Ridgewood is perhaps a bit out of the way for the average New Yorker, but the effort to get there is well worthwhile. Historically, this is a German neighborhood but today it is as diverse as anywhere else in Queens – and is home to a major Polish enclave (mainly along Fresh Pond Road), and a smattering of former Yugoslavs, among many other groups.
The neighborhood is home to a major historic district, focused on its fantastically preserved early 20th century residential buildings. When the historic district was declared in 1983, it was the largest in the country, with nearly 3000 buildings included. Even beyond the Slavic sites here, the historic architecture makes Ridgewood a nice place to spend an afternoon.
Though there are several transportation options, Slavs of New York came from Manhattan on the L line to Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenue, and walked across Myrtle Avenue (though there is also a connection to the M line that runs straight through Ridgewood).
The Balkan presence is quickly felt on Myrtle Avenue. Walking across, you’ll first hit the Bulgarian grocery Parrot Coffee Grocery (58-22 Myrtle Avenue). Nearby is the Serbian-owned European Music & Video Store (59-13 71st Avenue), then Muncan Meat Market (60-86 Myrtle Avenue).
A bit further down, the deli Balkan Express (64-02 Myrtle Avenue), featuring a Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia flag on its awning has unfortunately closed, though the awning (and the flag) remain for now. From here, it’s a quick walk over to the next neighborhood in Queens, Glendale, home of the Serbian Club (72-65 65th Place).
The road has a string of Polish delis, too numerous to list here. They include Teddy's Market Polskie Delikatesy (71-08 Fresh Pond Road), Wawel Meats (68-33 Fresh Pond Road), Pulaski Deli (67-12 Fresh Pond Road) and Okruszek PolishBakery (67-10 Fresh Pond Road). Just around the corner, down Putnam Road, is a Polish bookstore.
After a couple more delis, including Jantar (66-66 Fresh Pond Road) and Starowiejski (66-51 Fresh Pond Road), there are two excellent Polish restaurants: Kredens (66-36 Fresh Pond Road) and Krolewskie Jadlo (66-21 Fresh Pond Road). Either is a good place for lunch or dinner.
Further up, you’ll find many more Polish delis, as well as Video Random (66-02 Fresh Pond Road) and Aga Book Store (65-18 Fresh Pond Road).
A short walk down Linden Street from Fresh Pond Road will take you to Gottscheer Hall (657 Fairview Avenue), which is worth poking your head into. The well-preserved deco lobby is impressive, as is the beer-hall on the first floor.
Along with the early German presence came the Gottscheer Germans, a group from what is today Kočevje, in Slovenia. Very few Gottscheer Germans remain in Slovenia because of post-World War II repression of German culture in Yugoslavia, and so their presence in Ridgewood is rather unique. The Gottscheer community here has a number of institutions – most visibly Gotscheer Hall, but also a dance group, a hunting club, a women’s chorus and more.
Down Fairview, the excellent restaurant Bosna Express (7-91 Fairview Avenue) sits next door to the Albanian Café Tirana, a sight possible perhaps only in Queens. Also nearby are even more Polish delis, joined now by a few Balkan ones. Check out Old World Bakery (66-91 Forest Avenue), Europa Grocery (99 Forest Avenue), Korona Deli & Grocery (66-65 Forest Avenue), and Burek's (68-55 Forest Avenue). Also nearby is St. Matthias Roman Catholic Church (58-15 Catalpa Avenue), a German parish that now serves the Polish enclave.
And from here, you will be within striking distance of the Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenue L train.
The other week, Slavs of New York was lucky enough to join the Municipal Arts Society’s walking tour of Bohemian National and the Sokol Halls, led by Joe Svehlak. Everyone is encouraged to visit Bohemian National Hall, but Sokol Hall is a bit less of a public space so getting inside was a treat.
Just inside the door is a small pub, and among the decorations are five large medallions – one each for Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Slovakia and Subcarpathian Rus (Ruthenia), the five parts of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1939. The guide said they were originally from the Czechoslovak pavilion from the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens.
So how was there a World’s Fair pavilion for a state that did not exist?
Turns out, the contract with the fair organizers was signed in 1938, and at the time of the Nazi invasion the following March the building was already about half-done. The plans were scaled down, but preparations went forward.
The pavilion became a symbol of Czechoslovak resistance to Nazi domination. Former Czechoslovak president Edvard Benes spoke at the dedication of the pavilion on 31 May, highlighting the struggle of the Czechs, Slovaks and Carpatho-Russians (Rusyns) in Europe and thanking La Guardia, noting that “This pavilion, ladies and gentlemen, is the free and independent Czecho-Slovakia of the near past and the free and independent Czecho-Slovakia of the near future.”
The Czechoslovak pavilion stood between the pavilions of the Soviet Union and Japan. Here’s a description of the finished pavilion from the New York Times on 30 April 1939:
The progress of the country during its twenty-year existence is the central theme, and the products and resources of the land and people are represented and demonstrated – such products as iron, steel, textiles, shoes, beer, hams, Glass blowing and etching are shown. A restaurant and open-air beer garden are included in the project.
Yugoslav pavilion featured a large, illuminated map of the country, as well as a model of the oldest pharmacy in the world, from Dubrovnik. Also highlighted were Yugoslavs who have made contributions to the United States, such as Nikola Tesla and Michael Pupin.
Mayor La Guardia spoke in Croatian, a language he learnt while stationed in the United States Consular Service in Fiume (Rijeka), at the opening of the Yugoslav pavilion in May. Among his comments:
The people of Yugoslavia are generous, kindly and peace-loving. Whenever there is trouble in the Balkans, look for the reason, and it will be found to come from without and not from within. Let the strong and big nations leave the Balkans alone and peace will prevail there.
Among the 60 states participating at the 1939 World’s Fair were three more Slavic states: Yugoslavia, Poland and the Soviet Union.
The Polish pavilion was built around the 348th anniversary of the first Polish Constitution, and included – among a wide variety of exhibits – the Jagellonian globe, which is believed to be the first to show the name “America.”
The statue of King Jagiello by Stanisław K. Ostrowski, originally placed in front of the Polish pavilion, is one of the rare artifacts of the 1939-1940 World’s Fair still publicly displayed in New York. The statue now sits in Manhattan’s Central Park, near the Turtle Pond.
The Soviet Pavilion was universally acclaimed as a major highlight of the fair. The building was the tallest on the fairgrounds, other than the iconic Trylon structure. Estimates for its cost ranged from $4 to 6 million, by far the most of any World’s Fair structure. Among the materials used in its construction were nine different sorts of marble brought over specially from the USSR.
The building was topped by a 79-foot-tall worker holding aloft an illuminated red star, nick named Big Joe. After complaints, Fair officials had to put a US flag atop the Parachute Jump (which was later relocated to Coney Island) to ensure it flew higher than the Soviet star.
Exhibits inside included a map of the Soviet Union covered in precious stones, two cinemas, a restaurant, and even a full-scale replica of a portion of Moscow’s Mayakovsky metro station (the station was brand new, having just been completed in 1938).
On 3 January 1940, the New York Times ran a story about the dismantling of Big Joe entitled “Soviet Worker at Fair is ‘Purged’” commenting tongue-in-cheek that “Stalin’s extended his purge to the United States yesterday and ‘Big Joe’… was decapitated by a derrick.”
Initially, there were plans to reassemble the pavilion at Gorky Park in Moscow, but this was never done and the final fate of Big Joe and the rest of the exhibits remain a mystery.