Much of the Ridgewood Plateau sits on what was at one time the Maurice Woods. James Maurice, a co-founder of St. Saviour's Church, had donated the land to the Episcopal Diocese prior to his death with the caveat that a seminary be maintained on the site. In the early years of the 20th Century, the church found it had no use for the property, as seminaries had already been built in Nassau County. The church petitioned Maurice's two surviving sisters to lift the deed restriction on the property so it could be sold to support the church's missionaries and a school for the blind. They agreed.
The City of New York expressed interest in purchasing the site for a park in 1905. It had been used as a de facto park for decades up to that point. Picnics and recreational activities were held there by various groups. Some nefarious activities also took place there, however. It was a popular spot for assaults, drinking, and suicides. Sadly, several bodies were pulled from the woods over its history.
The city never came up with the money needed to purchase the 83 acres, and instead the land was purchased by the Turner-Fink Company in 1906 for development purposes. Turner-Fink subdivided the land and sold it to different development companies, which started building in 1928. That is why apartment buildings and Tudor-style homes line the streets of the Plateau today, with 4 graceful stone and iron arches welcoming visitors and residents to the area.
The arches, bearing the name Ridgewood Plateau hand painted in script lettering, marked the entrance to the neighborhood. The name raises confused eyebrows today as the Plateau is nowhere near Ridgewood, but back in the 1920s & 30s it was all about marketing, as it is today. The Ridgewood Plateau is basically located on the tallest hill in the vicinity, affording great views of surrounding areas, and at the time it was developed, the bustling town of Ridgewood was considered much more prominent, modern and desirable than the relatively sleepy hamlet of Maspeth. The developers, Louis Principe among them, wanted to attract young families looking for a quick ride to Manhattan. A subway line running down 65th Place had been in the works and seemed to be heading toward fruition at the time. (Of course, it was never built. WWII saw to that).
While Ridgewood Plateau homes have always remained well-kept by the area's residents, the arches fell into disrepair over the years. Pieces of the metal scrollwork had disappeared and the paint had washed away, leaving behind rusted eyesores. Maintenance was lacking because no one actually owned the arches and took responsibility for their maintenance.
Maspeth Federal Savings Bank onboard
In March of 2011, the Newtown Historical Society presented a Maspeth slideshow at Connolly's Corner on Grand Avenue. One of the slides depicted 65th Place, at the time called Hyatt Avenue, circa 1933. In the foreground of the photo stood one of the archways that graced the entrance to the newly developed Ridgewood Plateau. In the audience sat Ken Rudzewick, President of Maspeth Federal Savings Bank. I mentioned that after decades of neglect, the arches looked worse for wear and the historical society would like to oversee their restoration. The following day, I was contacted by Maspeth Federal's CEO and Senior Vice President, David Daraio, informing me that the Bank would like to donate toward the cause and that I should seek estimates for the work to restore the arches.
After researching companies that could provide stripping, painting and detailing as well as re-fabrication of the missing ironwork, it was determined that fully restoring the arches to their former glory would be more expensive than we had anticipated. The plan had to be rethought. At one point we found a company that said they would do most of the work for what seemed like a bargain price, and Maspeth Federal promptly cut a check to cover the cost. Unfortunately, we couldn't find anyone who was willing to take responsibility for dismantling and transporting the metal sections to the shop in Yonkers. This is when it started to get frustrating.
We brought the fact that the arches were graffiti magnets to 104th Pct graffiti officer Justin Dambinskas, and he offered to help with the painting. Newtown Historical purchased the paint supplies with some of MFS' grant money and handed them over to Justin. Restoring the lettering on the signs was going to be difficult without a stencil. I decided to experiment with decals. I ordered script decals that looked to be similar to the original font and a clear sealant to keep them in place. But that had to wait until Justin was finished with the base coats. Things started to roll along, and Justin got one arch painted, but then he was sent to National Guard duty. Upon his return, he was transferred out of the precinct. The new graffiti officer at the precinct was not keen on continuing the work and returned what was left of the paint supplies. It was another setback.
O'Neills to the Rescue
Soon after, I informed Bob Holden about all that had transpired. He contacted Danny Pyle, owner of O'Neill's Restaurant. Danny did not hesitate to offer to restore the arches. The planning lasted several months, but in October 2014, the work finally began. The stone sections of the arches were power-washed. Larry Madine, a Vietnam Veteran and professional painter from Woodside, was hired by O'Neill's to handle the painting. And what a job he is doing!
It would take Larry roughly 11 hours to strip the old rust and paint off the metal of just one arch and then prime, prep and paint it. Using the original font and dimensions taken from an archival photograph, Larry painstakingly hand-lettered the signs in real gold leaf. He completed the front and back of one of the 4 signs and will proceed to do this for the other 3 signs. It is an amazing job by an amazing man. We feel this level of quality work is definitely worth the extra wait. And very generously, Larry is donating much of his time.
Moving forward, we'd like to be able to replace the missing pieces of the iron scrollwork and are researching who might be able to provide this service.
We hope that the restoration not only improves the look of the Plateau but also evokes a bit of neighborhood pride in all Maspeth residents. Thank you to everyone that had a hand in this project!