BY JON CRONIN
In the twentieth century Richmond Hill has become one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the city. It is home to Guyanese, Sikh, Trinidadian, Columbian, Ecuadorian, Indian and Hispanic cultures.
For the last 26 years one of the most popular events is the Hindu celebration of the Holi holiday with the Phagwah parade. It is a celebration of the Spring Equinox and thousands of Hindu and non-Hindu participates come to watch the floats, listen to the music and throw colorful powder into the air and at each other as a joyful display of the warmer weather.
As urban sprawl began in the mid-nineteenth century, local lawyer Albon P. Man bought land in 1868 and hired landscape architect Edward Richmond to lay the neighborhood. Many suspect the town was named after him. Over the next ten years, streets, popular single-family Queen Anne Victorian homes, and the precursor to the Long Island Rail Road came through the burgeoning community.
Richmond Hill is also home to much of Forest Park’s 500 acres. In 1776, the Battle of Long Island, one of the Revolutionary War’s bloodiest battles took place near where the golf course’s clubhouse now stands. It was told that rifleman using guerrilla warfare tactics fought off the British while hiding behind the rocks and in dense woods. It was the largest battle of the Revolutionary War, which the Continental Army eventually lost, retreated to Pennsylvania and forfeited New York Harbor to the British.
Today, many of the stately homes built by Manhattan businessmen in the mid-nineteenth century are preserved with the help of the Richmond Hill Historical Society and the Richmond Hill Block Association. Both organizations have been commended by the Queens Historical Society for their preservation efforts with the Queensmark award which recognizes historical buildings in the borough that have not yet been historically landmarked.
The rush to protect Richmond Hill’s historic homes pushed into overdrive after the former Vetter Mansion, later Simonson’s Funeral Home, at Hillside Avenue and Lefferts Boulevard – across from the Richmond Hill Library- was torn down in 2008 and replaced by a shopping plaza. Next door to the former mansion, the historic Richmond Hill Republican Club, where Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan all spoke, has been renovated and its façade landmarked. It reopened in 2014 as a catering hall.
One of the most famous structures in Richmond Hill is the Triangle Hofbrau, originally built as a hotel in 1864, it operated as a restaurant from 1893 to 1999. During that time, national celebrities like Babe Ruth, Mae West and Senator Robert Wagner, Sr visited the establishment. It is also rumored that the author of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, Ernest R. Ball, penned the classic tune on the premises.
Jahn’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream and Restaurant operated on Hillside Avenue from 1923 to 2008. Jahn’s operated many locations throughout the city and Long Island. The only one still open is located in Jackson Heights. The ice cream parlor on Hillside Avenue featured a nickelodeon piano and nostalgic memorabilia from its years of operation. The original restaurant in the Bronx opened in 1897.