By The Greater Astoria Historical Society
It was 1958 and we called it “The Golden Age of Television.” At 6:30 p.m. on Channel 4, you had the news with Gabe Pressman. At 7 p.m., one could either watch the evening news with Robert Trout or sports with Howard Cosell. At 7:15 p.m. ran “World News with Douglas Edwards.”
Prime time viewing heavily featured westerns. At 7:30 p.m. rolled out “Wagon Train,” followed by “Tombstone Territory.” In one evening, between 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., you could watch four shows that defined the 1950s: “Lawrence Welk,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” and “Ozzie and Harriet.”
Although a feature of television was live entertainment, even back then filming or taping began to take over. The last survivor of “live” weekly dramas, “Playhouse 90,” was described as an oasis in a wasteland of game shows, westerns and assorted potboilers.
Movies were in sharp decline during a decade that featured Grade B flicks. “Million Dollar Movie” was showing “Macao” with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell — “she looks like a loaded pistol with the safety catch off,” said the Herald Tribune.
Mom and Dad may have been watching “Lawrence Welk,” but reckless youth adored James Dean and Marlon Brando. Police swooped down on an 85-mph drag race in Howard Beach and arrested 18 hot rodders and their girlfriends. The cars ranged from beat-up jalopies with souped-up motors to the latest models from Detroit.
The next day they were brought before Judge LoPiccolo, of Ridgewood Adolescent Court. They wore tight dungarees, bushy haircuts and leather jackets.
One youth was smirking.
“What is so funny?” asked the outraged judge, who lived in Howard Beach and was one of the residents frightened by the drag racing mob.
He gave the sobered youths a lecture, and then disqualified himself.
“I’m too burned up” he said.
The post-war boom continued. Thousands of shoppers descended on 100 merchants for Flushing Sale Days. Some stores opened at 6 a.m. and people waited all night to take advantage of early-bird specials.
In Gertz, one could buy a Westinghouse 21-inch console TV for $189, a deluxe range for $99 and a Hotpoint refrigerator for $159.
Hart Schaffner & Marx suits were going for $59.75 and sports coats for only $9.99. A six-piece walnut bedroom set was yours for only $299. Karl Ehmer offered 1 pound of bologna free with a $2.50 purchase.
To get shoppers to Flushing Sale Days, engineers and construction crews continued to work on the Queens end of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. They projected the section between Northern Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue would be opened by the new year. The entire project was slated for completion by 1962.
A 1949 Buick was listed for only $95 at Ungers in Woodside. A 1957 Ford eight-cylinder four-door was offered for $1,845. Tires were advertised for $13.95 plus tax and recap. Volkswagons appeared under listings for sports cars and imported cars.
They’re back! Drag racing again attracted a cheering crowd of 300, this time in Astoria. Two police officers from the Youth Squad on routine patrol at 9 p.m. near the Astoria Connecting Highway saw the group and ordered them to disburse.
An hour later, the highway was still empty, but at 10:30 p.m., when police made another routine check, the race was going full blast and the crowd was even larger.
This time when threatened with arrest, there was a mad scramble with people running through fields and side streets. Thirteen people were grabbed in the melee.