Keglers, Gilmore stays closer to home these days, spending time at the Sacred Heart Church seniors’ club.
“She said she prefers it out here in the country,” said Anne Schaefer, one of Gilmore’s five grandchildren. “And I would remind her that this hasn’t been the country for a long time!”
Nearly 200 of Gilmore’s friends and family from all over the country, including several great grandchildren, traveled to Queens last week to celebrate her 100th birthday at the Reception House in Flushing.
As for her secret to longevity, Gilmore said, “I guess I’m just lucky,” but pointed out that her father had also lived to the ripe age of 95.
“I just think if you lead a normal life and do what you’re supposed to do, everything will be fine,” said Gilmore. “I don’t think you have to do anything special.”
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.