The breezy story of Ozone Park, Queens: “the Harlem of Brooklyn”

Ozone Park, a quiet residential Queens neighborhood near Woodhaven, is one of those places created by real estate developers in the 1880s. It happens to have one of the best neighborhood names in all of New York City. So where did it come from?

Ozone is a gas that exists as part of the Earth’s atmosphere and, more dangerously, as a component of ground-level pollutants like smog and industrial waste. By all accounts, the word should sit nowhere near the word ‘Park’ where the foul-smelling gas would kill everything.

OzonePark

But when ozone gas was first identified in 1840, its harmful effects were not widely understood. It was associated with fresh air, filled with refreshing recuperative properties.  One dictionary in particular describes ozone as “clean bracing air as found at the sea side.” By the 1860s and 70s, beach resorts and hotels were advertising their properties are paradises full of tonic air with all the ozone you could want!

Below: This cigarette card was labeled ‘Ozone is present in the air at the sea-side.” So you have cigarettes and ozone…..

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

 

There was no borough of Queens in the 1860s, only the counties of Kings and Queens sitting near each other on the western end of Long Island. The county of Queens was sparsely populated outside of a few towns further north, including Flushing, Jamaica, Astoria and Newtown (later Elmhurst).

The vast population rise and the improving financial fortunes of the cities of New York and Brooklyn in the 1860s inspired some developers to sweep into under-populated areas with the hopes of developing new communities. It was in the decades following the Civil War that many new Queens communities sprouted up in this way.

In the 1870s, the cooking and houseware manufacturers Florian Grosjean and Charles Lalance built a large factory near the site of the old Union Course racetrack, long since closed. The company town which sprouted up around the factory became the basis for the Woodhaven neighborhood.

In 1876, the factory was destroyed in a devastating fire, so complete in its destruction that Grosjean, upon seeing his life’s work in flames, fainted to the ground.

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Courtesy Project Woodhaven

 

But Grosjean rebuilt his massive factory just a bit south of the original site, constructing more new cottages for his workers. While the factory is long gone today, its distinctive clock tower can still be seen in the neighborhood today. [You can read more about Grosjean’s contribution to the area here.]

I bring up the origins of Woodhaven because the southern factory opened up new opportunities for some undeveloped land. New employees of Grosjean’s factory would eventually venture into this area needing housing,

In 1880, the Long Island Railroad built a station south of Woodhaven as part of its line from Long Island City to Howard Beach. Two years later, two speculators Benjamin W. Hitchcock and Charles C. Denton bought up most of the plots of land around the station and began marketing the area as a visionary new neighborhood called Ozone Park!

Hitchcock had made his money in the music publishing business, one of several enterprising Manhattan businessmen who looked to the vast undeveloped spaces of Long Island to make money. He coined the name Ozone Park to promote the area’s proximity to fresh tonic ocean air.

Below: Postcard of an Ozone Park filling station circa 1930s

Courtesy Boston Public Library
Courtesy Boston Public Library

Here’s a few examples of advertisements used to lure prospective customers to  the area:

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (7/9/1882):

“A FREE invitation to visit Ozone Park, on the New York, Woodhaven and Rockaway Railroad, adjoining Woodhaven and Brooklyn, with a view of affording homes to persons of moderate means on easy payments.”

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From the New York Sun (8/27/1882):

“OWN YOUR HOME at OZONE PARK, And enjoy the pure, life-giving air of the ATLANTIC OCEAN……”

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From the New York Sun (4/21/1883):

“Save your children! Save your money! Invest and get rich! OZONE PARK is ‘the Harlem of Brooklyn.’ Come and investigate!”

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Wait — ‘the Harlem of Brooklyn‘? Ozone Park isn’t even in Brooklyn, although it’s near the modern border of the borough.  In the 1880s Harlem was a thriving and newly developed Jewish and Italian neighborhood, a new rowhouses were being built along the routes of elevated rail lines. This is certainly the comparison the developers had in mind with this particular advertisements.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

By 1884, the developers carved streets to connect the properties.  Far from relaxing and ‘tonic’, the area was a fury of building construction.  Five years later there were at least 600 residents living in Ozone Park, enough to merit its very own post office.

The development of South Ozone Park was bolstered with the construction in 1894 of the Aqueduct Racetrack (pictured below in 1941).  When Idlewild Airport (later JFK Airport) was completed in 1948, anything positively “ozone” about the the air quickly evaporated.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

 

Thank you Project Woodhaven for inspiring this article!

 

 

  • Reggie Gleason

    My Aunt lived in Ozone Park in the 1940’s and 1950’s and a working dairy called Balsam Farms was practically in her back yard. The dairy allowed my dad to collect some of the cow manure for use in our small garden in Brooklyn. I remember as a small boy helping my dad to collect the smelly stuff.
    From Wikipedia:
    “Isaac Balsam (1880–1945) started the first Chalav Yisrael dairy farm on the East Coast, and possibly in the United States. Balsam was born in Mielec (Melitz), Poland, and was a Melitzer Chassid. He emigrated to the United States in 1898, lived initially with his uncle, Meyer Emmer, and worked on Emmer’s dairy farm for about five years. In 1903, Balsam established his own dairy farm in Ozone Park, Queens. At its peak, the Balsam farm had 300 cows.”

    • Jay Wolman and Sheila Wolman (Balsam)

      Hi Reggie, My name is Jay Wolman and my wife’s name Is Sheila Balsam, the daughter of Nathan Balsam who ran the Balsam farm after his father Isaac passed away in 1045. It’s so wonderful to hear your connection to the farm. Is there another thing more you can add to what you remember. Please reply jaywolman2001@yahoo.com

      • Kathie Mchugh

        I grew up
        In Tudor village ., I have fond memories of the farm and cows sometimes escaping and ending up
        In Tudor ..what a great place to grow up.. Thanks so much to your family for helping to provide such great memories of growing up
        In Tudor village

      • MIke

        My dad and his family were friends with Paul Balsan, who became a judge.

    • pat wheeler ryan

      We use to play around Balsam Farms on Pitkin Ave. Paul Balsam was the famous man in Tudor Village. We shopped in the Yankee Doodle Market and everyone knew your name. What a wonderful time.

      • Bobby Brust

        Hi there pat wheeler was your dad Charlie wheeler who worked at monahans

  • Mike

    I lived in Ozone Park, on 78th Street and 95th Ave.
    Also at 84th Street and 101 Ave.
    Went to PS64 on 82st &8rd Street on 101 Ave,
    Worked for Mike Butcher Shop on 83rd and 101 Ave.
    Also at Sapienza’s on 84th Street and 101st Ave.
    Went to St. Elizabeth’s on 84th Street and Atlantic Ave.
    High School: John Adams.
    I also remember Balsam Farms, last cow farm in NYC.

    • Victor

      I went to St. Elizabeth’s from 1959 till 1965, then went to PS 64 then went to JHS 210

  • Al Funke

    I lived the first 23 years of my life (1947-1970) in Ozone Park. First off Liberty Avenue on 89 Street then on 101 (Jerome) Avenue & 104 Street. Great memories of a happy childhood.

    • Josephine Bernson

      All, did you know the Cusati’s? My family had a store at 101 and 104.

  • Marie C.

    I lived on Pitkin Avenue near 88th street in Ozone Park from the early 60’s until the early 80’s. My dad at 96 years old still lives there in the family house. I remember very clearly the Balsam Farms with the cows right out there behind the fence on Pitkin Ave. It was the country within a city for awhile until the farm closed down and remained vacant and a haven for junkies in the 70’s. Finally it was overly developed with many attached houses bringing so many more residents, cars and congestion to the area. I’m glad i still have the memories of the farm and the bit of country it brought to us.

  • salvatore D’Agostino

    I’d like to see photos of the cow farm on pitkin ave
    pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease

  • Big Bill of Lambertville

    Hello to all !

    I am an antique dealer and collector from Lambertville, New Jersey, and, just came across an interesting metal milk can from the Queens Farm, in Ozone Park. I was quite fascinated to hear of its history there, and, the unfortunate demise of the farm in the late 1980’s. However, if anyone is interested in purchasing the milk can, please let me know. I am only asking $95.00 for it, but, it would definitely be more of use and interest to someone who can associate with it. I can later send pictures !

    Thanks, much !

    Bill

    • Jenn

      Do you have a picture?

  • Big Bill of Lambertville

    Milk Can – Available for sale from Queens Farm, Ozone Park, NY

    Contact Big Bill – jackjag21@aol.com

  • Ed Dalder

    My sister and I grew up in South Ozone Park (135th st. just south of Linden boulevard). Later,we moved to Ozone Park (Sutter Avenue, just east of Woodhaven blvd.). I went to PS 142, Brooklyn Technical High School, and Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. I had Long Island Press routes in both neighborhoods.

    Much time has past since then.

  • Steven Otero

    Jack Kerouac lived at 133-01 Cross Bay Blvd. from 1943 until 1949 above a drugstore in Ozone Park. He wrote his first novel “The Town and The City” there.

  • Rose

    That Ford Station on the postcard looks like the later Datsun/Nissan dealership on Rockaway Blvd between 85th and 86th st..is it? I lived right behind it on 85th.’

    • Steven Boyette

      Vass Motors

  • Mary fiorello russo

    I remember running through the farm on.my way to.ps 108 now it’s . aguduct racetrack n also a casino resort I was born on 103st down the block from st Marygate of heaven church all my aunts lived Round ozp now there gone I was born n 1942 wonderfull meriores . Those were the days .

  • Carolyn

    I just moved out of Ozone Park after being born on centerville Ave 80 years ago . When I was 5moved to Chicot Ct and went to PS 63 before graduating John Adams. Got married in NBVM church and sent my 8 children to school there. It was a great neighborhood to raise a family

  • Kimberlee Polonski

    I loved what we used to call the “cow barns”. There were always a bunch of kittens being born there and we used to go there and inevitably bring one home. I lived on 89th Street between 97th and 95th Avenue. Ozone Park was great to me. 88th Street Park, Sonny the Butcher, Liberty and Oxford Bakeries, and of course Sapienzas. Oh and Yoss Bros. Bread factory. Great place to grow up. Great family values.