RICHMOND HILL, Queens

by Kevin Walsh

Back in the infancy of Forgotten NY, April of 2000 to be exact, I was working at one of those jobs that only required me to be present 3 or 4 times a week (which is great for gathering Forgotten material but not so good when trying to pay bills) and, after a few weeks poking around abandoned hospitals and boatyards in Staten Island, I thought it would be nice to take a walk in a nicer part of town…a place that had, I knew, the most beautiful architecture ever conceived. Where might that be? Enter Richmond Hill, Queens.

I returned in November 2004 and March 2005 with Christina the Queen of Queens, who pointed out some additional highlights, and stockpiled them for a page in the ongoing FNY Queens neighborhood series. I hope to spotlight overlooked neighborhoods in all five boroughs. At the rate it’s going, it’ll be done by about 2050, and my kids wil have to finish it. I better start reproducing, quick.

The Victorian era, roughly 1865-1900, was a period characterized by a booming economy in many of its years, and architecture responded with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink attitude. No color or design was written off, and no expense was spared in construction. Yet, nothing was tacky or tasteless and despite every house on the block being completely different from the other, Victorian neighborhoods retained a unity of spirit that can’t be matched in these days of prefabricated junk.

Richmond Hill, located in Queens between Forest Park, Kew Gardens, and Jamaica, didn’t spring up on its own, spontaneously. It’s a planned community. It was conceived in reaction to the increasing population in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the mid-1800s, with row upon row of tenements and attached brownstones. Even the best-appointed brownstones in Manhattan were often cramped and crowded. And, in the 1800s social mores dictated that the only place to raise a happy family was in one’s own house. In Manhattan, this wasn’t much of an option anymore.

For the solution, developers looked to the east and south, and built developments from scratch in New Brighton, Staten Island, Prospect Park South in Brooklyn, and here in Richmond Hill, Queens, among other locales.

Although there was no such thing as zoning in the late 1800s, Albon Man had several means at his disposal to make sure the community developed according to his specifications. He obtained restrictive covenants to dictate, for example, the absence of front yard fences and uniform setbacks, that would give Richmond Hill a forestlike atmosphere with lots of green lawns, which persists to this day.

WAYFARING: RICHMOND HILL

Most of the houses of Richmond Hill were constructed in what is called the American Queen Anne Shingle style (above) though there are some examples of an earlier style called the Stick style (left), from its thin posts and rails.

The area that became Richmond Hill was forest and farmland until the Long Island Railroad was built through the area in the mid-1800s, and some businesses came to the region.

Enter a Manhattan (Murray Hill) lawyer named Albon Platt Man. One day in 1869 he was riding along the Brooklyn and Jamaica Turnpike (a toll road that is today’s Jamaica Avenue) on the way to his summer house in Lawrence, Nassau County (then a part of Queens), and noticed the desirable land along the route in an area then known as Clarenceville.

Man consulted with a local landscaper and architect named Edward Richmond, bought the property and developed it until his death in 1891. His three sons carried on after his death, and went on to develop Kew Gardens in all its Tudor glory to the north, and developed the woodland along the terminal moraine (the hills in the center of Brooklyn and Queens that mark the southern progress of glaciers during the last Ice Age) into what is now Forest Park.

It’s likely that the name “Richmond Hill” was not a tribute to Edward Richmond, since he passed away before much of the development could get underway. Rather, Man probably named the nascent community after the London suburb Richmond-On-Thames, a favorite royal stomping ground.

White is the color of choice for Richmond Hill homes, although color was not a restricting factor and some houses are done in brilliant pinks, yellows, purples and greens.

These houses are popularly called ‘painted ladies.’

Though Richmond Hill is home to a great variety of styles, it retains a close neighborhood feel.

Because of cost considerations, modern developments are cookie cutter like, with identical houses going up for blocks on end.

Perhaps they should take a tip from the so-called stuffy Victorians.

This house, built on a hill on curving 84th Avenue, boasts the inviting wraparound porch that characterizes some ‘Victorian’ homes.

86th Avenue

84th Avenue near 118th St

On 105th Street

Cottage on Curzon Road

One of the quirks of Richmond Hill is that, in some cases, the sidewalks are much higher than the actual street. This makes for some unique construction involving steps from the sidewalk to the street. You don’t see this sort of thing much in New York, except for a couple of corners in Staten Island.

 

Hillside and Myrtle

There’s a cluster of ancient businesses and signage clustering around Myrtle and Hillside Avenues. These two lengthy roads come together here, where Myrtle begins a lengthy journey westward to downtown Brooklyn, while Hillside Avenue, so called because of its location at the foot of glacial hills in Queens’ midsection, runs all the way east to Old Westbury in the middle of Nassau County.

Bangert’s Flowers, on 86-08 117th just west of Myrtle,started out as Fluhr’s in 1894 and was sold to the Bangert family in 1927. It boasts what must be its original 1927 marquee, complete with no longer functioning neon letters, and an original FTD sign complete with a winged-footed Mercury and FTD’s original slogan, “Flowers by wire…the Mercury Way!”

Jahn’s Ice Cream, a favored spot for after-prom events, has been in Richmond Hill since the late1920s and still displays turn of the century memorabilia such as a working nickelodeon and a vintage 1890s soda fountain. The chain was founded in the Bronx in 1897 by immigrant John Jahn. Yes, John Jahn. The Richmond Hill Jahn’s is the last in his original chain of stores.

Richmond Hill, not to be outdone by the nearby Valenciain Jamaica, preserves its very own classic movie palace of yore… and this one has a marquee that has been returned to its look in its halcyon days, with red neon-lit nameplates and a gold border! The theatre opened as the Keith’s Richmond Hill about 1928 at 117-09 Hillside Avenue. The old marquee, which had been hidden under aluminum siding for some years, was restored in 2001 during production for a feature film, The Guru, featuring Marisa Tomei.

The little-used Montauk branch of the Long Island Rail Road crosses Hillside just east of Myrtle. The LIRR was run under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Railroad from 1928 to 1966, and in those years, the LIRR signage adopted the “Pennsy” keystone symbol, adopting Pennsylvania’s “Keystone State” motto. The LIRR’s chuffing steam engines all carried a keystone plate on their noses until the last one was retired in 1955.

 

Triangle

The Triangle, early 1900’s

Almost as long as there’s been a Richmond Hill, the Triangle Hotel building has marked the triangle where Myrtle Avenue meets Jamaica Avenue. It was built by Charles Paulson in 1868 and was originally rented out as a grocery and post office. By 1893 the building, now owned by John Kerz and operating as a hotel, included an eatery named the Wheelman’s Restaurant in honor of the new bicycling craze.

According to the Richmond Hill Historical Society, Babe Ruth (who was a golf enthusiast in nearby St. Albans) and Mae West were patrons of the Triangle Hofbrau in the 1920s. Vaudeville-era pianist/composer Ernest Ball (1878-1927) wrote the music for the now-standard “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” in one of the hotel’s guest rooms in 1912. Note the THB monogram, from the days it was known as Triangle Hofbrau.

 

Church of the Resurrection

Albon Man also donated land for the Church of the Resurrection, facing 118th Street just south of 85th Avenue, Richmond Hill’s first church. A small wooden Gothic Revival edifice built by architect Henry Dudley in 1874, the structure is preserved within the present French Gothic stone building, which was finished in 1904, though further extensions continued until 1926. Social reformer Jacob Riis, a Richmond Hill resident, was a parishioner, and New York State Governor Theodore Roosevelt attended Riis’ daughter Clara’s wedding to Dr. William Fiske on June 1, 1900.


Jamaica Avenue

Long Island’s longest highway, Jamaica Avenue-Jericho Turnpike-NY State Route 25 (though, perhaps, the title should go to Northern Boulevard-North Country Road-Route 25A – I’m not sure of the lengths of each) runs right through Richmond Hill. Since 1917 Jamaica Avenue has been shrouded by the Jamaica el, which presently begins on Broad and Nassau Streets in Manhattan, rolls over the Williamsburg Bridge, down Brooklyn’s Broadway, Fulton Street, Crescent Street and Jamaica Avenue. The line formerly terminated at 168th Street, but was cut back to Sutphin Boulevard in the late 1970s, with the MTA building extensions for both the Jamaica and Queens Boulevard lines ending at Parsons Boulevard, which opened in 1988. There were grand plans to extend the line through southeast Queens, possibly to St. Albans and Rosedale, but such grand dreams succumbed to NYC’s 1970s financial crisis and haven’t been discussed since.

Two ancient branches of the LIRR pass under the el, one abandoned and one used by an occasional freight (the Rockaway Branch) and the Montauk branch, used by three daily passenger trains. The closed Richmond Hill station (seen on this page) is still marked by a sign that told its five daily passengers it’d be closing March 16, 1998.

Lurking under els, you sometimes find preseved elements of the past…

Jamaica and 117th. What was this building? Possibly a roadhouse or hotel.

Old school neon at Cadigan’s

The Apple King Buffet Building (for want of a better name), the opposite corner of Jamaica and 117th, looks remarkably like it did in 1904 when it housed the dentist, Dr. Briggs.*Richmond Hill: Carl Ballenas and Nancy Cataldi

*Ouch! The Apple King Buffet Building is on 116th, and thus isn’t the same building as Dr. Briggs’. But it is quite similar, which fooled your webmaster.

Doyle’s, when I last looked, had been closed by court order.

20-30 years ago, someone in the Department Of Transportation experimented with street and one-way signs designed for el pillars, and Jamaica Avenue was the guinea pig. The experiment didn’t make it past Richmond Hill.

 

Wrecked History

In a city and borough that either allow their history to rot (Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Civic Virtue statue in Kew Gardens) or allow rapacious developers to destroy all semblance of community (Astoria VillageFlushing) the condition of Richmond Hill’s Republican Club, where, despite its name, presidents of both parties have appeared, is especially appalling.

The landmarked Republican Club building, on Lefferts Blvd. between Hillside and Jamaica Avenues, pretty much looks the same on the exterior as it was when it was built in a Colonial Revival style by architect Henry Haugaard in 1908…and that’s the problem with this historic structure, which looks as if it hasn’t been touched in decades. The windows are boarded up; those which are still there are broken, and the paint is peeling away on the façade.

The building has an illustrious history, though. The interior originally boasted oak pews, doors and paneling, a bowling alley-come-archery range. The Richmond Hill Historical Society has preserved the signed photographs of Calvin Coolidge, Warren Harding and Theodore Roosevelt that were found inside. During World War I the Club became a canteen and a place for rest and relaxation for US armed forces.

The club remained an important gathering place for the Republican Party throughout the 20th Century well into the 1980s. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford have all given speeches here, and Ronald Reagan appeared here during primary season in 1976 and during the 1980 campaign. Hopefully this historic building can be rehabilitated and its proud history once again can be available for Richmond Hillers and New Yorkers to enjoy.

Directly across Lefferts Boulevard from the Republican Club is another noted and beautiful building in a neighborhood full of them: the Richmond Hill public library. It was built in 1905 by the archictural firm Tuthill and Higgins with a grant from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie on land donated by Albon Platt Man, the developer of Richmond Hill. Stop in and see a large interior mural painted in 1936 by artist Philip Evergood showing Richmond Hill as a suburban alternative to the hustle and bustle of the big city.

85th Avenue. Is architecture from the 1890s and 1900s the best we have ever produced?

Note: both the Woodhaven and Richmond Hill historic societies have placed these snazzy historical plaques, which really should be adopted by other historic groups.

Sources:

Barry Lewis, Kew Gardens: Urban Village In the Big City, Kew Gardens Council for Recreation and the Arts 1999.
Richmond Hill, Carl Ballenas and Nancy Cataldi, Arcadia 2002

Photographed November 2004, March 2005. Page completed March 4, 2007.

erpietri@earthlink.net

©2007

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

29 comments

Bob Bradshaw August 19, 2013 - 2:39 pm

Wonderful site! Having resided in Richmond Hill for over 50 years, it was refreshing to learn something new about the place. Had no idea Ernest Ball wrote the tune “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” while staying at the Triangle. And I know just about every home pictured…

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Patty Legene McGoey May 9, 2014 - 3:13 pm

I was wondering if there are any pictures of a soda shop/ Luncheonette called Kronkies/Cronkies (spelling) it was located on Jamaica Avenue next to a hardware store I believe, between 124th and 123rd Streets and across the street was The Little Brown Jug.
Any help would be appreciated. Many Thanks in advance.
Patty Legene McGoey

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Denise Parsons May 13, 2014 - 1:20 pm

My Dad was from Richmond Hill. I found this site interesting and plan learning more about the area. Ironically, last name being Parsons, there is a “Parsons Boulevard”.

Would appreciate any feedback.

Denise Parsons

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Joanne Savage DeMeo May 26, 2015 - 9:47 pm

My parents were born and raised in Richmond Hill. The pictures are so familiar and wonderful to see.

My mom lived a big house on 85th Avenue & 114th Street. She was married at Holy Child Jesus Parish and they had their reception in her parents house.

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Mike Schaefer July 10, 2015 - 12:02 pm

I have a memory of a street, just off Myrtle Ave (and located somewhere between Hillside and Park Lane) with a group of large houses that were NOT Victorians. Stone buildings, I want to say. I remember passing it on the bus (I grew up in Glendale) but I haven’t been able to locate it using Google Earth. Am I totally misremembering?

Living in San Francisco as I do now, it’s great seeing pictures of all these great old Richmond Hill Victorians.

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Migdalia Ruiz September 2, 2015 - 1:17 pm

I bought my house 3 years ago in Richmond Hill near Park Lane South 107 Street. I need to know who build the house to get the floor plans. I want to remove the sliding and bring it back to it’s original character as the builder meant it to be but, I can’t find any floor plans and it has had some changes which I can’t explain so can’t do anything until I know what the intent of the architect was. Could you help?

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Patricia Tyson May 3, 2016 - 12:29 pm

My father grew up in Richmond Hill at 234 St. Anns Avenue. We have a lovely black & white photograph of his home – an large Victorian home. When I google that address, I can’t find anything. Do you know if the house still exists? Thank you.

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Joseph Schmidt August 26, 2020 - 1:40 pm

St. Ann’s Avenue is now 84th Avenue. That address predates the Philadelphia numbering system. Rather than numbers increasing west to East, they increase East to west. So, your address is probably near 120th-121st Street in the south side.

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Carol Lynn Kane October 15, 2017 - 8:37 pm

Gebhard’s Bakery, on the corner of Jamaica Ave and 111th Street, existed from the 1920’s to the turn of the 21st century. Owned and operated by 3 generations of the Gebhard family, it was one of the best bakeries in New York City, in that it produced excellent quality bakery products that the Gebhard family made with pride. I worked there for several years as a college student in the 1970s, had great fun and enjoyed my time there. Gebhard’s Bakery is an icon in Richmond Hill, NY history !

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Tina Maggio August 10, 2019 - 10:33 am

I totally agree! I lived around the block on 112 Street and the aroma of their amazing baked goods was my alarm clock. I wish I could get some of their recipes, especially the pecan Danish ring.

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Kathy January 13, 2021 - 8:15 pm

We used to go to Gebhardts when I was young and get the butter cakes and crumb cakes. We’d freeze some. I adored them!

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Steve Maltese December 27, 2017 - 10:20 pm

Have a great interior photo of my grandfathers barbershop circa 1917 you might like to see .

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Ray July 22, 2019 - 8:00 pm

He was my barber – first on Atlantic ave and later on lefferts blvd . In retrospect, I wish I had saved some of the hair that he cut off. I sure miss it.

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Gladys Frey Moyer April 7, 2018 - 1:02 pm

I was born and raised in Richmond Hill 1929-1953, when I married and moved to Pennsylvania and raised a family of three. Still live there. Enjoyed seeing photos of Bangert’s florist and Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor and refreshing my memory.

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Andy Turano January 25, 2019 - 2:24 pm

My father was born and raised in Richond Hill and my mother was born in Ozone Park.. My brother and I were both born and raised in Richmond Hill, We went to Holy Child Jesus Grammar School and Richmond Hill High.You would do your first year in the Richmond Hill Annex on 114 St and 86 Ave and then you went to the main building on 89th Ave between 114 St and 113 St.
I worked across from the Triangle Hofbrau on Jamaica Ave in the Tip Top Market for about five years. Around the corner on 118 St just south of Jamaica Ave was the 102 Police Pct which used to supply the horses for Forest Park. Many was the time that they would let us neighborhood kids pet the horses in their stables.. My brother Phil and I lived in Richmond Hill till we married. We lived over my family fruit and vegetable store, The Rural Fruit Market, located at 112-19 Jamaica Ave. Next door (east) was a Motorola TV store which was once the long closed Garden Theater. The newer Garden Theater moved across Jamaica Ave to the south side and west of two other famous neighborhood places, Scholshers Delicatessen (I am sure I spelled it wrong) and the Cozy Sweet Shop.
Next door (east) of the Motorola TV store was Martin’s hardware and toy shop and then The Empire Butcher Shop and the Gasau and Camp Deli and Caterers which was were I first voted for miss Rein-gold. I can still smell the great prepared food and the barrel of pickles, then came the Dutch Boy Paint store, then, the great Woolworth 5&10.
NO-I would not have given up my life in Richmond Hill for anything.
Andy Turano

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Gabriela Franco June 5, 2019 - 12:18 am

I currently live in Richmond Hill, I lived in Woodhaven, NY for the majority of my childhood and I am now in my early twenties.This website is amazing! Please continue this!

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JEFF COSTIGAN October 16, 2019 - 12:11 am

I GREW UP IN RICHMOND HILL, ON 108 ST BETWEEN 85 & 86 AVES. ABOUT A BLOCK FROM FOREST PARK. GROWING UP THERE WAS FANTASTIC!! I DONT LIVE THERE ANY MORE, LIVE IN FRESH MEADOWS NOW. I GO BACK TO RICHMOND HILL ONCE IN A WHILE TO VISIT FRIENDS THAT STILL LIVE THERE. EVERY TIME I GO BACK, SOMETHING NEW OR DIFFERENT POPS UP, USUALLY SOMETHING NEGATIVE. GROOWING UP, THE WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD WAS PRETTY LAID BACK, NOW, SEEMS EVERY ONE IS ON EDGE, SAD!! AND THE UP KEEP OF MOST HOMES IS WAY DOWN!! HOME OWNERS WHEN I GREW UP THERE TOOK PRIDE IN THEIR PROPERTY, NOW, FORGET IT!! PASSED BY MY FRIENDS OLD HOUSE ON 113 STREET, HIS DAD ALWAYS TOOK CARE OF THE LAWN & SHRUBS AROUND THE PROPERTY, PASSED BY, NO GRASS SO TO SPEAK OF AND NO SHRUBS, PEOPLE HAD 2 CARS PARKED ON THE FRONT LAWN, GROSS!! JUST VERY SAD TO SEE SUCH A NICE NEIGHBORHOOD GO DOWN SO QUICK, HOPE IT CHANGES, STILL A LOT OF BEAUTIFUL AREAS, BUT TOO MANY SHIT AREAS ALSO. JEFF COSTIGAN.

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JoAnn Abruzzino Gulluscio October 20, 2019 - 6:57 pm

JoAnn Abruzzino Gulluscio,
I grew up in Richmond Hill in the 50ths but my back yard consisted of black tar roofs. You see my father Anthony Abruzzino owned Tony’s Floor Covering 120-11 Liberty Ave. As a child I use to play ball and run on the roofs. The owners of stores like Cosmopolitan, Bills Bicycle store would always complain to my parents because their customers could hear everything. Tony’s Floor Covering was their for 50 years and I lived above the store for 15 years. store was directly across from Ambers Music shop and a block away from Crons Bakery, ( oh how I miss that place) and one block away from Karps Ice Cream Parlor. At age 15 we moved to 114th street in Forest Park. I’m 74 now Living in Forest Virginia for the last 15 yr but my memories of the ERA and the nights listening to those Doo Wop street singers will never be forgotten.
JoAnn Abruzzino Gulluscio

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Bob White December 8, 2019 - 6:28 pm

Bob White,
My mother, Doris Bracebridge, was born in Richmond Hill, Queens at 28 Kimball Place in 1917, where the family lived for a few years before moving to Worcester, Massachusetts. A Google search finds nothing for that address. Does anyone know if the house still exists?

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Diane Detweiler Terzakos January 23, 2020 - 7:37 pm

Ray Maltese, my dad and all of my brothers went to your
grandfathers barber shop. It was first located on Atlantic
Avenue then moved across the street to Lefferts Blvd . The shop is now known as Hugo’s. Your grandfather was sooo handsome and would always wave to us on our way to School. He was a
really nice man.

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Rob February 7, 2020 - 9:45 pm

Anyone remember Bob and Lee’s hobbie shop, which later became a Honda motorcycle dealership? This would
have been about 1966 ish. It was located across the street from the school.

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Joseph L. Robinson April 13, 2020 - 11:05 pm

Nice site. Good information. I grew up in Richmond Hill during the ’70s and early 80’s. Many fond memories. I attended P.S. 90 and was a freshman at the Richmond Hill High School Annex (The former P.S. 56). My family were members of St. John’s Lutheran Church. Spent many childhood days in Forest Park. Sledding in the winter, and playing “Army” the rest of the year.

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paul gifford April 22, 2020 - 8:40 am

hi my name is paul gifford i lived in richmond hill from 1942 till 1957 my best frirnds were philip turano and richard rabulla it was the greatest time of my life i remember you andy and your mom and dad very well remember the man who lived back of your fruit store johnson

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JEFF COSTIGAN June 2, 2020 - 9:50 am

REALLY WISH THERE WERE A FEW GOOD RESTAURANTS IN RICHMOND HILL. A GOOD ITALIAN RESTAURANT, WHEN I WAS A KID WAS ON JAMAICA AVE. BETWEEN 107 AND 108 STREETS, NAME WAS CONNIES. WAS NOT THE BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT, BUT PRETTY GOOD, PIZZA WAS OK, THE FRIED ZITI WAS ALSO VERY GOOD. DAMN SHAME RICHMOND HILL HAS NO GOOD RESTAURANTS, UNLIKE OZONE PARK. WISH THERE WERE A COUPLE. ANY ONE RECOMMEND ANY?? PLEASE POST HERE, REALLY APPRECIATE IT, THANKS A MILLION. HOPE TO HEAR FROM SOME ONE SOON. JEFF.

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Tom July 20, 2020 - 3:01 am

Please stop shouting. I have a headache!
🙂

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Bill Scharen March 4, 2021 - 6:17 pm

I lived in Richmond Hill from 1952-1973 and lived at 104-37 90thAve. The only Italian restaurant in northern RH I can think of is Salerno’s on Hillside Ave just down from RKO Keith’s and parking was under the LIRR viaduct.

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Joan Kirschenheiter Hughis December 9, 2020 - 11:16 pm

Hi Jeff I noticed you mention Connies pizza place, I lived 1 block away from there we lived on Jamaica Ave 106 St.. My parents
Left in 1955 . Does the name Kirschenheiter ring a bell

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Dora Hessel August 29, 2020 - 8:59 am

And Butter Cake!!!!! Cannot find anything like that anywhere!!! Lived on 104 st and 88 th ave.
Went to Holy Child Jesus School. it was a wonderful place to be young. So many fond memories.

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Sidney F. Jack, D.D.S. February 23, 2021 - 11:52 am

I have an old liquor jug from 2919 Jamaica Ave, Richmond Hill and would like to convert that to the current number address. My father, grandfather and great grandfather all lived on and around 106th Street The name on the jug is H.H. Seigmann Family Wine & Liquor Dealer. Tell. 446

Reply

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