Hampton Court named one of New York’s historic places

By Jessica DeFreitas

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Hampton Court invited the community to bask in celebration of its recent milestones over the weekend.

The four-building assemblage, located at 11701 Park Lane South, has been placed on the State and National Register of Historic Places and was recognized by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.

On Saturday, residents of Hampton Court gathered to unveil the plaques commemorating these achievements followed by a presentation of the community’s history. 

The courtyard, located on Metropolitan Avenue and Park Lane South, is a garden escape within the city.

Formerly known as Kent Manor, the scenic Kew Gardens co-op community is permeated with greenery and flora throughout the entire compound.

Hampton Court, which was built in 1937, housed many German-Jewish immigrants who took refuge fleeing the Holocaust.

Andrea Crawford, president of the Board of Directors for Hampton Court, is proud of the history the community was built on.

She shared how Kew Gardens was developed after its neighboring community, Richmond Hill. 

“The name Kew Gardens came from the fact that all of the buildings had windows which faced gardens,” Crawford said.

She also recalled one of the first residents to ever live there.

“Maryann came here in 1937 with her parents, grew up, got her own apartment, got married, raised her own family and died here,” Crawford said.

Andrea Crawford unveiling the plaques to commemorate the occasion.

Crawford added that 50 percent of Hampton Court’s first residents were refugees. 

The Georgian Colonial-style buildings, designed by Constantinople native Benjamin Braunstein, were different from neighboring buildings, which were built with a Victorian style.

Like many of the residents who lived at Hampton Court, he too achieved the American Dream.

Hampton Court changed its name from Kent Manor when the building management converted from apartment rentals to co-op ownership.

“Hampton Court was grander and more British,” Crawford explained, “But there were many issues because the compound was carved out of the park.” 

Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, the city of New York wanted the community to be a part of Forest Park instead of creating housing. 

Residents formed the Kew Gardens Civic Corporation battling legal issues. The city even proposed the land be used for a school instead. 

The landowners proposed that residents pay $600 each for them to agree to start building, but the community came together and refused.

The uprising of residents helped the building of Kent Manor to commence without additional fees to their rent. 

Braunstein’s vision for designing the building’s architecture was to pave the way for immigrants to feel “Americanized,” creating a revival for colonial architecture.

Hampton Court’s wildlife habitat is one of the few of its kind in Queens.

Its plants are purposely placed to attract pollinators, making the compound a glorious sighting for butterflies and rare birds during spring and summer.

Crawford was happy to mention that the buildings replaced gas with electrical units as a way to sustain clean air and the environment.

Santiago Preciado, a historian who gave a presentation at the event, spoke of Hampton Court’s controversial history with land rights.

“Everyone rose up against [paying $600], and essentially, that’s how this became developed in the first place. The property owners held out from 1910 until 1935 when the building started,” he said. “I think that’s really interesting.”

Spirits Alive returns to Maple Grove

By Jessica Meditz

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The Friends of Maple Grove got into character before the tour began.

After a couple years of slumber, The Friends of Maple Grove awakened the spirits of some notable figures who rest in that cemetery.

Last Saturday, residents of Kew Gardens and its surrounding communities were able to embark on a self-guided walking tour of Maple Grove Cemetery known as “Spirits Alive.”

Every year, the event is powered solely by volunteers who commit themselves to playing the roles of the illustrious historical figures by wearing period clothing, memorizing scripts and even adapting the voice and mannerisms of another person.

Decked out in a long black cape, a detailed pink dress and a tiara, Helen Day portrayed Josephine Adams, the wife of a sea captain who went on to discover Swan Island off the coast of Honduras.

Helen Day portrayed Josephine Adams.

The couple ran a successful business selling fruits, fertilizer and other commodities before returning to the U.S.

Josephine’s husband died around 1913 and she returned back to Woodhaven in Queens, where she had family ties.

“It’s a sweet story but amazing…you will see when you look at each one of these stones that each has a story behind it,” Day said.

Day serves as vice president of The Friends of Maple Grove and president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, and is proud to have played a part in the event since 2003.

“I read some of the newspaper articles that contributed to the creation of her script…we look at the facts and we can sort of embellish the story a bit too, so it’s interesting,” she said. “There were so many details that were reported in newspapers back in the day, that you can really get a feel for the people and who they were.”

While some volunteers have been involved in “Spirits Alive”  for several years, others participated for the first time last week.

Colleen O’Driscoll, a Forest Hills resident, played Mary Coward, a descendant of one of the first families on the Mayflower.

Colleen O’Driscoll as Mary Coward.

Her story involves a romance with her true love, Jonathan, who she met as a child. The two were separated during the effects of the Civil War, but found each other again and married at an older age.

Passionate about theater, O’Driscoll was proud to be a part of the event, even though the October cold and mist had already kicked in.

“I love acting and history, and I wanted to do something for Halloween because a lot of times, the Halloween stuff that’s not scary is usually for little kids. But I’ve always been obsessed with history and I love acting,” she said.

“I never grew out of my make pretend thing and it took me until I was in high school to lose my imaginary friends because I just loved making up some crazy scenarios for us to be in,” she continued. “When you’re acting, you get to make believe for a living.”

Floral Park resident Frances Guida portrayed Susan Stowe, the wife of Charles Edward Stowe, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s son. Stowe lived at 35 Slocum Crescent in Forest Hills Gardens.

Frances Guida as Susan Stowe.

Although this is also Guida’s first year participating in “Spirits Alive,” she was thrilled to bring her prior acting experience to the event and entertain enthusiastic visitors.

I was active in community theater in Queens for a number of years when I was younger,” she said.

“I hadn’t done any acting in a while, and I felt that this was something just to wet my feet again and portray someone else,” she continued. “And with the pandemic and everything, it’s just nice to step back into some creative things that I wasn’t able to do for such a long time.”

Carl Ballenas, president of The Friends of Maple Grove, is thrilled to have brought back the event, even on a smaller scale, after the pandemic forced the spirits to remain hidden for some time.

Maple Grove Cemetery hosts a series of events year-round, and with that, Ballenas hopes to change people’s misconceptions about cemeteries and what they have to offer to the community.

“It’s unusual because every town, every village and all the cities have cemeteries. But sadly, they are just ignored because they are places to be afraid of or places to hide from. It’s a place that we can use as an educational tool, and we can learn about our ancestors with this event,” Ballenas said.

“We have a beautiful inscription at the center, it’s a 3,000-year-old Egyptian proverb that says, ‘To speak the name of the dead is to bring them back to life,’ he continued. “So we are bringing them back to life, telling a story just for one day of the year. People won’t forget that.”

Richmond Hill street co-named ‘Ivan Mrakovcic Way’

Last Monday, community residents, leaders, family, and friends gathered at 114th Street and 85th Avenue in Richmond Hill to honor the life and legacy of Ivan Mrakovcic with a co-street renaming.

Mrakovcic, who died in 2020 after battling brain cancer, is remembered for his contributions to the community; he was an architect, preservationist, community leader, historian, activist, and the co-founder and president of The Richmond Hill Historical Society.

He also served as treasurer for the Forest Park Trust, chairperson of Community Board 9 for five years, and as a founding board member of the Friends of QueensWay Park advocacy group.

Arranged by Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, the street where his wife, Laura, and their two daughters, Hannah and Emma, still live was co-named ‘Ivan Mrakovcic Way.’

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz reflected on her time as Queens Borough President and her interactions with Mrakovcic.

“When Ivan came into Community Board 9, we were very happy to have someone show leadership, who understood the community, was able to negotiate and sit down at the table and get things done for the community,” Katz said.

“We didn’t agree on everything. We had our debates and our issues, but at the end of the day, we always supported each other,” she continued. “Ivan cared about the historic neighborhood of Richmond Hill and the history of our community.”

Mrakovcic’s preservation efforts and advocacy led to the establishment of the Historic District in North Richmond Hill on the New York State and National Historic registers in 2019.

In his honor, William Gati, an architect, Richmond Hill Historical Society member, former Community Board 9 member, and one of Mrakovcic’s closest friends, started the

Ivan Mrakovcic Scholarship Fund at the High School For Construction Trades, Engineering And Architecture in Ozone Park.

He did so to pay homage to his friend, and give back to local youth in a way he knows Mrakovcic would have loved if he were still alive.

(Photos By Jessica Meditz)

“It’s all really bittersweet; I wish he were here instead of the street being named after him,” Gati said.
“The reason this is so special is the people that came and were a part of his life, and how he touched their lives,” he continued. “Ivan was very kind, and he didn’t rule with a heavy fist, he ruled with kindness.”

Sherry Algredo, chairperson of Community Board 9, also remembers Mrakovcic for his kind and welcoming personality, and assisted in making the street co-naming happen along with Faiuze Ali, CB9’s Transportation & Traffic chairperson.

“When I first came to the board, Ivan was one of the first people to greet me and make me feel welcome. When he told me about the chicken coop he kept in his yard, I identified with that, coming here from Trinidad and Tobago,” Algredo said. “It resonated with me then, and means a lot to me now as chair of Community Board 9.”

Regina Schaefer Santoro, a real estate agent who works with Mrakovcic’s wife, Laura, said that he will not only be remembered for his contributions to the community and kind personality, but also for how unique and quirky he always was.

“One day, he put a tinfoil cap on his head in the middle of a thunderstorm. We toasted s’mores over it because we lost power while we were away on vacation,” she said.
“He was a crazy, quirky guy; he was the first one to be at a party, and the last to leave,” she continued. “He also always wore the craziest, funniest costumes on holidays. And of course, he was known for his chickens. He was in it to make people laugh.”

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