HENRI BILLHARZ PLUMBING, Sunnyside

by Kevin Walsh

Sunnyside, a fairly large wedge of western Queens defined by the Sunnyside Yards on the north, 48th Street on the east, and the Queens Midtown Expressway on the south, isn’t named because it’s particularly sunny; it gets the same amount of sun as the rest of NYC at any given time Instead, colonial-era French Huguenot settlers in the 18th Century called the area “Sunnyside Hill” and a hostelry on what is now Northern Boulevard and 37th Street was called the Sunnyside Hotel, serving patrons of local race tracks and visiting mourners at Calvary Cemetery, which was established in 1848. Christina has the full story at FNY’s Sunnyside page.

I have rambled around Sunnyside on a number of occasions since the great infection began in March of 2020, and on my most recent visit I found a near-perfect porcelain sign on 47th Street south of Greenpoint Avenue for the Henri Billharz Plumbers. It’s in royal blue and white in a pair of terrific fonts that bear no resemblance to anything I’ve seen in print. You might think that the ST in the telephone exchange would stand for STeinway but no such exchange existed; in Sunnyside, ST stood for STillwell, a name more closely oriented with the Coney Island area; I wonder how it was established here.

Henri Billharz in 1927

Billharz was established in 1927 in Queens by Henri X. Billharz. As the company website states:

In 1927, Henri X. Billharz started Billharz Plumbing after he received his Master Plumbers Lic # 9914. In 1947, he was founder and first president of the Sunnyside Kiwanis Club. Henri led the club and the division with dedication and concern for those less fortunate. He led with gentle conviction that each member and each project was of singular importance.

I’d love to know what the X stands for, but as a rule it’s usually Xavier.

In addition there’s another unusual name next door, the Anoroc Democratic Club. At first I guessed it’s an old Native American name (like the old Tamarind/Tammany clubs) but it’s really rather more prosaic, CORONA spelled backward. The club may have originated in Corona, a few neighborhoods to the east.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”

9/8/20

10 comments

John September 8, 2020 - 6:33 pm

I think that Todt Hill gets more sun than Sunnyside! (Joke)

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Zalman Lev September 8, 2020 - 6:49 pm

Some quick searching turns up a couple of older addresses for Billharz’ business. Shortly after attaining his master license he set up shop at 42-08 Junction Boulevard. By the early-to-mid 1940s the business had removed to at 45-56 47th Street. (There may or may not have been a stop elsewhere somewhere along the way.) From there it seems to have moved north on the opposite side of the street to its present location.

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Zalman Lev September 9, 2020 - 9:03 am

Anyone know anything about the Billharz connection to the Chatham-Phenix Building (29-28 41st Avenue)? It’s one of the tall Long Island City buildings — a pretty nice one — but doesn’t seem like the kind of place one would set up a enighborhood plumbing/heating concern.

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tom September 9, 2020 - 2:06 pm

As far as I know Billharz was always in the Sunnyside area, but also worked in the LIC area. What makes you think they have a connection to that building, besides maybe being the buildings plumber?

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Zalman Lev September 10, 2020 - 8:34 am

Because of the sign on the side of the truck in the photo from 1927.

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tom September 10, 2020 - 1:58 pm

LOL, I didnt even notice that. In 1927 Time for new glasses and a longer attention span. Sunnyside wasnt that built up, so maybe thats where he started out. Queens Plaza was already a large commercial area

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tom September 10, 2020 - 2:00 pm

Screwed up my typing on that. I meant to say “In 1927 Sunnyside wasnt that built up, not that i needed new glasses then”, LOL

Zalman Lev September 12, 2020 - 8:46 am

Certainly possible. Just hard to see a small, local shop setting up in what is, essentially, a large, multi-story office building. Investigation to continue…..

Jerry Friedman September 9, 2020 - 3:03 pm

Sorry for a very nerdy quibble on your opening sentence: the LIRR actually doesn’t have a presence at Sunnyside Yards (other than passing through). It’s Amtrak and NJ Transit that actually live there.

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Kevin Walsh September 9, 2020 - 5:14 pm

All right.

Reply

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