It is with tremendous pride that I am able to announce that my novel, Be Bop A Lula, has been accepted into the prestigious library of the Bayside Historical Society. The book is a bio-fictional novel about coming-of-age in the 1950s in the community of Bayside, Queens, one of New York City’s five boroughs. As we often see at the opening of many Hollywood movies these days – “Based on a true story” – the same can be said about Be Bop A Lula. While most of the book’s characters are fictionalized versions of real-life people, the setting and actual locations are described exactly as they were in the 1950s, leading one reader to write: “It’s like strolling through the neighborhood of my youth, with everything exactly as it was at that time.”
The home of the protagonist in the story is at 210th Street and 34th Road – a house my family owned for over 50 years and the scene of numerous confrontations between the main character and his parents and sibling. (My daughter, Cara, and her family, still live in Bayside in a home just several blocks from my old house). And, for example, most of the action, and egg-cream slurping, takes place in Dick’s Candy Store, owned by a wonderful gentleman named Dick Meyer – a teenage landmark of the day, located on Bell Boulevard between 38th and 39th Avenues, but long since gone the way of many other “candy stores” of the 50s. Several scenes in the book take place in O’Neil’s Bar, which was located on Bell, between 39th and 40th Avenues – our favorite place for a beer or two when we turned 18 years old, or almost 18!. Also described in the book is Sal’s Italian Restaurant, probably Bayside’s first of its kind, also located on Bell between 38th and 39th Avenues; Buzz and Mack’s bowling alley, and, of course, the historic Bayside Movie Theater, both on the same block – all of which are now defunct, but were major parts of growing up in Bayside at the time. Still other key locations described, which are now long gone, are the Bayside Diner on Bell between 41st and 42nd Avenues, and Kiddie City and Harvey’s Drive-In on Northern Boulevard. And as if I could ever leave out the White Castle, still perched on the corner of Bell and Northern, but with burgers selling for a bit more than the 12 cents my friends and I shelled out. Of course, a key setting in Be Bop A Lula is Crocheron Park and its prominent pond, great for “watching the submarine races.” Luckily, the park is still there, on the shores of Little Neck Bay. Other iconic locations described in the book are the grammar school of Sacred Heart Church on 213th street; P.S. 41 on 35th Avenue and, of course, Bayside High School, where much of chapter two, entitled School Days, unfolds.
And, any story about 1950’s Bayside would not be complete without mentioning the old, and much smaller, 111 Police precinct, a location reluctantly visited by several of the book’s characters, which was then located on 214th Street & Elsie Road (41st Avenue) in a former firehouse.
Bayside was a great place to grow up, and the Bayside Historical Society is doing an excellent service in preserving that greatness, and I am honored to be part of its history. The organization was founded in 1964 to collect, preserve, and disseminate information concerning the history of Bayside and its adjacent communities; advocate for the preservation of its most historic structures and distinctive neighborhoods through the land-marking process; and strive to develop a broad constituency of like-minded preservation and educational organizations to protect the historic integrity of our communities.
Since 1984, the society has been located at the Castle in Fort Totten. Built in 1887, the building was originally used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as their Officers’ Mess Hall and Club. The Gothic Revival-style Castle is a NYC designated landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, it serves as a learning destination, a resource for researchers and the community, and a venue for the visual and performing arts, of which I am proud to be part of with the inclusion of Be Bop A Lula in its library. And, as a further homage I have been invited to give a talk about the writing of Be Bop A Lula at one of the society’s regular meetings during my next visit to my great home town. Thank you to the society and all its officers and trustees for the honor.