Visitors Center opens at Fort Totten

The conversion of Fort Totten from a Cold War missile base to a multi-purpose civic resource took a step closer recently, with the official opening of a Visitors Center at the historic Old Fort in Bayside after a $1.3 million renovation.
Department of Parks and Recreation (DOPR) Commissioner Adrian Benepe was joined by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who provided $850,000 in funding for the renovation, which was supplemented with $450,000 from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
State Senators Frank Padavan and Toby Ann Stavisky and City Councilmember Tony Avella also spoke to a crowd that included local civic leaders and about 50 fourth-grade students from P.S. 209, the Clearview Gardens School in Whitestone.
A late addition to the bevy of civilian officials was Major General William Terpeluk, who will be the last Commander of the Fort, which has defended the northern approach to New York Harbor since the Civil War.
“From military weapon storage site to shoe repair facility to Visitors Center for a public park, this building’s historic legacy lives on,” said Commissioner Benepe, who turned the occasion into a teaching opportunity for the school children, who sat on the floor at the front.
Benepe may have met his match as the kids, excited to be participants, corrected his math and every inconsistency, no matter how small.
Marshall, an experienced early-education teacher, showed traces of amusement at Benepe’s distress, and complimented the children during her remarks.
“I am happy to support this project, which is a centerpiece of the historic Fort Totten rebirth that will benefit and provide enjoyment for generations of visitors,” Queens Borough President Marshall said.
Avella paid tribute to 93-year-old Jacob (Jack) Fein, the official Army Curator for Fort Totten, who maintained a museum in the building for over 50 years.
Fein, who recently suffered a stroke, is in the Veterans’ Hospital in St. Albans. His collection of roughly 11,000 items has been removed to a warehouse by the Army. According to Terpeluk, some of the items may be donated to the visitors’ center, which doubles as a museum.
The museum display, which will be expanded in the future, currently includes two civil war replica uniforms, replica artillery, and maps of the fort. The DOPR Urban Park Rangers, the City’s outdoor specialists, will run their Fort Totten education programs from the Visitors Center building.

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