By SERGEY KADINSKY
Forgotten NY correspondent
There is so much that can be said about Rochdale Village, the 120-acre co-op in southeastern Queens that was built on the site of a horse racing track. Its appearance is reminiscent of other co-op superblocks built in the postwar decades to keep the middle class in the city such as Penn South, Big Six, Stuy Town, Parkchester, and Electchester.
Upon its opening in late 1963, Rochdale Village was promoted as a model of racial harmony in the midst of civil rights protests nationwide. The reality that black workers were barred from the project and the quota that limited the number of black residents, within a decade led to controversies over busing, blockbusting, white flight, deferred maintenance, a security guard strike of 1978, and crime. In this century, the 20-tower complex is on the rebound, seen as a redoubt of affordable housing in a city that has become quite expensive.
The superblock’s story begins in 1903 when the Metropolitan Jockey Club built The Jamaica Racetrack at Locust Manor, at the time a rural expanse that had recently been absorbed by the city. It operated through 1959. Despite its popularity the course was aging and the state decided to sell it with the proceeds used to refurbish the nearby Aqueduct and Belmont courses. Ahead of its closing, the city’s construction coordinator Robert Moses contemplated a public housing project, community college, and Dodgers stadium at the site before teaming up with co-op developer Abraham Kazan and architect Herman Jessor to build Rochdale Village. Its namesake is an English town where the modern co-op movement began in 1844. It’s pronounced ROSH-dale.
Although the Corbusian superblock features plenty of green space between its apartments and schools, there is also the 8.83-acre city-operated Rochdale Park in the center of this “village.” The park has a playground, ballfield, tennis courts, and the Vic Hanson Recreation Center. Had the co-op kept the site’s history in mind, one can imagine the paths and buildings here named after the various handicaps and stakes that it hosted, or memorable horse names. Not a trace of the racecourse remains at Rochdale Village.
But on the walls of the Vic Hanson Recreation Center one can find square relief panels with horses, likely an architect’s nod to the long-gone racecourse. It is the only physical hint in the entire Rochdale Village of its horse-racing past. An online search for the namesake yielded the longtime Syracuse University football coach who also played baseball and professional basketball. But he had no connection to Queens and I knew that he has as much chance of being the center’s namesake as the conservative writer Victor Davis Hanson. A blurb from the Daily News dated Dec. 11, 1985 revealed a namesake with local roots. This Vic Hanson was a boxing coach, who also happened to play baseball and basketball.
On its official map the park is a green rectangle enveloped by Rochdale Village with a panhandle connecting it to Guy R. Brewer Boulevard. The panhandle’s lawn and trees are nearly indistinct from the co-op’s lawn and trees. If one is looking for a city park enveloped entirely in private property, that distinction goes to Calvary Monument, a .05-acre green space with a monument located inside Calvary Cemetery. Kevin was there in 2011.
There is so much more that can be written about Rochdale Village and its environs, such as two former synagogues that are now churches, its three public schools, police precinct, power plant, two shopping centers, and two other public playgrounds.
I can also refer readers to transit historian Joe Raskin, who grew up in Rochdale Village with promises of the E subway line reaching his home. That tunnel dead-ends beneath York College. This village is best reached by Guy R. Brewer Boulevard, one of a handful of city streets that has a full name. One can also take the train to the Locust Manor station as Kevin did in 2005. but my top source on this co-op is Peter Eisenstadt. He wrote the book on it. The co-op also has a detailed 50th anniversary journal from 2013 filled with tidbits on this unique residential community.
Sergey Kadinsky is the author of Hidden Waters of New York City: A History and Guide to 101 Forgotten Lakes, Ponds, Creeks, and Streams in the Five Boroughs (2016, Countryman Press) and the webmaster of Hidden Waters Blog.