A Twentieth Century
History of Munsey Park
(1937 - 1944)
On March 1, 1937 the Munsey Park Golf Club closed forever and Mayor Wulfing announced at a Munsey Park Association meeting that the second nine holes - the portion south of Park Avenue - would be developed that spring (as another portion of Section “K”). He also stated that the property along Northern Boulevard would be given over entirely to homes and not to any additional business district; and that the only business portion in the tract would be at the Club House which was already zoned for commercial use.
At that same March meeting Wulfing released the happy news that three acres had now been set aside for park and playground by the Museum, near the ‘notorious’ 14th hole. It was not actually developed until 1940 when W.P.A. workers did groundwork and a water main to the pond, with valves and a meter, was installed, all at a cost of $3,850. Concrete benches which had been in use at the 1939 World’s Fair at the House of Jewels exhibit were donated to the park by a resident, Mr. K.I. Van Cott. Copley Park remains today as one of the loveliest and most peaceful, natural areas in the Village.
In August 1937 David T. Wile was appointed manager for Munsey Park, Inc., agent for the Museum. He embarked on a successful major campaign promoting the new Munsey Park homes, all of either American Colonial, Norman or English architecture, and costing from $14,000 to $23,000. Publicity for the first 60 acres of golf club land appeared frequently in the Herald Tribune, New York Times, Brooklyn Eagle, and the Sun among several others.
By 1938 the long-proposed grade school construction could no longer be deferred, and was approved by a 2-1 vote in August 1938. The project almost came to a screeching halt when the Manhasset School Board not only refused to acknowledge any authority of the Village of Munsey Park, but also any applicability of its stringent building code, filing for permits, or payment of fees, and made a strong worded written protest. This must have placed the school board president who signed the letter in an unusual position - President Ralph L. Juretie was a long-standing resident of Munsey Park , a former president of the Munsey Park Association, and a supporter of village home rule. The matter was settled with a common sense avoidance of litigation and an adjustment of the fees.
The Munsey Park School cornerstone was placed on April 30, 1937 when the building was 57% completed, and opened that September to accept some 200 children from Munsey Park , Flower Hill,South Strathmore and Strathmore-Vanderbilt.
In December 1939 a school census showed that Munsey Park had 345 families, 419 children, 809 adults, 195 servants and 3 roomers for a total of 1426 - the rest of Manhasset had another 8400.
Callan Brothers had acquired property and prepared to build north of Park Avenue , along Trumbull and Kensett Roads as far east as Barnard Place , all being part of the first nine holes of the golf course. The Callan homes were at first plotted for 15,000 square feet minimum lot sizes, but were set on at least 8,000 square feet lots, to be priced for no less than $13,500. The designs were by registered architects and according to individual specifications. The homes met with immediate market acceptance in what was recorded as the greatest home building boom in Long Island ’s history. One small, unique feature was the means whereby they complied with the village’s ordinance controlling corner-plantings, occasionally using rock gardens some with small pools of water.
In March 1941 Mayor Wulfing, unique in serving three terms as Mayor, was succeeded by H. Earle Dow. The village took time out to observe, not without concern, William Levitt’s plans for a “ FifthAvenueShopping Center ” on Northern Boulevard which ultimately ushered in the “Miracle Mile” concept for commercial districts.
The building pace in both commercial and residential area quickened as developers foresaw price increases due to defense program needs. At a time when the A & P was advertising prime ribs of beef at 29¢ per pound the assessed valuation of Munsey Park had risen to $4,138,000 (from $1,372,000 in 1932) and village expenditures to $17,700 (from $10,785 in 1932). The village tax rate, however, had been reduced to 24¢ (from 57¢ in 1932) because of the greater tax rolls.
The dollar still had considerable value in those days prior to the outbreak of war. The Munsey Park Association’s “Fall Frolic” at the North Hills Country Club on November 29, 1941 was advertised at a cost of $3.50 per couple! It was probably the last great bargain.
One week later the country, and Munsey Park , were at war; and the following week the village was divided into air raid defense sectors. In the initial rush to become involved the Village Board shortly thereafter approved the purchase of fire hose for $650 (subsequently resold to the Fire Department), steel helmets for the defense wardens for $380, sundry armbands, defense gauze, warden’s whistles, first aid boxes, and so forth. (The contents of the Civil Defense First Aid Station were eventually donated to the Munsey Park School in 1945).
A greatly more significant and visible reaction was the immediate response to the colors by the young men of the village; and it would not be too long before a heavy price was paid by some of them.
In the first week of the war a small item appeared in the news to the effect that a gift of 3 ½ acres for a second park had been deeded by the Museum, gratefully accepted by Mayor Dow. This was the same land around ‘pollywog pond’ offered for free ‘temporary’ use back in 1933. In 1943 the Village Board by solemn resolution renamed this parcel to honor the first man from Munsey Park to lose his life in the service of his country, Lt. George Raymond Waldmann. On Memorial Day in 1946 a touching commemoration was conducted by the American Legion at Waldmann Park to honor all the men of Manhasset, and our country, who would not return.
The Munsey Park Honor Roll includes the names of Warren Harvey, Kent Fay, Emmett Corrigan, Jr., William D. Simmons, Jr., Thomas B. Dowd and John Keepnews, in addition to George R. Waldmann.
During the war construction choked off for want of materials and labor. A tentative move was made to construct a second movie theater in 1942 at the rear of the Munsey Park Shopping Center , but it never got off the ground.
The Congregational Church did buy some 2 ½ acres of land bounded by Copley, Allston and Abbey Roads in May 1942, almost exactly one year after their church incorporation. They had rented the golf clubhouse in February 1943 for their meetings and purchased it in 1944 until their new church could be erected. The groundbreaking was on May 12, 1948 with a cornerstone ceremony that October. The completed Congregational Church was formally dedicated on June 12, 1949 .
In 1944 the village still presented a fairly rural scene, despite its considerable pre-war construction. The minutes of the Village Board in April 1944 record the Board’s adjudication of a complaint from a gentleman at 5 Sargent Place who strenuously took exception to the noises made by his neighbor’s rooster in the early hours. The Board, possibly with tongue in cheek, solemnly recorded its unanimous opinion that “harboring a rooster on the premises could be construed as a nuisance.”
The devastating hurricane of September 14, 1944 left a serious mark on the village with 30 trees, mainly on Manhasset Woods Road , blown down and 140 others that had to be straightened. It took a year before the recovery was completed. The village would not suffer again as greatly until the shattering ice-storm of December 17, 1973 . Power lines, and trees - 80% of all those in the village - were damaged under the weight of accumulated ice, with the Whistler Road elms in particular looking like a battlefield area. This restoration program took some eight months at a costs of $32,000.
In 1944 Levitt & Sons purchased nearly all the remaining open land in the village, some 60 undeveloped acres and 77 plots, for an estimated cost of $150,000. The lands generally comprised the remainder of the first nine holes north and east of Park Avenue , as well as some of the second nine holes, south of Park Avenue . Levitt announced that he would develop all this sometime after the war when materials and labor were again available, and would conform to “plans and plottage”. Mr. Levitt’s forte was in the sound construction of smaller homes, some not compatible with Munsey Park ’s exceptional architectural standards, whereupon the Civic Association researched “The Scope and Enforceability of Restrictions”, preparing to oppose construction of any smaller homes.