A Tribute To Renaissance Man Stephen Alling Halsey The Story Behind Stephen A. Halsey JHS 157 & The Halsey House Building Community For Generations

Views: 0

by Michael Perlman

The historical communities of Forest Hills and Rego Park offer a trail of sites that convey a distinctive ambiance and tell a story, which become subject to our own story and interpretation based on architectural design and memories. Frequented daily is a noble school, Stephen A. Halsey J.H.S. 157 (1947 – 1948) at 63-55 102nd Street, as well as a stately apartment building, The Halsey House (1948) at 63-33 98th Place, but one must wonder what is behind their names.

The Halsey House moderne entrance & facade, photo by Michael Perlman

The historic school features a stone colonnade front entrance, where “Stephen A. Halsey Junior High School” is prominently etched across the top, complemented by two floral roundels. Nearby is a 1947 cornerstone. The brick school was designed in a modified Colonial style featuring Greek motifs, urns, and glass block. Student-based gardens surround the property, and a recreation area is adjacent. The 1939 – 1940 World’s Fair occurred not long prior, which was partially responsible for a local population and development boom, consisting of nearby Colonial and Tudor rowhouses, as well as six-story garden apartment buildings.

Stephen A. Halsey JHS 157 colonnade bearing an inscription, photo by Michael Perlman

Undeniably, Stephen Alling Halsey (1798 – 1875) was a visionary and high achiever, who played an influential role in Queens’ early development. He purchased the Blackwell and Perrot farms, situated between Pot Cove and Hallett’s Cove. His achievements include configuring streets and erecting wharves, houses, and factories, which attracted tradesmen and manufacturers. Under his leadership, this settlement became a village known as Astoria, officially in 1839.

Stephen Ailing Halsey, photo courtesy of Greater Astoria Historical Society

“Mayor O’Dwyer will break ground tomorrow for Junior High School 157 in the Forest Hills North section of Queens, it was announced yesterday at the Board of Education,” read a newsbrief in The New York Times on March 13, 1947. “Named for Stephen A. Halsey, who contributed to the early development of the borough, the school will be constructed at 102d Street between Sixty-Third Drive and Sixty-Fourth Avenue. The groundbreaking ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 1:30 P.M.” 

The special day began with rain, symbolic of good fortune. Ceremonies opened in Forest Hills High School’s auditorium, where Deputy Mayor John J. Bennett actually delivered an address. Other testimonies were presented by Board of Education President Andrew G. Clauson Jr, Superintendent of Schools Dr. William Jansen, Bronx member of the board and chairman of the committee on buildings and sites Anthony Campagna, and Commissioner of Borough Works Maurice A. Fitzgerald. Queens member of the board Harold C. Dean presided.  

“When the weather cleared, the officials motored to the site of the new school, where Mr. Bennett and Mr. Dean turned the first shovels of earth as 150 parents and children of the neighborhood watched,” read The New York Times. Thereafter, groundbreaking excavation crews began working on site. 

Halsey JHS 157 was planned to be the first of a $14,000,000 initiative to erect 12 post-war schools in Queens, where 1,822 students would be accommodated in a three-story junior high in Forest Hills North. The building would cost $2,324,184, and with equipment and furniture, it would be an estimated $2,500,000. Among the projected highlights were 31 regular classrooms in addition to specialty rooms for arts, crafts, and sciences, which included shops. The community also anticipated a 612-seat auditorium, a library, model apartment, boys’ and girls’ gymnasiums, a combined playroom and cafeteria, and a medical office. 

Halsey JHS 157 opened its doors in September 1948, and a somewhat harmonious annex was completed in 1969. Halsey’s first principal was Dr. Herbert V. Nussey, whereas the assistant principal was Mary O. Garde.

Stephen A. Halsey JHS 157 in 1949

Halsey was designed by foremost school architect Harold Erickson Kebbon Sr (1890 – 1964), who is best remembered as Eric Kebbon, and is locally credited with designing Forest Hills High School (1940 – 1941) and P.S. 175 (1951 – 1952). He was a 1912 graduate of MIT, where he achieved a Bachelor of Science in Architecture. He would become MIT’s architect for buildings up to $6,000,000. Through the 1930s New Deal, he designed post offices and courthouses, as an appointee of the U.S. Treasury. “In 1938, he was appointed by the NYC Mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, to be the supervising architect for the NYC Board of Education Design and Construction Department, through which he designed and constructed more than 100 schools,” read Kebbon’s obituary. He served as Vice President of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Famed Eric Kebbon, photo by John Christen Johansen

On August 9, 1928, Herbert Drake Halsey, a descendant of John C. Halsey, sent a letter to the editor of The Daily Star in regard to Stephen A. Halsey. An excerpt read, “In 1834, the western part of what is known now as Astoria was called Hallett’s Cove and a part of the Town of Newtown. Stephen Alling Halsey, brother of John C. and a friend and associate of John Jacob Astor (1763 – 1848), realized that section had great possibilities as a residential colony, and he at once proceeded to buy all available farms west of Steinway avenue line.” Both Stephen A. Halsey and Astor achieved great success through the fur trade.  

H.D. Halsey then explained, “This vision originated solely in the brain of Stephen Alling Halsey, and no one else, and he lived to see his dream come true, as may be observed by the grand old mansions still standing as monuments to the success of the project. He it was who established the village, and had passed by the Legislature a bill incorporating the village and changing the name to Astoria in regard for his friend, Astor, who had suffered a severe loss shortly before by the failure of the Astoria, Ore., scheme, and also in the hope of his donating a public building of some kind, which he didn’t do.” 

“The Book of Ghosts” features a Halsey family history, issued circa 1928 by H.D. and F.R. Halsey, and compiled by Robert Drake Halsey. Stephen A. Halsey was known as the “Father of Astoria.” In 1840, he purchased Horne’s Hook ferry that ran to 86th Street in Manhattan and improved service significantly. He also erected and resided in a large stone mansion, which became Long Island City High School. Halsey’s achievements continued with opening Fulton Street, formerly Perrot Avenue, from the boulevard to Main Street, enabling a direct ferry route, and was the dominant reason in erecting the Flushing, Astoria, Ravenswood and Williamsburg turnpikes with bridges. In 1842, he purchased an engine and erected a firehouse, and a first fire department in the community resulted from his influence. 

The Long Island Daily Press published a tribute in June 1936. An excerpt read, “About 1849, in association with Byam K. Stevens, Henry L. Riker and William B. Bolles, he bought several farms which made possible the connection of Broadway with Crescent, Emerald, Academy and Grand streets, as well as First, Second, and Jamaica avenues. For the erection of a public school building, he donated the lots on Academy Street. He organized the Astoria Gas Company in 1853 and built the works, which for nearly a quarter of a century supplied the village of Astoria.” 

Through his civic mentality, he also contributed to building the Reformed Dutch Church in 1836, the Presbyterian Church 10 years later, and a Roman Catholic Church on Newtown Avenue.

Switching gears to Rego Park, The Halsey House is a mark of innovation in the spirit of Stephen A. Halsey. This late Art Deco fireproof eight-story brick apartment building from 1948 features corner terraces, with unique Greek-inspired stonework on the first story and uppermost stories. An Art Moderne stone entranceway is another highlight. “Unobstructed light and air on all four sides, with private park and playground near 63rd Drive Station of the Independent Subway – 20 minutes to Radio City,” read a September 1951 ad released by renting and managing agent Brown Harris Stevens. It was titled, “Suburban Living… It’s Wonderful in these Park Avenue-Styled Apartments.”

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow by Email