Few places in Maspeth have proven more important to the livelihoods of the community – or changed so significantly – than Maspeth Town Hall.
Located in the middle of a residential block, on 72nd Street just north of Grand Avenue, the two-story building retains its 1897 design as a community school. But in the years that followed, the use of the building would evolve several times, but always in the service of the community.
After housing a school that educated generations of children, it came to play a role in the economic recovery after the Great Depression, stationing police patrolling the area and, as it does today, by hosting a variety of educational and cultural programs to enhance the lives of residents young and old.
The building was opened in 1898 as the Brinkerhoff School, a one-and-a-half-story wooden schoolhouse on farmland previously owned by the Brinkerhoff family. The family’s roots date back to the colonial period in the mid-1600s, when present-day Queens and New York were under Dutch control.
The school, under the control of the city’s Board of Education, was also rated PS 73. For the next four decades, generations of children in Maspeth and surrounding communities would receive their education.
As the population grew, so did the need for larger schools. The city built a brand new home for PS 73 which opened in 1932 at the corner of what is now 54th Avenue and 71st Street.
After the pupils left, the wooden schoolhouse was redeveloped to house a girls’ club as well as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) centre. The WPA, a program created in 1935 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to combat the Great Depression, has completed dozens of public works projects across the country in an effort to rebuild infrastructure and stimulate the economy.
But the WPA’s stay in Maspeth was brief, as the New York City Police Department took control of the old school in 1936, turning it into the headquarters of the 112th Precinct. The cops remained at the Maspeth site until April 1971, when they moved to a new headquarters at the corner of Austin Street and Yellowstone Boulevard in Forest Hills. (Maspeth was incorporated into the boundaries of the Ridgewood-based 104th Ward.)
After the NYPD left the school, it sat abandoned for several years aimlessly and fell into disrepair. Questions have swirled about what to do with the now historic building, short of razing it for other purposes.
But, as with other significant structures in Queens at the time, the community rallied together to find a way to do more than just save the building.
A group of local shopkeepers and residents, led by Margaret Markey (later to become a member of the Assembly), formed the “Save School Committee” for the preservation and reuse of the building. This led to the incorporation of a new non-profit organization, Maspeth Town Hall, which will work over the next four decades to renovate the building into a new venue for community activities.
Today, with the help of many Maspeth residents and businesses, City Hall thrives as a community center, hosting educational programs such as Universal Pre-Kindergarten for toddlers and after-school activities for older children. There is also a range of programs for seniors as well as arts and drama initiatives.
Sources: Maspeth City Hall, Juniper Park Civic Association, and “Our Community: Its History and People,” published by the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society, 1976.
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