A convention to break
The spirits of brave Indian Chiefs are disquieted, for they may be moved again. The Oak tree which has stood mute witness to 600 years of sunshine, wonders whether the 21st century will be its last. The home of the first person to win the Americas Cup is long gone, but further obliteration now looms large. Inspired creations of one of the first woman architects of the United States could soon be violated by relentless pounding born of naked greed. Heart rending pleas of residents may drown in a new wave of development, funded by brutal levy on hard-earned wages and honest income. Douglas Manor in north-eastern Queens is ripe for renewed attack.
The story begins millions of years ago in the twilight of the last Ice Age. It is not uncommon for any part of Long Island that retreating glaciers left bounteous top soil, dense forests, delicate eco-systems and a universe of plant and animal life in its trodden path. It was in the order of things that Aleuts should have ventured on to the peninsula that we call Douglas Manor now, for they had the instincts, insight and ascetic lifestyles that were sustainable and left but transient footprints. The land achieved a stable state, inhabited well within its capacity. Native Indians grew corn and collected shells for beads and for a kind of rudimentary kind of currency, and all was well.
One day in the early 19th century, a rich New Yorker bought land in what was to become Douglas Manor and built a palatial home on it for an extended family, as was the norm in those days. The seeds of suburban residence had been embedded firmly, and pioneering investors with funds to spare began to convert farm land in to residences and resorts. The Van Wyck Farm set a trend for other investors to follow. The establishment of Douglas Manor in its present and named form, started at the dawn of the 20th century, and true to form, has run uninterrupted until now.
The 175 acres of Douglas Manor has had a string of achievements. George Douglas bought plants from all over the world to the locality and preserved the trees that had been inherited with the reverence they deserved. William Douglas, born in to the wealth his father had forged, brought the joys of yachting and polo to the United States and became immortal as the first person to win the greatest sailing race in the world. The Rickert-Finlay Realty Company developed Douglas Manor with rare foresight before the tem zoning had been coined. 8 of the 550 homes in Douglas Manor were designed by Josephine Wright Chapman, one of the first women to become a professional architect anywhere in the modern world. Rich professionals and business people and middle-class folk live in comfort and peace in the Douglas Manor of today. Artists and leading lights from the world of films have lived here before World War II, in the hey-days of the Astoria Studios. Douglas Manor is an architectural exposition with outstanding examples of Colonial, Tudor and other styles.
Douglas Manor is a part of Douglaston. It forms Community Board 11 of Queens. Prospects of pecuniary grain tempt some to raze historic sites and build to new dreams in their stead. Will they succeed as have legions before them have done, or will the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission dig their heels in and reverse past trend?