“If only walls could talk” may be a cliché, but for 41-year-old Erica Lyn, who lives in a home at Continental Avenue and Nansen Street that dates back to the 1920s, her walls began to tell a story.
Two days into a renovation project in her bathroom last month, she discovered nearly ten 100-year-old letters, one photo, and a handful of magazines in the walls.
“I turned on the light and noticed a letter on top of the light switch,” she said. “It was a letter from a mother to her dearest son. When I saw the date, I thought ‘Oh my goodness, this letter is almost 100 years old!’
She asked the work crew where they found the letter.
“They said there was a lot more paper that they found,” Lyn said, but they threw it all in the trash. “We searched through 40 bags of debris to find two bags filled with the letters and such.”
Lyn noted there is an unfinished attic above the bathroom.
“I’m thinking that at some point the bag filled with letters fell through the attic, although when you’re in the attic you don’t see anywhere where it could fall through,” she said. “It’s kind of an enigma to me. I don’t think they were intentionally hidden.”
Lyn believes the letters were meant to be found.
“We came so close to not even renovating the bathroom, and it was just the timing of it all,” she said. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for that one letter on top of the light switch, I never would’ve known that any of this existed, since the workers threw everything else in the garbage.”
One of the letters was from Rose to Fred Jacoby, Jr.
“Did you meet any girls on your trip?” it read. “I meant to ask you before you went away, if you were angry because I went with those fellows, there was many other things I wanted to ask you, but I didn’t have chance to see you alone. You see if I thought you would have cared to go out with me, I wouldn’t have gone with those fellows.”
The magazines included issues of “Camera Art Photo Classics” “French Frolics (La Vie Parisienne)” from March 1925.
Lyn learned that Fred was a young man at the time who did some traveling and was also in the air corps.
“I saw one photograph where there is a picture of a man next to a plane,” she said. “I also learned that the family probably immigrated from Germany, since there is a list that is written in German.”
Beside the content, the fine penmanship transported her back in time.
“Truth be told, many of the letters are not the easiest to read only because the cursive is extremely fine, and the way they wrote was a little bit different than how we speak today,” Lyn said. “I’m still trying to decipher many of the letters.”
Lyn may donate the items to a museum or try to find the descendants and pass them along.
“I would definitely like to scan everything, especially the letters, and I wouldn’t be opposed to donating them to a museum of art and design,”she said. “If the family really wanted them, then I would give it to them.”
The power of social media has been integral in the memorabilia’s journey. Lyn has already reached out to one of the descendants, who expressed interest in meeting.
“I’m hoping to have her over once the mess is cleaned up from the renovation work,” she said. “I also found another number of a descendant and will be calling her this week.
“I’ve always loved history, puzzles, and figuring things out,” Lyn added. “So this has been an exciting journey trying to piece together who this family was and trying to get in touch with the family now.”
Lyn believes her house has more discoveries for her.
“I’m going to be pulling up some floorboards in the attic and try to figure out how in the world a whole stash of letters got to where they were found in the bathroom wall,” she said.
Parkside Memorial Chapel in Rego Park is slated to be replaced by an apartment building.
Plans on the Department of Buildings website states that the Jewish funeral home will be demolished to make room for a seven-story apartment building with 51 units and commercial space.
An original proposal by the developer was rejected by the City Planning Commission (CPC). However, the current proposal is legal under the land’s current zoning, and the developer is moving forward with the project as an as-of-right development.
“What was agreed upon, among other things, is that on the site of Parkside Chapels a high-rise apartment building would be erected dedicated solely for senior affordable housing,” said Koslowitz. “I am assuming that the 100 percent affordable housing plan is off the table. But, the developer by law, even with an as-of-right project must set aside 30 percent of the units for affordable housing.”
An online petition was started to stop the demolition of Parkside. Opponents of the plan say there are historic items inside the chapel that will be destroyed along with it. It was built in 1961.
“As a 58 year resident of Rego Park-Forest Hills, it certainly pains me that Parkside Chapels is to be lost as a business as well as neighborhood architectural staple,” said Koslowitz.
The funeral home was designed in 1961, and many feel that it is a historic and important part of Queens, including Michael Perlman, the chairman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council.
“It was a place where many Queens residents and other residents from New York found peace at a time of challenge,” added Michael Perlman, chair of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council. “It was a very graceful and spiritual chapel and was intelligently designed.”
Ohr Synagogue and the Tower Diner, both located on Queens Boulevard, face possible demolition to make room for more housing.
“I feel that if we continue to witness the loss of these buildings in the name of so-called progress, it will be counterproductive to try to maintain our identity as a community and as a borough,” said Perlman.