BY DOMENICK RAFTER
Though it is 10 miles from the nearest ocean, the sea breeze is what brought people to Ozone Park – and it’s what the neighborhood is named for.
The history of Ozone Park dates back to 1882, when the neighborhood was founded in what was then a rural part of Queens County located on a plain sloping toward Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
The neighborhood was settled near the small hamlet of Centreville, near the current location of Centreville Street and Albert Road. Ozone Park got its name by the 19th Century term for ocean breezes – ozone – meant to attract urban dwellers from Manhattan and Brooklyn to the suburban-like atmosphere with sea breezes coming off the Atlantic.
The Long Island Rail Road came through two years after the neighborhood’s founding, with two stations, the Ozone Park station at 101st Avenue and 100th Street, and Aqueduct at the current Aqueduct-North Conduit Avenue subway station.
That triggered a population boom in the neighborhood and over the next century, In 1915, the subway came to the neighborhood when the elevated line over Liberty Avenue, which now carries the ‘A’ train, was constructed between Brooklyn and Lefferts Boulevard, allowing for quicker commutes to Manhattan.
By the mid-20th Century, the community became a destination for first- and second-generation Italian and Irish immigrants and grew to be one of the most prominent Italian-American communities in the country. Ozone Park became well known for being a working class community where faith and family reigned supreme.
With the Italian-Americans came what some argue is the best pizza in the United States, and some of the best Italian food this side of the Mediterranean Sea.
In the mid- to late-20th Century, Ozone Park became a hub of Mafia activities. It was here where large trucks stolen from JFK Airport during the Lufthansa heist were hidden on residential streets, and it was on 101st Avenue where Mafia don John Gotti set up shop at the Bergen Hunt and Fish Club. In 1984, Gotti’s reality show-star daughter Victoria was married at St. Mary Gate of Heaven Church, the gothic-style green spire-topped house of worship that dominates the neighborhood’s skyline and proudly states the neighborhood’s Roman Catholic heritage.
Indeed SMGH is one of several Catholic churches in the community, which include Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Elizabeth and St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr churches.
Since the late 1980s, the demographic of the neighborhood has changed dramatically. Though there is still a noticeable Italian-American presence, a growing population of Indo-Caribbeans – especially Guyanese and Trinidadian – and South Asians have made Ozone Park their home. Today, Ashrams, gurdwaras and mosques join the imposing Catholic churches, as Ozone Park becomes a center of faith and family for another generation of immigrants.