Back When The Jackie Robinson
Parkway Was Just A Dirt Road

Recently Louis Cardamone, a former resident of Ridgewood now residing in Henrico, North Carolina, sent in a newspaper clipping with a photograph showing the construction of the bridge carrying Myrtle Avenue over the Interboro Parkway (Jackie Robinson Parkway) at 88th Place in Glendale.
The construction of the span carrying Myrtle Avenue over the Interboro Parkway in Glendale, as it appeared in a newspaper at that time.
A relative of Mr. Cardamone’s was one of the engineers who helped build this bridge. We believe the original photograph was published about July or August of 1932. As a result of Mr. Cardamone’s letter, we did some research on this road.
The early history dates back to March 1897, when a new boulevard was under construction in the City of Brooklyn from Coney Island to Prospect Park and then to what is now Highland Park. It was 125 feet wide and was eventually named Eastern Parkway for that portion of the road in Brooklyn.
It was to enter Queens County at the Ridgewood Reservoir. In Queens County, the Brooklyn authorities suggested that the extension of the road continue through Joseph Banzer’s picnic park, then enter Cypress Hills Cemetery, where the wooden observatory tower formerly stood. Then it would enter Brooklyn’s Forest Park to Dry Harbor Road (now 81st Street) in Glendale. Then it would go north on this road to Hoffman Boulevard (Queens Boulevard).
The wooden observatory tower in Cypress Hills Cemetery had formerly stood on the highest hill in the cemetery, approximately in line with 7st Street in Glendale. On Sunday afternoon, residents of Glendale would climb the creaky stairs of the tower and look out over the countryside. Dexter Park in Woodhaven, which in later years (1919 through 1951), was the home field of Max Rosner’s Bushwicks semi-pro baseball team, in the 1890s was a picnic park with a baseball grounds. During the summer months at this park, pigeon-shooting contests were held which were visible from the tower in the cemetery. On a clear day, the ocean surf could be seen breaking in the Rockaways. The wooden tower was taken down sometime prior to March 1897.
A 1910 postcard view of the roadway through Forest Park.
In 1899, the Queens County Topographical Bureau also suggested the extension of the Eastern Parkway be through Cypress Hills Cemetery and Forest Park to Dry Harbor Road.
As noted in March 1897, the City of Brooklyn was building the Eastern Parkway. One hundred years later, in 1997, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the entry of Jackie Robinson into major league baseball at Brooklyn, Long Island University on their Brooklyn campus held a three-day conference with a number of former major league stars attending. The City of New York emphasized the importance of this anniversary on April 14, 1997 and renamed the Interboro Parkway the Jackie Robinson Parkway with a number of new signs. Jackie Robinson and members of his family are buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery on the south side of the parkway.
In 1901, a bill was introduced in the New York State Legislature amending the Cemetery Act to provide for the construction of a road through Cypress Hills Cemetery to connect the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens (the City of Brooklyn was merged into the City of New York on January 1, 1898). The bill did not pass but each year thereafter through 1907, the bill was re-introduced and each year it failed to pass.
Finally in 1908, Chapter 404 of the Laws of New York State provided for the construction of a 150 feet wide road. However, no funds were provided, and nothing was done. The proposed road was to be an extension of Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and would extend through Cypress Hills Cemetery to Forest Park, where it would connect to the existing road in Forest Park. To build the parkway the costs would be divided into three parts: the cost of acquiring the lane; the cost of removing the bodies in the roadbed of the proposed road through the cemetery; and the cost of constructing the road. As will be seen the cost estimates varied greatly from date to date.
In 1913 in discussions in the New York State Legislature, it was estimated the cost of obtaining the cemetery land, including the curbing, bridges, etc. would be about $200,000.
Henry Ford introduced mass production of a moderate-priced automobile, the Model T. In 1901, the number of passenger cars registered in the United States was 14,800. By 1913, it was 1,190,393, and in 1923 13,253,019. In July 1923, the local civic associations were pressing for the road to be built. The City of New York’s Board of Estimate told the civic associations that the cost would be considerably more than the 1913 estimate. The Board of Estimate agreed to build and road, provided local residents paid 100 percent of such a proposal.
Jackie Robinson (left), is shown with Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey as they got together on Jackie’s 1950 contract in the Dodgers’ Brooklyn offices. Robinson, in whose honor the Interboro Parkway was later renamed, signed the contract. It was estimated to be for a sum between $30,000 and $35,000.
(photo: Associated Press)
The matter was dropped.
In December 1926, local civic associations attended a meeting of the Board of Estimate at which the construction of the road was discussed. The Board adjoined the discussion until they had a cost from the chief engineer of the Queens County Topographical Bureau. At this meeting, the civic associations expressed the opinion that the assessment to build the road should be city-wide and not assessed against local residents.
Queens residents complained that they had the highest tax rate in the city. In 1927, the rate was $2.70 per $100 of assessed valuation. In 1926, the rate was $2.73. Although the politicians said they had lowered the rate, they increased the assessed valuation so that taxes in 1927 were higher than in 1926. Because Queens had a number of cemeteries which were tax-exempt, Queens residents wanted cemeteries to be taxed. Although some of the cemeteries were operated by religious organizations, some were privately owned and were profit-making corporations.
In March 1927 at a meeting of one of the civic organizations in Ridgewood, it was suggested that the assessment for the Interboro Parkway should be 50 percent for the city, 35 percent for Brooklyn and 15 percent for Queens with no local assessment.
After dragging along for years, in March 1927, the parkway plans were being rushed because of the necessity of starting condemnation proceedings to acquire the land for the roadbed and to do this prior to January 1, 1928 in order to take advantage of a condition of approval negotiated between the City of New York and Cypress Hills Cemetery. The trustees of the cemetery were well aware of the years that had elapsed on this matter. They gave their approval under the condition that physical improvement of the road be started before the first of next year.
The City of New York’s Board of Estimate held a meeting on March 24, 1927 to discuss the assessment on the proposed road, the cost of the acquired land and the cost of removing the bodies that lie in the roadbed. Several of the civic organizations from Ridgewood and Glendale suggested that the assessment be 45 percent for the city, 35 percent for Brooklyn, 15 percent for Queens and 5 percent for local residents on the south side of the road (which would exempt Ridgewood and Glendale).
In late April 1927, it appeared the way had been cleared for the acquisition of the land and the beginning of construction to connect the eastern terminus of Eastern Parkway coming from Brooklyn to Forest Park. The road would run along Highland Park to the Ridgewood Reservoir, then cross Cypress Hills Street to Cypress Hills Cemetery. It would pass through the cemetery just south of the boundary with Mount Camel Cemetery to Forest Park.
Where the parkway entered Forest Park, the Parks Department would build a driveway several hundred feet long from the end of the Interboro Parkway, to connect with the existing road in Forest Park. The cost was estimated at $3,500,000.
In July 1928, the City of New York was granted authority to acquire the land for the roadbed by condemnation from the eastern boundary of Highland Park eastward to Forest Park. Part of the land to be acquired was the northern end of Joseph Banzer’s picnic park (Cypress Hills Park), which was located on the southwest corner of Cypress Avenue and Cypress Hills Street. At one time there was a six-acre lake in this picnic park and the lake was used for boating by the patrons. In the 1920s, the Banzer heirs sold off most of the property for use as a cemetery. By the late 1920s, the lake was reduced to a small pond. The Old Timer remembers catching catfish there as a boy.
—To Be Continued—