By Bill Parry
Generations of children in East Elmhurst and Corona grew up with a giant boulder as an important part their lives. It’s where they played and fought and had tea parties and picnics. The youngsters used to bury their pets around it because they loved the Giant Rock and in later years they grew concerned for its future in the middle of the rapid development in and around LaGuardia Airport.
In 1980, a Crowne Plaza Hotel was to be built on the site and adults who were once the children who climbed on the boulder rallied around it fearing developers would destroy the big rock with explosives. Attempts were ineffective and the rock still bears scars of the attempted demolition.
Nearly 20 years later they returned to rally around the rock that was threatened by the construction of the Hampton Inn.
The 1,000-ton boulder, left behind by the glacier that created Long Island 12,000 years ago, became a centerpiece of the parking lot of the two hotels but it had a plaque calling it The Ditmars Boulevard Crowne Plaza Pet Rock after employees at the two hotels had a competition to name it.
“The Giant Rock is a part of our history and we hated the name Pet Rock,” Corona-East Elmhurst Historical Preservation Society President Carol Drew said. “We couldn’t stand the name Pet Rock for years, but no one would listen to us. We’d always ask them to change it, but no one ever listened.”
Nearly half a year ago, the group addressed a letter to both hotels requesting the name be changed back to Giant Rock.
“We didn’t hear back so we put up a petition online,” Drew said. “But before we could tell them about it we got a letter from them saying they wanted to rededicate it.”
The letter from John Reynolds, the general manager at the re-named LaGuardia Plaza Hotel, and Jim Norris, the general manager at the Hampton Inn, planned an unveiling of a new plaque identifying the massive slab as Giant Rock. Dozens of community elders joined elected leaders and hotel employees recently for a rededication ceremony at the base of the beloved boulder.
“I’m just elated,” Drew said. “Not just for me but for the whole community.”
State Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona), who grew up on 97th Street, said Giant Rock is where he and his friends came every Saturday before playing inside LaGuardia Airport.
“Back then they used sea planes and they used to be tied up to piers along Bowery Bay,” Aubry said. “This rock has seen so many things. It has seen the expansion of the airport and the development of these hotels and it has seen the way we as a community changed into the most dynamic part of the borough. It’s a tribute to its own strength that the community wanted it to stay.”
Vivian Callendar and Deborah Tyson, two principal founding members of the Corona-East Elmhurst Historical Preservation Society were thrilled with the group’s success.
My Parents moved from Harlem to Corona and it was a very big deal in 1927,” Callendar said. “When you got out of Harlem this was like the country and this is where we all played together, whether you were from Corona or East Elmhurst.”
The organization formed four years ago to preserve some of the historic homes in the neighborhoods. Now that Giant Rock has been rededicated the group will go back to its original mission.
“We’re preservationists and the homes in the neighborhood were being eroded along with the memories with all of this development,” Tyson said. “We’re working with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to try and preserve Dizzy Gillespie’s home as well as the home of author Crockett Johnson in Corona. It’s right next to the Corona Library and Queens Library wants to expand that branch and we don’t want that to happen.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr