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A Jackson Heights fire and its aftermath

JHBG President’s Message, Len Maniace

It was a spring Sunday morning a few months after my wife and I had moved to Jackson Heights. We awoke to a smell like a soggy campfire – and a neighborhood trauma. A building in the center of the neighborhood’s commercial district was burning down.

Lost was a one-story Tudor-style building, on the northeast corner of 82nd Street and 37th Avenue, a structure similar to the distinguished buildings that house stores on the next block of 82nd Street. Notable among the stores lost were an Irish bakery and a Spanish-language bookstore.

No one was seriously hurt, as I recall, but suddenly there was a hole in the neighborhood – much like the hole created in late April when the Bruson Building burned. This time neighborhood fixtures such as Armando’s, La Porteña and Frank’s Pharmacy were suddenly gone. Queens Community House, an important nonprofit organization whose work includes serving the immigrant community, had lost its neighborhood office.

This kind of thing has happened too often, but Jackson Heights is resilient. Back in February 2010, a fire tore through a one-story commercial building on 37th Avenue near 84th Street, a blaze that attracted crowds on a Saturday afternoon. There’s no sign of that ruin left; it’s been replaced by a six- story apartment building that’s nearly identical to the building to its west. The structure that burned down on 82nd and 37th Avenue was replaced by the A&C Palace office building.

As this is written, the story of the Bruson Building fire is incomplete. Though city officials say it could be salvaged, that decision is up to the owner who could choose to put up a new building. Some of the building’s tenants have moved to new locations, though the fate of others is uncertain. Frank’s Pharmacy will be moving to the site of the of Maram’s Pharmacy, which is where Frank worked before opening up his own store. In an already bad economy, too many people have lost paychecks, from dishwashers to business owners.

About the best that can be said was that no one was seriously hurt and that the leafing out of trees has blocked the depressing view of the burned building, at least from certain views. If the past is any sign, however, despite the losses, Jackson Heights will continue to thrive, grow greener and fill with more life, food and people from around New York, and from around the world.