By SERGEY KADINSKY
Forgotten NY correspondent
New York City has more colleges than any other city in the county. The campuses vary from the open campuses of New York University and Baruch College, to picturesque academic villages such as Brooklyn College and Fordham University. Some, such as SUNY Maritime and Kingsborough Community College, occupy former military sites. My alma mater, CCNY, is a proud hilltop gothic campus amid tenements and projects.
Queens, once home to nearly a dozen private golf clubs, has seen them transformed into tract housing, middle-class co-ops and two college campuses: St. John’s University and Queensborough Community College. In this story, we’ll visit the latter to see what remains of Oakland Golf Club.
Above: aerial view of Oakland Golf Club, 1924
Among the five community colleges within the City University of New York, the most spacious campus is the 37-acre Queensborough Community College, which overlooks Oakland Lake. The lake received its water from a natural spring and a feeder stream that originated at 223rd Place and Horace Harding Expressway, flowing into a ravine that widened into the lake. An outflow stream took excess water from the lake, flowing east towards Alley Creek, which emptied into Little Neck Bay.
In 1827, land around the pond was purchased by William Douglas and the lake became known as Douglas Pond. His last name can be found today on the map in Douglaston, an upscale neighborhood located a mile to the east of the lake.
The namesake behind the lake’s current name was “The Oaks,” an estate on the lake’s southern shore owned by Frederick Newbold Lawrence. In 1896, the 180-acre Lawrence property was transformed into the Oakland Golf Club and its first game was hosted on April 10, 1897. From its early years, the club welcomed women as members and staff.
The club’s membership included powerbrokers Bernard Baruch, Robert Wagner Sr, and highway promoter Horace Harding. The expressway bearing Harding’s name runs a few blocks to the south of the club and historians speculate that perhaps Harding wanted the road built in order to facilitate easier access between the city and the golf course.
In 1952, the Oakland Golf Club disbanded and the course survived as a city-run public course for another nine years. Most of the course was developed into 600 units of tract housing, with the remaining 14 acres slated for Benjamin N. Cardozo High School and 35 acres for a college campus. The stream that fed into Oakland Lake was buried beneath the school’s running track. An additional school, Public School 203, was built atop the ravine, with a small playground adjoining it.
On the campus of Queensborough Community College, the old golf clubhouse serves as the art gallery, located at the highest point on campus. Around it, stepped paths hug the topography and give students a place to sit.
Below the clubhouse, a mini-quad serves as the center of the campus. A tradition dating back to Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia plan, the quad is a series of interlocking paths at the center of a campus designed to foster interaction among students of different disciplines.
In its first decade, the college made history for having the youngest college president in the City University System, when 31-year-old Dr. Kurt R. Schmeller was appointed in 1968. At the time, campuses across the country were rocked by student riots confronting issues such as the Vietnam War, civil rights, admissions standards and tuition. Schmeller had little tolerance for riots on his campus, ordering the termination of two professors who joined a 1969 campus sit-in in support of a fired assistant professor. Schmeller remained president of the college until 1999, earning distinction as the longest tenured president of a public college in the country. The college library carries his name.
The most recent addition to the campus is Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center, a postmodern structure completed in 2011. Clad in Jerusalem Stone and irregularly shaped panes of glass, the design commemorates the Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogrom in Nazi Germany known as the “night of the broken glass.” The research center provides exhibits, speakers and literature on the holocaust. Prior to its new home, the archives were located in the basement of the Schmeller Library. In its present home, the archives sit on a hill overlooking the southern entrance to the campus.
Along with the modernist buildings, historic clubhouse and Holocaust Resource Center, some of the college’s facilities, such as its bookstore, remain in trailer-like structures that have yet to be replaced with something permanent.