Next year is shaping up to be a year full of centennial celebrations for some of Woodhaven’s most familiar and beloved friends.
The first Queens Public Library in Woodhaven was opened at the corner of 88th Street and Jamaica Avenue, where a Kentucky Fried Chicken sits today. It was very small, had limited seating and was not suited for a town growing as rapidly as Woodhaven was during the early 1900s.
Harry Tourte, president of the Homestead Civic Association of Woodhaven, worked hard to bring a modern library to the community, but the city repeatedly denied the request because there wasn’t enough money. But famed industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie had created a fund to build libraries around the world and Tourte and the residents of Woodhaven lobbied hard to receive part of that funding. The request from the Carnegie fund was approved and the new Woodhaven Library opened on Jan. 7, 1924, at Forest Parkway and 85th Drive, where it still operates today.
Tourte and the Homestead Civic Association of Woodhaven were on a hot streak that would continue with their efforts to bring more music to Forest Park. The wooden bandstand in Forest Park was just 10 years old but was already showing signs of decline and was not large enough to hold all the musicians from any decent-sized band. NYC Mayor John Hylan met with the group and told them that he would provide the music (in the form of the FDNY’s band), but that they needed to prove that the community would support a brand new modern bandstand. Tourte and the Homestead Civic Association of Woodhaven made sure of that, going door to door, encouraging and pleading with residents to attend the next concert.
When an estimated 10,000 people turned up in Forest Park to listen to the FDNY’s concert, the case was made that a new bandstand was needed and construction began on a large concrete bandshell, large enough to accommodate 60 musicians, with two dressing rooms and seating for over 2,000 people.
When it opened on June 15, 1924, the Forest Park Bandstand was said to be one of the finest in the United States, showcasing the latest achievements in acoustical science. The bandstand was dedicated to the memory of Tourte, who sadly died before he could see the finished product that he’d fought so hard for.
At the same time these battles were being won by the residents of Woodhaven, it is a battle that they lost which we should be most grateful for. When plans were announced to build a carousel in Forest Park, the Homestead Civic Association of Woodhaven complained and petitioned the Parks Department to find a more suitable location. Concerns about unruly crowds and loud music deep into the night led residents to sign petitions against the carousel, but they lost that fight and the Forest Park Carousel had its first full season in 1924.
Instead of being a detriment to the neighborhood, the Forest Park Carousel has become much beloved and has been an integral part of the tradition of growing up in Woodhaven and the communities surrounding the park. Children who were brought to the carousel by their parents and grandparents would grow up and put their own children on the carousel. Then they would sit and enjoy the pipe organ music and the smell of hot dogs and popcorn, just like their parents did long ago.
And since the Forest Park Carousel was designated a New York City Landmark in 2013, it is destined to entertain generations of local families for many more years to come.
The Woodhaven Library’s Centennial will be celebrated next month on Saturday, Jan. 6, from 1 to 3 p.m., and everyone is welcome. Call 718-849-1010 for more information.
The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will be giving a brief presentation that day at 2 p.m.
A centennial celebration for the Forest Park Bandshell will be held on the 100th anniversary of the day it opened, June 15, 2024. Co-sponsored by the Forest Park Trust and the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society, the celebration will include a special Flag Day concert by the Queens Symphony Orchestra.
Also on that day, we will celebrate the start of the 100th season for the Forest Park Carousel. Celebrations will include a street co-naming sponsored by Council Member Joann Ariola and free carousel rides for everyone, sponsored by the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society.
As you can see, 2024 is Woodhaven’s “Year of the Centennials.”