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Residents new and old celebrate Parkchester’s 70th

Who would have thought that Parkchester has already been around for 70 years?

Some of those who came out to celebrate the community’s big anniversary last Saturday, May 15, remember it all too well—many were there when the place was first established, and have fond memories of growing up in Parkchester.

Jim Schween, who came all the way from Arizona, said, “Parkchester looks very good. They’ve done some really great things with the Oval.”

At South Oval, hidden amongst the condos, everyone gathered for a series of speeches, remembrances, and performances. Congressman Joseph Crowley, Assemblyman Peter Rivera, and Councilmember Annabel Palma were all on hand, along with other elected officials, to help celebrate Parkchester’s rich history.

“It’s a great day; the area is very imaginative,” said Mort Olshan, a part-owner of the Yankees and member of the management trio responsible for Parkchester’s revitalization. “I remember this as one of the first town centers. Of course, over time the area changed, but today it’s a great community. It’s delightful to see how happy people are today,” he said.

In 1998 Parkchester was sold to Parkchester Preservation Co., a partnership between Mall Properties, CPC Resources, and O’Connor Capital Partners. They spent five years revitalizing the area—replacing windows, redoing roofs, and keeping the rent stabilized.

Vincent Panettieri was present as a representative of Parkchester Preservation. “Today we’ve seen an absolutely fabulous show of support for Parkchester as a community,” he said. “All these people that have traveled back here today, many of them don’t really know all that Parkchester has gone through in the last five years, so we really wanted to show them.”

A street fair just beyond the big stage, in front of the old-fashioned American movie theatre had sausages, smoothies, arepas, zeppole, and games as well. Tom Murphy and Ed Curley were two old friends that grew up in Parkchester together, in the same building at 1521 Unionport Road. They had not seen each other since 1981.

“It sure looks better than when we lived here,” said Murphy. “They have AC now!” Murphy and Curley sat joking and catching up for the whole afternoon, recalling their time at St. Helena’s grammar school. Both said that the area was loaded with kids when they were growing up there in the fifties, due to the baby boom. At that time, also, Parkchester police enforced strict rules—no pets, no bikes, even no walking on the grass. “This is a major coup for us, being able to sit here on the grass,” added Curley. “All we need now are some cold ones.”

Meanwhile, over at Metropolitan Oval, fountains were at full blast and cotton candy was sold. The entire area rang with oldies tunes from the 1950s and 60s, like “Stand by Me” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Parkchester Renewal, a series of 16 large posters set up along the fountain, described the change Parkchester has undergone since 1940 when it began as a community of rentals for moderate-income residents. A special poster described how Parkchester has become more ethnically diverse, now home to people from Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, India, China, Japan and Pakistan. Another line of 13 posters displayed all the different community organizations and outreach programs now in Parkchester.

By 4:30 p.m., everyone finally shuffled off and said goodbye to the area they love so much. “See you in another 70 years,” one man joked to a friend.

Reach Daniel Roberts at (718) 742-3383 or droberts@cnglocal.com

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