1882: Ozone Park
LIRR Made It Possible
By MATT HAMPTON
The Ozone Park LIRR station circa 1912.
Ozone Park in south Queens has enjoyed 125 years of historical significance, dating back to it’s founding in 1882. Single-family homes and intimate apartments in the neighborhood combine to give the area a small-town feel with the city benefits of a more urban lifestyle. It has been a haven for fascinating characters, including Jack Kerouac and mobster John Gotti.
“It’s a great little community,” said Betty Braton, Chair of Community Board 10. “Mostly one or two family homes with a few small apartment buildings, very pleasant neighborhood.” Bratton also highlighted Ozone Park’s very strong civic associations, a staple of community support in the area.
Ozone Park began as a byproduct of the Long Island Rail Road. The community sprang up when an LIRR line from New York City to Howard Beach made travel between the two places cheap and easy. The name came from founder Benjamin Hitchcock, who wanted to evoke an ocean atmosphere in the name of the neighborhood.
“We kind of feel like we are in the suburbs, but we’re a closer knit community than that,” said Frank Dardani, a resident of Tudor Village in Ozone Park, and a member of Community Board 10. “We’re always very involved with each other, helping each other out and working with each other.”
One of the highlights of the neighborhood, Dardani insisted, is its flexibility.
“This community is a short trip anywhere you want to go,” Dardani said, citing the numerous destinations within an hour’s drive. “It’s a hop, skip and a jump away.”
Dardani is also the President of the Ozone Tudor Civic Association, an organization specifically addressing Tudor Village, a smaller sub-neighborhood of the larger village.
“It’s kind of like a gated community without the gates,” Dardani said.
Ozone Park, thanks to the presence of the late John Gotti, was also known as a headquarters of organized crime, though many of the community members there saw a different side.
“He was a great man,” Ozone Park resident Thomas Giuseppi told the Tribune shortly after Gotti’s death. “I would see him around. He always smiled and said ‘hi.’ He was clean cut, and always a gentleman. He made this neighborhood great. Everyone had respect for each other. And he loved this neighborhood. Anything we heard about in the news, he didn’t bring it here.”
Ozone Park is also the home of the Aqueduct Racetrack, the only racetrack in New York City, which opened only 12 years after the village itself was founded. Aqueduct has undergone renovations several times, including being rebuilt in 1959. The most recent development in the track is the possible upcoming installation of video lottery terminals, something not all residents are thrilled about.
“We care very much about the Aqueduct racing track,” Dardani said. “We are trying to keep Aqueduct as a racetrack, because we think it’s better for our community.”
Mary Ann Carey, District Manager of Community Board 9, whose parents moved to Ozone Park in 1929, said the community has seen a great deal of change, both recently and over the course of it’s history.
“Years ago, Ozone Park was mostly Italian-American…They had a very tight community with a smattering of Irish, English and German,” she said.
As the populations aged, the make-up of Ozone Park started to come from other immigrant communities, including Guyanese and Indian groups. Carey said the influx of these new groups have represented a “shot in the arm to the community.”
Some notable events Carey remembers include the change of LIRR service from above-ground to below Atlantic Avenue, and the introduction of new shopping centers to revitalize otherwise fallow retail areas.
“There are a lot of things about Ozone Park we love,” Frank Dardani said.