African-American enclave in Queens considered

Addisleigh Park was home to many famous African Americans,including Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and W.E.B. DuBois. On March 23, 2010, Landmarks heard extensive testimony on the potential designation of a historic district in the Addisleigh Park section of St. Albans, Queens. Addisleigh Park is characterized by detached homes on large, landscaped lots, giving the neighborhood a suburban feel. Primarily developed between 1910 and the early 1930s, the area features homes in the English Tudor, Colonial, and Mediterranean Revival styles. The proposed district would include approximately 426 buildings, the St. Albans Congregational Church and its campus, and the eleven-acre St. Alban’s Park.

In addition to its architectural significance, Addisleigh Park is also notable for its social and cultural history. It was home to many celebrated African-American jazz musicians, entertainers, and athletes. Ironically, Addisleigh Park was originally created as an all-white neighborhood, and its discriminatory goals were enforced through restrictive covenants prohibiting the sale of property to non-whites. Although many African-American families had already moved into the neighborhood, the restrictive covenants were upheld by State courts in two separate lawsuits in the 1940s. Nonetheless, Our World, a national magazine edited for African-American readers, described Addisleigh Park as being home to the “richest and most gifted” African Americans in 1952. Pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller was possibly the first prominent African American to move into the area, living on Sayres Avenue until his death in 1943. W.E.B. DuBois, Lena Horne, Count Basie, and Jackie Robinson were among some of Addisleigh Park’s most well-known residents, in addition to the many middle-class homeowners.

At the hearing, residents and elected officials generally supported designation. Council Member Leroy Comrie, whose district includes Addisleigh Park, spoke in support, but he also argued that St. Albans Church should be removed from the district. Comrie said the church’s inclusion would constitute a “severe burden” on its proposed redevelopment plan. State Senator Bill Perkins submitted a written statement supporting designation. Noting the area’s discriminatory history, Perkins said the historic district would be important not just because of the celebrities who made Addisleigh Park their home, but because of “the quieter story…of a more widespread triumph over adversity among all African Americans.”

Reverend Henry Miller, Senior Minister of St. Albans Church, said the church’s current facilities were inadequate for the growing congregation, and that landmarking would prove prohibitive should the church wish to renovate its buildings. Miller argued that the church’s contribution to the community did not lie in its buildings, and he asked Landmarks to exclude the church’s sanctuary and family center from the proposed district. While the majority of residents spoke in support, one homeowner claimed that African Americans had originally moved to the area because “we wanted a place to be left alone,” and designation would compromise owners’ property rights.

Chair Robert B. Tierney left the record open for 30 days for additional comments and closed the hearing.

LPC: Addisleigh Park Historic District, Queens (LP-2405) (March 23, 2010).

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