Taking a history-filled stroll through Woodhaven’s Forest Parkway: Our Neighborhood, The Way it Was

Photo courtesy of Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society

If you want a short historical walk in Woodhaven, there’s no better bang for the buck than Forest Parkway.

Starting at the T-intersection at Jamaica Avenue, if you look at the top of the northwest corner you’ll see what residents of Woodhaven have seen for well over 100 years: the name Forest Parkway emblazoned on an old building. Anyone passing through Woodhaven on the elevated train will be familiar with that sight.

On the other side of Forest Parkway, right at Jamaica Avenue, sits an old large bank. On the outside of the bank building you can still see a brass sign for Pasta & Pasta Law. One of the Pasta brothers, James Pasta, served in World War I and was the first Commander of American Legion Post 118. But if anyone is looking to hire them, they’ll have to head to Long Island as the firm left Woodhaven more than 40 years ago!

Along the side of that building, on Forest Parkway, there is a monument to the many young soldiers of Woodhaven who lost their lives during World War II. For many years, the Memorial Day Parade here stopped to pay tribute to these heroes and up until the early 1970s they used to include a 21-gun salute. Although there hasn’t been a Memorial Day Parade here in Woodhaven for decades, local organizations and the American Legion still hold a ceremony each year in front of the monument, honoring those lost in all wars.

A little further along Forest Parkway is the Post Office and if you stop inside you’ll be treated to a large, 80-year-old mural by famed Lithuanian artist Ben Shahn that depicts the Bill of Rights and celebrates workers.

Keep walking up Forest Parkway and you’ll see one of the shooting locations for one of the most acclaimed television movies of all time, “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.” The 1975 film stars Maureen Stapleton as Bea, a lonely widow who lives on Forest Parkway and runs a small thrift shop on Jamaica Avenue. She begins visiting the Stardust Ballroom (the old Haven Theater in disguise) to go dancing where she meets Al, played by Charles Durning (both were nominated for Emmys).

Those watching the film will be treated to several glimpses of 1970s Woodhaven. Locals will be scratching their heads watching a bus roll down Forest Parkway and stop in front of the Post Office. Of course, there was never a bus line that traveled along Forest Parkway; that was just some creative license taken by the filmmakers.

Further along, you’ll find the Woodhaven Library, which was built nearly 100 years ago with funds provided by famed philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The Woodhaven Library was the last Carnegie Library built in New York City.

And directly across the street from the library you’ll find the Betty Smith house, where the novelist famous for writing “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” once lived.

If you continue walking, you’ll reach Park Lane South, at the entrance to Forest Park, where most people assume Forest Parkway ends. But if you look at most maps, Forest Parkway continues a short distance into the park, ending outside the historic 125-year-old Golf Clubhouse.

These days, the Golf Clubhouse serves as the main office for Forest Park. If you go inside, you’ll be greeted by an old carousel horse, the sole survivor of the devastating fire which destroyed the original Forest Park Carousel in 1966.

And on either side of that road in the park you’ll find the Woodhaven Memorial Trees, planted in memory of each of the young men who lost their lives in the First World War. Families used to come here to decorate their loved one’s tree each Memorial Day, a tradition the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society has revived.

It may not be the longest road, but Forest Parkway is long in history and remains one of the more beloved and well-known streets in Woodhaven. The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society has erected three different historical markers on Forest Parkway, and co-named a street sign within Forest Park commemorating the Memorial Trees.

If you want a quick walk in Woodhaven that’s full of history, Forest Parkway is definitely your best bet.

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If you have any remembrances or old photographs of “Our Neighborhood: The Way It Was” that you would like to share with our readers, please write to the Old Timer, c/o Ridgewood Times, 38-15 Bell Blvd., Bayside, NY 11361, or send an email to [email protected]. Any print photographs mailed to us will be carefully returned to you upon request.