Landmarks Hears Broad Community Support for Designating 18th Century Cemetery in Queens

Brinckerhoff Cemetery. Credit: LPC

Property owners want to develop site; claim cemetery no longer contains human remains. On May 15, 2012, Landmarks held a public hearing on the potential designation of the Brinckerhoff Cemetery at 69-65 182nd Street in Fresh Meadows, Queens as an individual City landmark. Landmarks held a public hearing to consider the site in December 2000, but never voted on the proposed designation. The family cemetery is named for the Brinckerhoff family, who were among the first Dutch settlers in Queens. According to Landmarks, the cemetery was used from 1736 to 1872, and accommodated at least 76 burials. There are no visible grave markers, and it is unclear whether human remains are still buried at the site.

The City in the 1950s foreclosed on the cemetery site and sold it to Joseph DeDomenico. Problems arose when the DeDomenico family considered developing the property and it was discovered that the site had been used as a cemetery. In 1999, the Queens Historical Society and descendants of the Brinckerhoff family sued to reclaim the site, arguing that the City improperly foreclosed on the property. The DeDomenico family offered to sell the site to the Queens Historical Society, but the group was unable to raise sufficient funds. Landmarks calendared the property for potential designation in 2000. In 2010, the DeDomenico family sold the property to Linda’s Cai Trading, Incorporated.

At Landmarks’ recent public hearing, Linda’s Cai’s Fang Zhou opposed designation, claiming that the cemetery no longer contained human remains. Zhou said Linda’s Cai paid taxes and should be permitted to redevelop the site.

Local elected officials, neighbors, and preservation groups supported designation. In testimony read by his representative, local Council Member James Gennaro stated that that the City erroneously foreclosed on the property because cemeteries are exempt from property taxation. He said that allowing development on the cemetery would dishonor the memory of the people buried there and be disrespectful to the families of the deceased.

A representative of Council Member Mark Weprin said the site was among the few properties that “truly detail the history of Queens,” and urged Landmarks to protect the cemetery. A representative of Assembly Member Rory Lancman stated that the property was not “a scrap of land to turn into a McMansion,” but a cemetery “representing…hundreds of years of history.” Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and representatives of State Assembly Member Grace Meng and State Senator Tony Avella also supported designation.

Jerry Iannece, chair of Queens Community Board 11, argued that the site undoubtedly contained grave sites and held significant historical value. Tami Osherov, a resident of Meadowlark Gardens, said it was “an abomination to even consider” developing the property. Henry Euler from the Auburndale Improvement Association concurred, stating “the dead deserve to be respected and left in peace.” William Manger, a descendant of the Brinckerhoff family, claimed that a 1919 survey of the cemetery clearly showed the burial sites and grave markers on the site. Manger said he was “dumbfounded” that Landmarks was unsure if human remains still existed at the cemetery, and rhetorically asked “where do you think the remains have gone?”

Representatives of the Historic Districts Council, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Society for the Architecture of the City spoke in support of designation. A member of the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries speculated that over 200 people could be buried in the cemetery. The Queens Preservation Council’s Mitchell Grubler urged Landmarks to consult with archaeologists to examine the site before making any determination.

LPC: Brinckerhoff Cemetery, 69-65 182nd Street, Queens (LP-2087) (May 15, 2012).

One thought on “Landmarks Hears Broad Community Support for Designating 18th Century Cemetery in Queens

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