BY LYNN EDMONDS
Holliswood is one of the leafiest, greenest and most expensive enclaves in Queens. With winding roads, beautiful tall trees and landscaped lawns, it’s a quiet place with fewer cars and more plants than almost anywhere else in the borough.
Even before the neighborhood was developed in the late 1800s, it featured a pleasing landscape of trees and hills, which gave Frederick Dunton the idea to develop it.
Holliswood is a box-shaped neighborhood bordered by the Grand Central Parkway, Francis Lewis Boulevard, Hillside Avenue and 188th Street. Within that box, there is not a single straight block, only winding roads. Streets like Palermo and Salerno Street and Pompeii Avenue are named after towns in Italy and Spain.
The neighborhood is a mix of whites and African Americans as well as some Asians and Hispanics.
The Holliswood Civic Association is very active in the area. Currently, the civic is working to downscale a development on the site of the former Holliswood Hospital. The Holliswood Hospital was a small hospital that served people with substance abuse problems. Now the civic is afraid that the proposed development will ruin the character of the small neighborhood irretrievably.
One of Holliswood’s most notable residents was the Cuomo family. Former Governor Mario Cuomo, who is also the father of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was born in South Jamaica, but his parents moved the family to Holliswood in 1949.
Andrew Cuomo told the New York Times that his Italian American family did not immediately fit in there. He said his grandmother would receive lessons from neighborhood ladies on the proper way to take out the garbage.
“My grandmother cried each time she recalled how a well-dressed woman had stopped her on the sidewalk,” Cuomo was quoted.
The former governor sold the three-bedroom colonial on Rio Drive in 2000 for $400,000.
Mario Cuomo even wrote a children’s book about a 40-foot tree in his yard there, called “The Blue Spruce.” The spruce tree in the yard became a metaphor for perseverance for Cuomo.
In an Oct 22, 1982 journal entry, Cuomo wrote that in a tough moment in his race for Governor, he held a business card of his father’s, and remembered how the man had taught him never to give up.
“Less than a week after we moved in there was a terrible storm. We came home from the store that night to find the great blue spruce pulled almost totally out of the ground and flung forward, its might nose bent in the asphalt street […]with the rain now falling harder than ever, Poppa dug away at the place where the roots were, making a muddy hole wider and wider as the tree sunk lower and lower towards security. Then we shoveled mud over the roots and moved boulders to the base of the three to keep it in place. Poppa drove stakes into the ground, tied rope from the trunk to the stakes and maybe two hours later, soaked, we looked at the spruce, the crippled spruce, made straight by ropes. And said, did Poppa, ‘Don’t’ worry he’s a gonna grow again.’”
“I looked at the card and I wanted to cry. If you were to drive by the house today in Holliswood you would see that great, straight, blue spruce may now sixty feet tall, pointing straight up to the heavens, pretending that is never had its nose in the asphalt.”
“I put poppa’s card back in the drawer, closed it with a vengeance. I couldn’t wait to get back into the campaign.”