Filmmakers close in on finishing Pomonok documentary

By Alex Robinson

In September 2011, Terry Katz and Al Stark set off to tell the story of Pomonok Houses.

After almost three years and more than 120 interviews later, the duo are close to completing their documentary, which chronicles what it was like to grow up in the Flushing housing development in the 1950s and ’60s.

The idea for the documentary, “Written on a Project Wall: A Reminiscence,” was first conceived when Katz wanted to make a short film about Jack, an ice cream man who used to sell treats, baseball cards and hula hoops to the development’s children.

Katz found Stark, who also grew up in the development, while trying to figure out what happened to Jack, and the two decided to embark on telling the story of the community that sprouted from Pomonok.

The 35-building development has 2,070 apartments that house an estimated 4,204 people, according to the city Housing Authority. The mammoth development, bordered by 65th and 71st avenues as well as Parsons and Kissena boulevards, was completed in 1952 and Katz’s family moved in shortly afterward.

“Lots of people think of public housing today as these rat-infested places, but it isn’t like that today and definitely wasn’t like that back then,” Katz said. “We wanted to demystify that.”

Katz, who was born in the housing development in 1954, fondly remembered it as a friendly community where there were always other children nearby to play with.

“Everybody kind of knew each other there and if you were doing something wrong, people would tell your mom,” he said. “And by the time you got home, your mom would know what you did.”

The two interviewed a number of prominent people who grew up in Pomonok Houses, such as former U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman, actor Mike Starr of “Goodfellas” fame and Max Grodenchik, brother of former Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik.

Katz, who now lives in Fresh Meadows, said there were many overlapping themes in all the interviews they conducted, but the main one was of racial diversity. In the ’50s, 13 percent of the residents in Pomonok Houses were black at a time when only 9 percent of the borough was black, according to Katz.

“It was considered a highly integrated environment back in the 1950s,” he said.

Katz and Stark did a pre-screening of the documentary last week to a get feedback on the film and are going to give it its finishing production touches this summer.

“Over this course of three years, I’ve met so many nice people I didn’t know growing up there because you didn’t hang out with people a year or two older or younger than you,” Katz said. “I really wish I knew them back then and had their friendship all those years. This film has been a very rewarding personal experience.”

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.