Thousands of people a day pass by storefronts in Queens and never realize the ties these buildings have with the neighborhood’s history.
Take, for instance, the address 65-02 Myrtle Ave. in Glendale. It’s currently used by a carpet retailer, but this site was once known as Unity Hall, a gathering place for politics and leisurely activities operated by one of the area’s most prominent politicians in the early 20th century.
Unity Hall, which originally featured grand white marble columns, was built and opened in 1909 by the Unity Democratic Building Association. It was leased to the Unity Democratic Club led by Alfred Denton, a local lawyer with high political aspirations.
The hall featured a main entrance below its columns on Myrtle Avenue and a side entrance on what was then called Fresh Pond Road, but is now known as Cypress Hills Street. The ground floor featured a saloon operated by local innkeeper Minnie Peters; there was a gym, a locker room and a bowling alley in the hall’s basement and a meeting room on the second floor.
Denton, a Glendale native, graduated from New York Law School and became an attorney. He was active in the Democratic Party and, by 1909, was a mutual judge for the third district for a 10-year term.
At first, Unity Hall got off to a horrific financial beginning, as the revenues it generated weren’t enough to pay the interest on the mortgage. After falling into foreclosure in December 1911, Judge Denton purchased the hall for $17,500, less than half of what it cost to build the structure two years earlier.
But Judge Denton’s days on the bench, as it happened, were numbered. In 1919, he began experiencing mental problems and clashed with attorneys practicing in his court. His relatives had him committed to a mental hospital in Suffolk County, where he died of a stroke two years later at the age of 44.
Peters purchased Unity Hall in 1920, the same year Prohibition took effect nationwide. Records indicated she leased the building to three men in April 1921, though it was unclear as to what business they operated in the former saloon.
By 1922, the saloon changed hands again when the lease was transferred to John and Marie Allgeier, who opened a bicycle shop in its place.
The troubles continued at Unity Hall in July 1924, when a two-alarm fire ignited in the structure and spread to several adjacent storefronts on the south side of Myrtle Avenue between present-day Cypress Hills Street and 65th Place, which was then known as Epsilon Place. Firefighters from Ridgewood, Maspeth and Brooklyn responded to extinguish the inferno.
What was once Unity Hall was rebuilt, and by 1960 was acquired by the Catholic Kolping Society, a charitable fraternal organization. They leased the ground floor for a tavern and held meetings in a second-floor hall.
Taverns continued to operate at the former hall until 1988, when another two-alarm fire severely damaged the entire structure. The building was renovated and repaired and is now occupied by Bay Carpet.
Reprinted from the April 30, 2015, issue of the Ridgewood Times.
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