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Jackson Heights sign spells out historical connections

Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel (l.-r.), chair of the Landmarks Preservation Center and vice chair of the state Council on the Arts, joins Councilman Daniel Dromm; Rev. Delois Davis, pastor of the English congregation at the Community Methodist Church; and Giovanna Reid, district manager of CB 3, for the sign unveiling. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

City Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said not too many people know that Jackson Heights was the birthplace of one of the most popular board games in the world, but after last weekend residents and visitors will be getting a fresh reminder about that fact.

The councilman reinstalled the street sign Saturday at 35th Avenue between 81st and 82nd streets that honors the board game Scrabble. The word game’s creator, Alfred Mosher, created and perfected the game in his Jackson Heights apartment and first introduced it to players in the 1930s at the Community United Methodist Church, which is at the corner.

Three years ago, the street sign was mysteriously taken down and Dromm worked to get it back.

“We are putting up a reminder that will tell future generations what happened here,” he said.

The sign, made possible by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission and the city Department of Transportation, was installed in 1995 and spelled out “35th Avenue” with each letter assigned a Scrabble point value.

Giovanna Reid, district manager for Community Board 3, said residents were upset when it disappeared in 2008 and the board unanimously voted to have it replaced.

“The Scrabble sign adds to the wonderful things that are here in the district,” she said.

Mosher had been laid off from his job as an architect in 1938 and during his spare time created Scrabble. After some trial and error efforts with his wife, Mosher took his game to the public with a trial test run at the church.

Players quickly caught on because the word game not only was challenging, but also had a charm that audiences were looking for during the Great Depression, according to Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“He developed a premium game that is not unlike the game of life,” she said. “There is strategy, planning and a little luck.”

Since its inception, the game has been distributed in more than 210 countries and been translated into 29 different languages, according to its manufacturer, Hasbro Toy Co. The company’s vice president of games marketing, Jonathan Berkowitz, sent his regards to Dromm for the event.

“We’re proud to be a part of Scrabble’s rich history and to be continuously expanding the ways fans experience this word game favorite,” he said in a statement.

Dromm, a former public school teacher, noted that the game plays a big role in immigrant communities such as Jackson Heights because it served as an accessible education tool.

“I always had a Scrabble game in my classroom because it was a great way to learn the language,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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