York Alum Builds Jamaica’s Past In a History Book

Above, the Long Island Railroad Station takes up the space that once was a golf course.
Above, the Long Island Railroad Station takes up the space that once was a golf course.

Local historian and York College alumni Carl Ballenas held a book signing on March 9 with a group of high school students who helped compile a history of Kew Gardens and were honored by a U.S. Congresswoman and city councilman for their efforts.
      For two years, the students attending The Aquinas Honor Society of the Immaculate Conception School, located in Jamaica Estates, worked with Ballenas in order to publish their third Arcadia book, Images of New York: Kew Gardens.
      With the use of photography, the book exposes the history, untold stories and details of the historic neighborhood capturing over 200 vintage photographs that have never been exposed to the public before.
      At the book signing at the Fresh Meadow’s Barnes and Noble Congresswoman Meng presented each student with a Congressional citation and newly elected Councilman Rory Lancman presented them with a New York City Proclamation for all their good efforts. Don Capalbi, president of the Queensborough Hill Civic Association, also attended the event.
      This concludes the fifth Arcadia book published by Ballenas, and the third book with his students as co-authors. In 2010, the students released Images of New York: Jamaica Estates beginning a generational timeline of the neighborhoods of Jamaica, Richmond Hill, and Kew Gardens. The three books read as a trilogy of neighborhoods starting with Jamaica, the grandmother, to Richmond Hill, the daughter, and ending with Kew Gardens, the granddaughter.
      “To appreciate their neighborhood and take pride in being co-authors, that’s part of my legacy I leave behind to my students,” said Ballenas. “Appreciation of the environment they’re a part of and an appreciation of learning.”
      With the use of online resources, the students sifted through hundreds of photos picking the most pristine. Arcadia was very particular about the quality of the photos. Many of the photos did not meet the standards that would qualify as publishable. The most pristine photos were chosen from archives of The New York Times, dating from the 1800s-1900s, and Fultonhistory.org which provided photos from New York State Newspapers, and the Bob Stonehill collection.
      The Josephine Foundation helped with finances for the children to access and print the images. The New York Times charges about three to four dollars for each image. Barry Lewis, famed architectural historian, television personality, and Kew Gardens native who previously wrote a book on the history of Kew Gardens, provided the forward of the book. Kew Gardens Historian Joseph De May also provided material from his website for the book.
      “It’s very important people have an appreciation of their past and preservation for the past,” said Ballenas.
      Ballenas hopes readers will walk away with an appreciation of where they live and a love for their community as well as a love for the history of their community. Being introduced to who lived there and what things looked like before their time is meant to create a ‘wow’ effect for readers who see the change and development of their neighborhood through the years.
      Ballenas worried that the city is losing too many historical places due to the over development of New York City. The book provides a record of what Kew Gardens looked like when it was first established. It gives readers and residents a visual representation of what the foundation of Kew Gardens is. Viewers can see how modern Kew Gardens has expanded and still identify where the roots of the neighborhoods lay.
      “Queens is a very diverse neighborhood with so many different groups coming for all different paths of the world,” said Ballenas. “It is very important for people who live in the area who know the foundation of their neighborhood and have an appreciation of their past and a preservation for the past.”

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