Roosevelt, the rails and more in 1937 Queens

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

In 1937, the nation was still in the grip of the Great Depression, a period in our history where the economy all but collapsed and one in four workers was unemployed.

President Franklin Roosevelt, who the public elected to turn things around, spent four years trying to get Congress and the Supreme Court to support his efforts to revive the economy. His program, dubbed the “New Deal,” faced severe opposition.

The president attempted a controversial maneuver by “packing” the Supreme Court with six hand-picked judges. In Queens, he had the backing of John Clancy, president of the powerful Vincent Quinn Association of Whitestone, who said, “It is desirable that this court be responsive to some degree to the more progressive and enlightened thought in this country in its attempts to remedy existing social and economic ills.”

FDR’s bold move failed. Clancy later became borough president of Queens from 1959 to 1962.

Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia chose Gracie Mansion as the mayor’s official residence in 1942. Before that time, he spent summers in different parts of the city. In March 1937, the mayor’s office announced that this summer, City Hall was to be in Queens, fulfilling a promise he made the previous July when the summer City Hall was in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx.

On March 11, 1937, the Board of Education approved plans for Astoria’s new William Cullen Bryant High School. It would cost $2.325 million and house 4,120 students. Credit for the new school went to Queens board member and Rego Park resident Mrs. Johanna Lindlof, who earnestly argued for more than three hours at a city hearing that Astoria’s growing population warranted a new school.

On March 3, under a headline touting the latest building boom in Queens, City Council President William Brunner asked for immediate action to increase mass transit in the borough. He announced a program to extend the Queens Boulevard subway from Jamaica to Bellrose with a spur down Van Wyck Boulevard to South Ozone Park, and another extension to the Far Rockaways.

He discussed expanding the Flushing subway to Bayside with a branch north to Whitestone and College Point. And finally, the construction of a south Queens line linking the borough with the Fulton Street system in Brooklyn was also suggested. Brunner pointed out that only 25 square miles, or less than a quarter of Queens’ 115 square miles, had adequate mass transit. By way of comparison, more than 50 percent of the Bronx and Brooklyn had elevated or subway service.

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

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