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Jam. Estates gatehouse turns 100 in retro style

The students of Immaculate Conception School went beyond book learning in studying the community and history of Jamaica Estates and turned up some new information in the process.

The stone gatehouse at the Hillside Avenue end of Midland Parkway is 100 years old this year, the students learned. And their research also turned up the name of its architect, John Petit, said Carl Ballenas, the Aquinas Honor Society moderator at Immaculate Conception.

Last Thursday, the students celebrated the gatehouse's centennial and restoration with City Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski and Jamaica Estates Association President Michael Bookbinder.

"This was the most complete renovation to restore to its original condition. The gatehouse had been neglected," Bookbinder said. "Over the years I'd been able to get various contractors to make repairs as needed — about a dozen years ago a tree fell and lopped off a corner of the gatehouse — but it didn't really address full extent of the damage."

Bookbinder said the Immaculate Conception students had done "an incredible job," adding that there is to be a cast iron plaque installed with Jamaica Estates history, including details about the developers and architects of the community.

"It's spectacular, a dream come true," he said of the renovated gatehouse.

The gatehouse is part marker for the Midland Parkway Malls and part monument to the area's history.

The structure is built of river stones and stucco and clay roof tiles and houses a memorial bronze plaque for 10 local soldiers who died in World War II.

"When the memorial was placed in the gatehouse, the city would erect a platform there and put 10 trees in memory of the boys who died, the Boy Scouts would play taps. It was quite an event," said Bookbinder, a lifelong resident of the community.

In 2006, Gennaro and the city Parks Department together allocated $787,000 to rehabilitate the structure and landscape the Midland Parkway Malls in keeping with the way they looked in 1908. The finished product includes running water to water the shrubbery, floodlights to illuminate it at night, while the cupola with its latticework and weathervane has been completely restored.

"The Jamaica Estates Gatehouse isn't just another pretty building," Gennaro said. "It's an architectural treasure that lets the community send a formal message to the world that it is proud of its neighborhood's history and dedicated to its preservation for another hundred years to come."

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