Tag Archives: Whitestone

Whitestone and northern Queens residents push for expansion of school program

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Parents in Whitestone and Flushing are trying to give the city a new lesson plan.

Lisa Fusco, from Whitestone, and 150 parents in northern Queens signed a petition to the city Department of Eudcation demanding the creation of gifted and talented programs for the middle schools in their  district. Several of the parents are also meeting with Borough President Melinda Katz and Department of Education officials on Dec. 10 to discuss the issue.

District 25 is bordered by Flushing Meadows Park to the west and Bayside to the east, and it encompasses Pomonok to the south up to Whitestone and College Point.

The large area has six middle schools, but none of them have gifted and talented programs. For Fusco and others, that’s a problem.

“Our children are in the gifted and talented program in the elementary schools and we would like them to continue this wonderful program into middle school,” said Fusco, whose fourth-grade daughter is enrolled in the program in P.S. 79. “It would be such a shame if they had to stop this program.”

The gifted and talented programs are meant to provide extra services for students with a high aptitude who get bored easily in regular classes, according to the Department of Education. Parents must sign up their children for tests to get into the program by November, and children are tested in January and February.

While the program is usually meant for elementary schools, the group’s request isn’t unprecedented. School District 26, which runs along the border with Long Island, and District 30, Long Island City and Astoria, both have middle schools that offer the gifted and talented program.

“I don’t understand why the DOE lacks a citywide policy on [gifted and talented programs] and why it provides [gifted and talented] classes in one district and not another,” said Morris Altman, the president of the education council in District 25.

Justin Chang, from Whitestone, has two boys who are enrolled in the program at P.S. 79, and he worries about what his kids will do if there is no equivalent teaching method being used in the local middle schools.

“They are different and they need help in a different way,” Chang said. “I would just hope they consider opening the program for our district.”


Elmhurst man stabs wife with kitchen knife, fakes her suicide note: DA

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com


The estranged husband of an Elmhurst woman was charged Thursday night with stabbing his wife to death with a kitchen knife and trying to make the murder look like a suicide, authorities said.

Luis Paguay, 43, was arrested after police found his wife, 39-year-old Maria Paguay, unconscious and unresponsive with stab wounds on her body inside her 50th Avenue basement apartment at about 6 p.m., cops said. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

Paguay allegedly stabbed his wife multiple times in the neck and chest with a large kitchen knife sometime between Wednesday night and before 6 p.m. Thursday, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. The victim’s 19-year-old son found her as he returned home from school.

After stabbing his wife, Paguay allegedly wrote a suicide note in his wife’s name and then left for his job as a dishwasher at Ducale Restaurant in Whitestone, Brown said. When he arrived at the restaurant he allegedly saw he had blood on his shoes and according to surveillance footage, he attempted to wash his shoes in a sink.

According to the New York Daily News, the couple had recently separated and the victim’s husband had gotten angry that she was in a new relationship.

Paguay, who is awaiting arraignment in Queens Criminal Court, was charged with murder, tampering with physical evidence and criminal possession of a weapon. If convicted he faces up to 25 years to life in prison.


Whitestone family brings the Christmas lights back after winning reality show

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Eric Jankiewicz

The Lynch family keeps on shining.

After winning a reality competition series on spectacular Christmas lights last year, the Lynch family has put up their sparkling holiday decorations once again with a bunch of improvements and a whole new fan base. ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight” brought the family a winning prize of $50,000 and a level of fame that stretches past the borders of their Whitestone neighborhood.

“Just the other day I had a tour bus out front that came all the way from New Jersey,” Kevin Lynch said. “And before that we had some people from Norway here asking me for advice about how to do this stuff.”

Along with Lynch’s new fame, he has also upgraded his decorations.

“I did something different this year. I put LED lights in them and it made my display even brighter,” said Lynch, a retired firefighter. “You can see this house from pretty far away now. My goal is to see it from space. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. I’m waiting for that Christmas card from the man on the moon and when we do [get it], I know I’ve reached my goal.”

The house is ready for Christmas, with about half a million lights, according to Lynch, who puts up all the decorations up with the help of his wife, Tina. Thousands of plastic statues are carefully placed on the lawn, roof, balcony, windows and anywhere else he can fit them.

For 18 years, Lynch and his family have been decorating their house for Halloween and Christmas, with work starting in September. Halloween is a much smaller display that goes up even as he’s working on his Christmas lights.

But rather than completely disassembling the Halloween display, Lynch is able to adapt some of the ornaments so that they can be used for Christmas. In one case, a Halloween figure with a severed head is converted into a snowman. After Halloween, he brings down the ghouls and continues the frenzied race to assemble his legions of angels and nutcrackers.

The work is done now. And so Lynch prepared for the other part of the winter spectacle — the arrival of thousands of kids and their families who travel to Whitestone to gaze at his handiwork.

“There’s over half a million lights in the house. We like it big and bright. All the cords are buried in the ground so you can come up to the lawn and porch and take pictures,” Kevin said. “Get as close as you want and make sure to bring a letter for Santa.”

The display at Lynch’s home, 166-04, 23rd Ave., Whitestone, will stay up through Jan. 7, when he begins the laborious process of taking down all the decorations and putting them in storage for next year.


Thanksgiving food drive benefits veterans in Queens

| slicata@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Councilman Eric Ulrich's office

Elected officials and veteran organizations are giving thanks this Thanksgiving by serving those who have served the country.

In Queens, Councilman Eric Ulrich, chair of the veterans committee, opened his doors to collect goods for a food drive for veterans that has been taking place citywide since Nov. 10.

The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter #32, located in Whitestone, joined the councilman in helping those less fortunate who’ve served the country. They have donated hundreds of dollars’ worth of food to the drive and have done their own collection for veteran food pantries and kitchens.

“If you served our country in any shape or form and need help we want to do so,” said Paul Narson, president of the chapter.

All of the food that has been collected by the chapter will be given to Ulrich to then distribute as part of the food drive. Most of the food collected by the organization has been donated from its 252 members in Queens, said Narson.

Moreover, the chapter has also donated 16 turkeys to food pantries around Middle Village and Glendale.

It’s the least they can do for those brave men and women who sacrifice their lives to protect America’s freedom, noted Narson, who has been a member of the chapter for 25 years.

“We try to do all sorts of things for veterans,” he said. “We help out whenever we can.”

Close to 30 percent of New York City’s veterans and their families rely on emergency food to get by, according to the New York City Food Bank.


Queens family to hold fundraiser in Whitestone to fund open heart surgery for infant

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Graham family

A family from Queens is raising money to help fund their infant’s third open heart surgery.

Kyle Graham was diagnosed with a particularly deadly form of a congenital heart defect when he was still in his mother’s womb. Doctors at Westchester Medical Center told Danielle Pechette-Graham and Joe Graham that Kyle had a 30 percent chance of surviving after birth, because half of his heart wouldn’t work at all. If he did survive after birth, doctors said, there would be a 50 percent chance of seeing Kyle graduate from high school, because operations to fix this problem can often lead to death. The doctors suggested abortion since Danielle was still 17 weeks pregnant. Danielle and Joe left and never returned. They chose to go to Columbia University Medical Center.

The couple has been in and out of hospitals since Kyle was born in January. The left side of 11-month-old Kyle’s heart – the side that pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body – doesn’t work at all, leading doctors to turn the right side of his heart into a dual-chambered muscle that can take on the role of the left side. So far, doctors have performed two open heart surgeries on Kyle to reconfigure the heart to this new task. Danielle said that doctors will have to perform a third open heart surgery when Kyle is around two to complete the conversion of the right side of the heart.

“The hardest part of this all was handing my child over to the surgeons,” Danielle said. “And knowing that his life was in their hands and knowing that your child’s chest is about to get cracked open.”

To compensate for Danielle leaving her job to care for Kyle and all the medical bills from two surgeries, the family will be holding a fundraiser at Patsy’s Pizzeria, 21-64 Utopia Pkwy., Whitestone, on Nov. 25. A portion of all sales at the pizzeria will go to Kyle’s family. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.

“This is not an easy journey,” Danielle said. “It’s scary. But I have hope and I cling to it at every turn.”



New Bayside Colombian restaurant is instant hit

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Chicken lovers flocked to Mr. Pollo #1 on Friday to try the new Colombian restaurant on Bayside‘s Bell Boulevard.

The eatery was even busier on Thursday, opening day, according to workers.

“They say it usually takes two years before a business becomes profitable, but I don’t think we’ll need to wait that long here,” the manager said as he rushed to answer ringing phones.

The pork loin lunch special

The restaurant’s opening is the latest in a South American food invasion on Bell Boulevard, with a new Peruvian restaurant, Piura, set to open and the Mexican restaurant Cinco de Mayo reopening further down the commercial strip.

The store was packed for the second day in a row. A steady stream of people ordered take-out on Friday afternoon, while others chose to eat inside the eatery. Two delivery boys tried to stay ahead of the lunch rush, while workers ran around like hens without their heads.


The new business on Bell Boulevard claims to be the first Colombian restaurant in Bayside.

There is also a Mr. Pollo #2, owned by the same people, in Whitestone, according to the menu.


Near $4 million Douglaston mansion most expensive listing in Queens

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


A nine-bedroom mansion on 234th Street was the priciest Queens home put on the market last month, The Real Deal reported.

The home, at 39-05 234th St., was listed just shy of $4 million by Laffey, according to data crunched by the real estate website.

Over in Whitestone, a home on Powells Cove Boulevard was listed by TMT Realty Group for under $3 million.




Police push for residents in Whitestone and other areas to lock up their cars

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the 109th Precinct

A group of people walked through Whitestone at midnight, checking for unlocked car doors as they went through the area. They found 62 open vehicles. In them were electronic devices, designer glasses and $3,000 in cash. But the group wasn’t there to steal anything. They were cops urging people to lock their cars.

“We did what the bad guys are doing,” Detective Kevin O’Donnell said.

The 109th Precinct is undertaking a midnight prowl to check for unlocked cars to raise community awareness about leaving their cars unlocked and leaving valuables inside. And they began with Whitestone on Oct. 24. The initiative started after police received calls from victims who had their belongings stolen from unlocked cars, according to O’Donnell. Police plan on doing the same thing in other neighborhoods in the precinct.

“There are people coming to neighborhoods like Whitestone just to check for unlocked cars and steal whatever they can,” O’Donnell said recently during a Queensborough Hill Civic Association meeting. He urged residents to lock their doors even if their neighborhood – like Whitestone – is generally safe.

Cops say they are careful not to touch anything inside the cars. If a car is unlocked, the police will lock it up and then put a piece of paper that looks like a ticket under a windshield wiper. The leaflet instructs people to make sure their doors are locked.

“There have been many arrests all over the [109th Precinct] for this stuff,” O’Donnell said, noting that police have arrested two suspects so far. “Hopefully we prevented people getting their stuff stolen.”


Whitestone community to honor late resident with street renaming

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Lohnes family; THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

A street in Whitestone will soon bear the name Robert C. Lohnes in honor of the late resident who dedicated himself to serving his neighborhood.

Community Board 7 unanimously voted to make 145th Street between 15th and 17th avenues Robert C. Lohnes Way. Family members and Boy Scout troop 235 attended the meeting Monday night to talk about Lohnes, who served as the troop’s scout master for over three decades.

“He served because he was needed by his community,” Lohnes’ wife Maggaly said.

She said that her husband helped the community in any way he could, and others who came to speak about Lohnes echoed that sentiment. He worked for the Whitestone Community Volunteer Ambulance Service and was also involved in the Girl Scouts.

A representative from Assemblyman Edward Braunstein’s office said, “He was an individual who fully dedicated himself to his country and community.”

Lohnes’ son, whose name is also Robert, traced his father’s desire to help people all the way back to the beginning of his career when he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve. Lohnes held a master’s degree in criminal justice and social relations from John Jay. He went on to join the NYPD, where he worked from 1962 to 1996.

The street renaming, Lohnes’ wife said, is appropriate for someone who dedicated so much time to the Whitestone community.

“He was loved by everybody,” she said. “He deserves that and more.”


Whitestone church turns to ‘Nosferatu’ for the sake of organ pipes

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Churches and vampires seldom work together. But a Whitestone church will be taking a page out of The Book of Vampires to resurrect a century-old presence.

The Rev. Brian Blayer and music director Nick Myers want to raise money to fix the Grace Episcopal Church’s organ with a showing of the 1922 silent movie “Nosferatu” on Halloween night.

“I really like the film,” said Myers, who made the selection.  He explained that it worked well for October and it was “very Halloweeny.”

The organ itself is older than the movie and the pipe system dates back to 1903. The 1,000 organ pipes are both a blessing and a curse, according to Blayer, and many of the pipes are showing their age.

“We’re getting it to play as best we can but a lot of the pipes are bent,” he said. “Everything we’ve done has been like putting bubble gum and tape on it but now we need a major overhaul.”

Myers, who has been with the church for three years and will be playing a live soundtrack to the movie with the organ, said he’s tried to make as many repairs himself but the major problems require a professional job.

"Nosferatu" screen capture via Wikimedia Commons

“Nosferatu” screen capture via Wikimedia Commons

The estimate to fix everything comes out to $150,000 but Myers isn’t looking to raise that much money just yet. His immediate goal is to raise $30,000 for the more important repairs. After that, they plan on raising the money incrementally.

“There’s been no love to this organ for 60 years and so it’s going to take a while to get everything fixed but it will happen over time,” he said. “ We want to preserve the history of Grace and do it right so that it lasts another 100 years.

Myers wants to hold viewings of old movies regularly and begin to develop the organ’s capability, so it can be part of music festivals that the church holds.

“We want to build up the arts in Whitestone,” Myers said, “and it starts with this organ.”


Whitestone resident petitions again for Metro-North stops in western Queens

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo by Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Patrick Cashin

The wheels are turning once again for one Queens resident who hopes to bring more transportation options to the borough.

Ali Fadil, a Whitestone resident who previously lived in Astoria and Jackson Heights, has started an online petition calling on the MTA to bring Metro-North Railroad access into western Queens as part of its plan to expand the line to Penn Station.

In the MTA’s 2015-2019 $32 billion Capital Program, the agency plans a project that would take the Metro-North’s New Haven line directly to Penn Station, adding four new stations in the Bronx. As part of expansion, the line would use existing track, owned by Amtrak, to go directly into Manhattan.

In doing this, the line would go into Queens but without making any stops in the borough.

“Metro-North wants to run trains through Queens but has no interest in serving Queens, especially since western Queens has seen a lot of growth in the past years,” Fadil said.

This is Fadil’s second petition regarding the expanding of Metro-North stops into the borough. In 2012, when he was only 18, Fadil began his initial petition which gathered 263 signatures. He said the support he got the first time around helped him make his plan more specific on what needs to be done.

“I am here to make sure that our communities get what we deserve and Queens shouldn’t be left out in the cold,” said Fadil, who is a senior studying political science and sociology at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. “When it comes to public transportation, it’s Queens that’s the forgotten borough, not Staten Island.”

The 20-year-old’s petition, which started on Monday and as of Tuesday has 44 signatures, calls on the transportation agency to bring the New Haven line to western Queens and also study two locations along the Amtrak line to be considered for stations. The locations are Astoria Boulevard between 41st and 44th streets, and Northern Boulevard at Broadway, which is close to the M and R trains and two local buses.

The petition also calls on Amtrak to make “necessary structural repairs” to the tracks which go over the Hell Gate Bridge in Astoria and would be used during the expansion of the Metro-North New Haven line.

According to Fadil, the existing Amtrak line is “falling apart” and in need of repair.

In the capital program, the MTA said the Metro-North expansion would include upgrades to power and signal systems, installing of new track and realigning existing tracks, and replacing railroad bridges to accommodate more trains.

According to an MTA spokesperson, there are no plans to construct a Metro-North station in Queens because it is too costly to build an elevated station for a low ridership.

“If I see something that isn’t being done right, I want to see it done right for people,” Fadil said. “That’s why I do what I do.”

Fadil said he now hopes to get support from local elected officials and leaders to help make his ideas a reality.

To check out the petition, click here.


HBO miniseries film crew spotted in Whitestone using Italian restaurant

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photos courtesy of Devin O'Connor

Film crews were spotted in Whitestone on Friday shooting a new HBO miniseries called “Show Me a Hero.”

The crew, which arrived early in the morning, used the Italian restaurant Trattoria Neo to film a scene involving a clam bar.

“The show takes place in the 80s, so our décor must’ve just worked for a scene involving a clam bar from that time period,” said Antonetter Mirro, a manager at the restaurant on 149th Street and 15th Avenue.

The crew came in around 10 a.m. and left at 3 p.m., according to Mirro. The cast for the show includes Winona Ryder, Catherine Keener, James Belushi, Terry Kinney and Michael Stahl-David.

The miniseries, which hasn’t released a premiere date yet, is based on a nonfiction book by Lisa Belkin of the same name. It tells the story of a mayor, Nick Wasicsko, who’s charged with building low-income housing in his hometown of Yonkers, N.Y. The project brings to the surface class prejudices, almost shuts down the local government and ruins the mayor’s political career, according to a show synopsis.

Mirro said that the crew will not be returning to the restaurant. During the filming, she didn’t notice any of the main cast members, but she spotted LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson’s wife, who is going to be in at least one episode, according to IMDb.

She also noticed one actress from “a soap opera that I used to watch many years ago.”


Whitestone resident wins Ms. Supermodel USA-Petite competition

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Whitestone has its very own Ms. Supermodel USA-Petite. Margaret Skourlis, 33, won the national competition on Sept. 6 in Fargo, North Dakota, against 30 other beauty queens.

“It’s an amazing experience,” said Skourlis, who has lived in Whitestone for most of her life.

The Ms. Supermodel USA-Petite competition is held every year and it’s the Miss USA for women between the ages of 30 to 40. The petite division is for woman who are 5 feet 6 inches or less; with Skourlis being less.

Skourlis has previously held the Miss Congeniality title, among many other beauty pageant titles that she’s achieved since she was 17.

Skourlis sees her title as a way of bringing attention to various issues — from domestic violence to multiple sclerosis — by constantly attending different events and using her title to attract people.

“I’m always going to charity drives and rallies to raise awareness and attract more press attention to all of the different problems in the world,” she said. “It’s really important for us to connect with each other.”

Skouralis has two master’s degrees: one in political science and the other in business administration. Her platform used to be about multiple sclerosis, a disability her mom has. But during this most recent competition she decided to not have such a narrow focus.

“When you concentrate on only one thing during these competitions, you belittle all of the other issues. So now I’ve opened my focus to embrace all causes. I just want to see people happy.”


New dollar store opens in Whitestone directly across the street from another dollar store

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

A new 99¢ store is opening across the street from another 99¢ store in Whitestone’s commercial strip 150th Street.

Stork’s Bakery closed earlier this year and a private company purchased the place in June 27 for $925,000, according to government records. Jumbo 99¢ Mall Discount Store is set to open this week, according to workers on the site.

Across the street, husband and wife partners Huang and Gueng Ze worry that the new dollar store will put their own discount store, which has been around for 10 years, out of business.

“This will be a big problem for us,” the husband Huang said. The two worry that the new competition will cause them to lose what business they already have. As they spoke, a customer came in and told the owners that he wouldn’t shop at the new place.

“Why are these people opening the same kind of store across the street?” customer Gastao Almeida said. “Everybody likes this place and we will support them so that they don’t go out of business.”

Devin O’Connor is the president of the Whitestone Civic Association, and his group often works with local businesses for events. He hopes that the new 99¢ store will cooperate with his group and the community.

“It’s a shame that the bakery closed. It was a Whitestone staple,” he said. “But it is a business in the neighborhood so I understand both sides.”

O’Connor said that the character of the neighborhood is changing, and not always for the best.
“The village is not what it used to be,” he said and pointed out that the new store is the most recent indicator of “times changing.”


First Queens Art Intervention Day to offer interactive projects throughout borough

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos by RPGA Studios

Communities throughout Queens are set for an artistic intervention, looking to inspire, educate and empower residents and feed the pulse of the borough.

The nonprofit studio Rego Park Green Alliance, which uses creative methods to address community issues, will host the first Queens Art Intervention Day on Sept. 27 throughout the borough from Long Island City to the Rockaways.

“We see something that we are not happy with and we try to think about how we can fix it in a creative way,” said Yvonne Shortt, who started the studio and is currently the executive director.

The day-long event, which has a rain date for Oct. 4, will feature a total of 30 projects including murals, art installations, performance pieces, hands-on programs, and many more creative activities taking place outdoors in Astoria, LIC, Kew Gardens, Elmhurst, Rego Park, Forest Hills, Jackson Heights, Ozone Park, Ridgewood, Laurelton, Corona, Whitestone and the Rockaways.


“We want our borough to be seen as a place that people want to come and do interesting things,” Shortt said. “We hope this will help Queens continue to grow and continue to thrive and not just have one spot thought of as artistic and creative.”

According to Shortt, along with being visually appealing, the pieces will also serve to bring about change and to get community members thinking about certain issues.

For example, posters for one project called “Stat Girl” depict a super hero displaying statistics on traffic accidents that have occurred on Queens Boulevard in the past two years. The posters will be put up all day down the thoroughfare.

stat girl photo by RPGA Studios

“We would love for people to stop and engage,” Shortt said. “It’s really about the communities themselves to find some inspiration and advocate for better communities.”

Shortt said that although there were over 160 submissions this year, funding, provided solely by Shortt, only allowed for 25 projects to be part of the event. In the future, she hopes to expand the event to more days and many more communities in the borough.

“There’s an active pulse throughout the borough of Queens and I’m very excited to help it move forward. I feel that if you have ideas and are willing to push it forward, that Queens is a very inviting borough.” Shortt said. “We’re showing the vitality of Queens.”

For more information and the full list of projects for Queens Art Intervention Day, click here.