NASA, World’s Fair, drag racing in ’60s Queens

By Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history

It was Sept. 5, 1962, when five volunteers emerged from a giant space chamber at Republic Aviation in Farmingdale. Among them was 23-year-old Michael Bloom, of Fresh Meadows. These human guinea pigs had spent 14 days breathing nothing but oxygen. Michael and the others put in 10-hour days, while running through a total of 683 physical and psychological tests. The tests were done on behalf of NASA, which hoped to find a single gas to be used in Project Gemini and future manned space projects.

The Port Authority had set a target date of 1967 for converting LaGuardia Airport to land jet aircraft. The conversion would extend existing runways into the East River. But, in September 1962, Eastern Airlines was awaiting delivery of Boeing jets, which could safely land and take off from the existing airport runways. Mohawk Airlines also had ordered jets from British Aircraft Corporation, which could operate from LaGuardia and land on even shorter runways in the upstate area.

Thousands of Oregon Pine piles were being driven deep into the marshy earth of Flushing Meadow, a former garbage dump, to support the billions of dollars of construction for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. Over 600 men scrambled “like ants” over the excavation mounds at the site. Sweeping new strips of highway were being built to connect the expected 70 million visitors to the fair with thruways, air terminals or piers.

Robert Moses (in the Star’s words: “autocratic czar of the biggest exhibition ever planned in the history of the world”) ordained: “Every participant must keep up with the time schedule. The calendar is all-important now.” Sixty-eight countries planned pavilions, and all 50 states were expected to be represented at the fair.

Two Cuban nationals appeared in Kew Gardens Criminal Court on charges of amassing an arsenal in a plan to overthrow Fidel Castro. Police said one defendant’s car trunk contained a .75mm cannon, a .20mm anti tank gun, a dummy .75mm shell and a manual of operations, two bazookas and 100 rounds of .20mm ammunition. The defendants were Frank Padron, 31, and Jose Blanco, 26, both of 25-30 48th Street in Astoria. Both had been in the country three years.

The cache was discovered innocently when police found Blanco double-parked in front of the A & P market at 42-13 30th Ave. and noticed that the rear of the car was sagging badly. When asked why, Blanco replied, “I have ammunition to be shipped to our anti-Castro forces in Florida.”

News that Borough President John T. Clancy was setting up a conference for hot rod enthusiasts and police, fire and traffic officials to arrange for a legal drag race demonstration on 20th Avenue in Whitestone was met with enthusiasm at a mass meeting of hot rodders from Queens and Brooklyn in Corona.

The Rev. Robert Walker of the Evangelical Church of Christ Missionary in Brooklyn and president of the Voluntary Assembly of Hot Rod Organizations said at the meeting that there was a definite need for a legal drag strip in the city. Dan Borrows, president of the Metropolitan Timing Association spoke of a proposed law which would penalize an offender caught drag racing on public streets with a $100 fine for the first offense, $500 for the second and impounding and selling the car on the third. The proposed law was met with a mixture of stunned silence, boos and disbelief from the assembled hot rodders.

Borrows continued, “So far the city has built parks, playgrounds and golf courses. They have fantastic facilities for youths up to the age of 18. But between the age of 18, and the time he gets married, when his car is most important, they’ve supplied nothing.”

Compiled by Greater Astoria Historical Society. For further information, contact the Society at 718-278-0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

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