Turning back the clock to Woodhaven from a century ago: Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was

Photos courtesy of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society

As we enter the year 2018, let’s take a look back 100 years ago to see what life was like in Woodhaven.

The biggest change of life in 1918 Woodhaven was the addition of the elevated train, which had just opened the previous May after several years of heated controversy. Most residents of Woodhaven didn’t want an elevated line to run down Jamaica Avenue, opting instead for a planned subway.

The city was unimpressed with arguments made by those pushing for a subway instead of an elevated line, promising that the resulting track would be safe and “practically noiseless.” They made it clear, though, that residents had little choice in the matter when a representative from the BRT said at a meeting that “Woodhaven would take the El or walk!”

And so, Woodhaven has had an elevated train ever since, though it’s about as far from “practically noiseless” as anything could possibly get.

1918 also saw a new school completing its first year, P.S. 97 on Yarmouth Street (which today, is known as 85th Street). A century later, P.S. 97 is known as the “Forest Park School” and is going strong.

The first principal of P.S. 97 was Martin Joyce, who also served as the principal of P.S. 60 and P.S. 65 at the same time. Can you imagine serving as principal for 3 schools at the same time?

P.S. 60 was a small wooden schoolhouse on 87th Road between 80th and 85th Streets, but it was demolished in the 1960s and moved to its current location near 92nd Street and 88th Avenue. And P.S. 65 was on 78th Street off Jamaica Avenue and was deactivated and demolished long ago.

Residents of Woodhaven in 1918 could go to see a movie at either the Parkway on 85th and Jamaica (where they could view movies indoor our outside) or the Manor at 96th and Jamaica. Both would be closed before 1920 and all of the theaters which came after (the Willard, the Haven and the Roosevelt) are also gone from our current landscape.

With the Haven closing in the mid-1980s, there will soon come a time when no person living in Woodhaven could say that they were ever in any of our hometown theaters.

A time traveler from 1918 would no doubt be shocked by the changes to Woodhaven, but would also be comforted by many of the same buildings and roads and even some of the same businesses.

Popp’s Restaurant is still at the corner of 86th and Jamaica, just as it has since 1907. Manor Delicatessen is still at 94th Street and Jamaica Avenue, just as it has been since 1914.

You can still make your way to Forest Park to ride the carousel, except these days it sports a New York City Landmark designation. Walker Funeral Home is still in business, as is Neir’s Tavern.

Many of the houses in Woodhaven are 100 years old or more, so there’s a good chance the time traveler from 1918 could visit the home they lived in, and stop in a few old establishments.

But in the end, our time traveler will return home to a very somber Woodhaven in 1918. The United States had entered World War I in April of the previous year and casualty reports were starting to come in.

The war would be over soon, before the end of 1918. But the community of Woodhaven would be hit hard, eventually building a living memorial to the fallen in Forest Park. Some of the original Memorial Trees of Forest Park planted in memory of the young soldiers who died are still standing.


And just as residents of Woodhaven did in the aftermath of that war, American Legion Post 118 and the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will decorate the trees in honor of the fallen for Memorial Day.

And so, we hope our time traveler will return home to 1918 and tell residents about the ‘practically noiseless’ train, and the traffic and all of our other failings. But we hope the time traveler will also let them know that we still honor Woodhaven’s young residents who gave their life to this country a century before.

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