Blizzard shared headlines in 1960 with new Pan Am terminal at Idlewild

By Astoria Historical Society

By the Astoria Historical Society

As a brutal winter storm buried Queens in December 1960. A slashing blizzard measured more than 18 inches by noon. Packing a howling 35 mph wind, the killer storm was called the worst of the year. Within 24 hours, the mercury dipped to a frigid 7 degrees. The deep freeze slowed the borough from digging out. Long Island tallied 26 dead, with 130 fatalities across the country. LIRR erased the day off its calendar.

In the worst accident in commercial aviation disaster to date, 136 were killed as a DC-8, on approach to Idlewild (today JFK) Airport, and a TWA Constellation bound for LaGuardia Airport, collided over Staten Island. All on board the ill-fated aircraft, some 127 passengers were killed in the mid-air crash.

A few shots of whiskey, and four or five cigars a day were Joseph Deitsch’s formula for longevity. “Live it up a little and stop worrying. Health foods, spas, special liniments, they are all a waste of time. Just wind ‘er up and let ‘er go, that’s the ticket,’ jested the old-timer, cigar in hand.

The nonagenarian claimed that life began at 80. He was the father of six “youngsters,” ages 63 to 52, had 12 grandchildren and at least 10 great-grand children. The spry resident of 146-29 Laburnum Ave. in Flushing traced his ancestry back to Aaron Levy, the Revolutionary War banker and financial wizard who gave his entire personal fortune to the American fight for freedom. Joseph was also related to the late Justice of the Supreme Court, Benjamin Cordozo.

The topflight structure that graced the Queens building scene during the past year was the airy Pan American Airways Passenger Terminal at Idlewild Airport. The Queens Chamber of Commerce selected the futuristic terminal, which gave the impression it might take off along with the planes that used it.

Built to “bring the plane to the passenger,” the “upside down umbrella building”covered more that four acres. The building grounded all other competitors for the title of “Most Outstanding Structure in the Borough.” The Pan Am Building is only the fifth structure to ever win the special Bronze Plaque. The most recent winner (as of 1960) was the “Big A” Aqueduct Race Track in Ozone Park.

The mammoth new Throgs Neck Bridge, whose 12,300-foot span cost $90 million, should put an end to the bumper-to-bumper nightmare of the Whitestone Bridge and help ease congestion on the Triborough.

In an editorial, the Star-Journal pushed for a grander idea: “Now what is needed is a bridge across the Long Island Sound to Connecticut or Rhode Island. It has been pooh-poohed as far fetched, but it too will be built some day.’

The Star-Journal profiled the size of public housing projects in New York. In Queens, 36,340 people lived in 11 city housing projects. Over 13,000 apartments were built at a cost of $112 million.

In the five boroughs, 433,000 lived in 92 projects with another 50 in the planning stage. Federal money was used for Queensbridge, South Jamaica, Hammels, and Baisley Park. City monies financed Woodside, Arverne, Ravenswood and Pomonok. State resources were used for the Astoria, Bland and Redfern Houses. Queensbridge was the largest, housing 10,400 in 3,100 apartments. Queens projects included 11 community centers, 11 pre-school rooms, eight old age clubs, three school annexes, four branch libraries, and two child health stations.

An unclaimed airline suitcase at LaGuardia was thought to contain explosives after a baggage inspector at Hangar Three opened it and saw what he thought were sticks of dynamite.

The Bomb Squad, Fire Department, and Port Authority Police were summoned. They found balloons, feathers, horns, a kettle and trick matches. The dynamite turned out to be an entertainer’s make-up powder. The bag was a magic entertainer’s kit.

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