Living in Malba

The New York Times
Published: August 28, 1994

VINCENT LODICO grows strawberries, squash and pears, persimmons and figs in his garden in Malba. He's especially proud of two 15-foot trees that sprouted from India nuts he potted 25 years ago.

"If they grow in the panhandle of Texas," said Dr. Lodico, a surgeon and president of the Malba Association, "they'll grow in Malba."

But where is Malba?

Frankly, Dr. Lodico, who has lived there since 1951, and his neighbors -- including doctors, judges and business people -- would rather not say.

The enclave of 406 houses just west of the Whitestone Bridge in Queens has well-kept lawns off winding hilly streets along Powell's Cove, an indentation of the East River flanked by a preserve.

"We would prefer to remain anonymous," said Carlos Rabassa, a broker with ReMax Universal, who sells houses with his wife, Nenny, in Malba and nearby areas. They live in a Dutch colonial along Powell's Cove with views of the Whitestone Bridge, College Point and the tops of buildings in Manhattan. "A lot of people looking for houses are not first-time buyers and quite patient in waiting for the right one. Only about six to eight houses a year are available."

Malba has its own garden club, field and marine club and a monthly newsletter -- Malba News and Views. And the Malba Association, which has about 200 members, tries to preserve the quality of life. The association declined to disclose dues, which cover the cost of a private security patrol and the upkeep of common property, including a 350-foot sandy strip known as the Beach, off Boulevard -- yes, just plain Boulevard. It also makes donations to the Whitestone Ambulance Volunteer Corps.

Malba, whose residents at last count come from 35 countries, is an acronym of the last names of five New Haven men who developed the community in 1908: George A. Maycock, Samuel R. Avis, George W. Lewis, Nobel P. Bishop and David R. Alling. They were affiliated with the Realty Trust Corporation, run by William Ziegler, "the Baking Powder King," who had bought 200 acres in the area by the turn of the century.

"WHERE Woodland and Waterfront Meet" and "Malba on the Sound" were catch phrases used in promoting the area, which attracted many officers of Ziegler's Royal Baking Powder Company, as well as others who could afford lots ranging from $595 for 1,280 square feet to $15,500 for 2,000 square feet. By the early 20's there were more than 100 houses.

The old guardhouse, used when Malba had guards and stone and masonry decorative gates, now stands empty on a well-tended grassy triangle called R.L. von Bernuth Park at Malba Drive and Boulevard. Also gone is Malba Pier, which deteriorated over the years and burned down last year.

Although boats no longer dock in the cove, jet skis and motorboats whiz by. Still around is the Women's Club, set up in 1933 when a resident left her home, 30 Center Drive, in her will to the women of Malba.

The streets in Malba were private until the mid-1980's, but the community has never been isolated. The Whitestone Expressway is nearby, but many residents use mass transportation. Malba is a two-fare zone: residents typically take a bus to the Main Street subway station in Flushing.

Years ago the Long Island Rail Road stopped in Malba. But service stopped in 1932. The Whitestone Bridge, a link to the Bronx, opened in 1939.

Aphrodite Mirisis, 31, and her husband, John, 32, a general contractor, came to Malba three years ago after moving out of the apartment building they still own in Woodside. They bought a waterfront Tudor for about $400,000 that has a yard where their 3-year-old and 10-month-old sons now play.

"We wanted more children and more space," Ms. Mirisis said. "It's quiet, friendly and safe and has a good school system."

Malba is zoned residential, and most houses stand cheek by jowl on 60-foot by 100-foot lots. Some lots are larger, however -- as on Malba Drive and Point Crescent along Powell's Cove. Home prices range from about $300,000 to over $2.5 million. There are no condominiums, co-ops or rental apartments, but a handful of four-bedroom houses can be rented at $1,800 and up a month.

These days, original designs -- such as center hall colonials -- are hard to recognize. Many people began upgrading their property by gutting or tearing down houses in the 1970's because property values justified it and empty lots couldn't be found. One house has a brick promenade along the cove.

There is also one with an outdoor tennis court and one with an indoor pool. And the Kempf-Ball residence at the end of Malba Drive, a white Art Moderne style popularized at the Paris Exposition of 1937, is something of a landmark.

Although many children are sent to private schools, public schools provide top-quality education, according to Martin Weissman, deputy superintendent of District 25. "The district as a whole rates second in the city in reading and first in mathematics," he said.

The public elementary schools used by Malba children are P.S. 129 in College Point and P.S. 79 in Whitestone. P.S. 129, with an enrollment of 620, has a computer and library in every classroom, and offers a literature-based reading program. Sixty-five percent of the students read at or above grade level. P.S. 79 is a magnet school for publishing where authors and artists are likely to drop by. Students create spiral-bound laminated books in a desktop publishing center. Among the 835 students, 71.7 percent read at or above grade level.

Children in grades 6 to 8 attend either Junior High School 194, an 880-student magnet school for architecture in Whitestone, or I.S. 25 in Flushing, which offers a law program to its 1,200 students. Both have three computer labs and strong tennis programs.

A $6.6 million renovation at Flushing High School, begun last February, included replastering, a new roof and an auto mechanics shop. The school, whose 2,200 students represent some 60 nations, offers seven advanced-placement courses for college credit, as well as Chinese and Korean. Last year 85 percent of its seniors went on to higher education. Its Red Devils soccer team was the city champion.

Among parochial schools are Holy Trinity in Whitestone, which has a nursery program for 3-year olds, as well as pre-K to 8th grade classes, in Whitestone. Many children in grades 9 to 12 then go to Holy Cross High School in Flushing or St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows.

ABOUT 30 children 2 1/2 to 6 years old from all over participate in half- or full-day programs at a Montessori School in a high ranch house at 7-28 Point Crescent, with a 15,000-square-foot waterfront yard in Malba. Although it created a local ruckus -- mainly over school vans and traffic -- when it opened in 1974, the school has survived as the only commercial enterprise because it provides a community service.

Many use the Whitestone library, which has 99,000 volumes, as well as weekly Picture Book and Toddler Times to youngsters.

A commercial strip just outside Malba, at 14th Avenue and Parsons Boulevard, includes a deli, a nail salon, a tailor and an Italian bakery. A Chinese restaurant is expected to open there in the fall.

A Waldbaum's opened minutes away this year along 20th Avenue in College Point. There are also the Whitepoint Shopping Center, on 14th Avenue and 132d Street in College Point, and a 24-hour Pathmark along the Whitestone Expressway.

Two popular family-run Italian restaurants in Whitestone are Verdi's and Giovanna's. The Whitestone Diner offers a continental menu specializing in Greek and Italian dishes, and, J.C.'s by the Water in College Point has a continental and seafood menu.

Movies are available a 10-minute drive away in Bayside and the Colden Center at Queens College, a 5-minute drive away in Flushing, offers concerts and children's programs. Art exhibitions can be seen Wednesdays through Sundays at Flushing Town Hall, a multicultural center being renovated on Northern Boulevard and Linden Place that also offers jazz on Thursday evenings.

Great and snowy egrets, sandpipers and terns feed on killifish and worms in Powell's Cove, a 30-acre preserve. Degraded habitat alongside it in College Point created by landfill and choked with tick-infested reed grass is expected to be restored as an overlook for birdwatchers in the next few years. Half of it occupies public and private property in Malba; the rest goes through College Point. The Parks Department recently agreed to buy two small parcels from the Malba Association to add to the park.

"It's being preserved as parkland and can no longer be built on, so people can enjoy it in its natural state," said Nancy Barthold, Queens deputy chief of operations of the city Department of Parks and Recreation.

Just outside Malba is the 16.8-acre Francis Lewis Park along Third Avenue at 147th Street in Whitestone, which has a promenade, one basketball court and four handball courts and a small beachfront along the East River, which was refurbished last summer. And children play baseball at the 9.5-acre George U. Harvey Playground between 15th and 20th Avenues along the Whitestone Expressway.

People bring blankets to the 29-acre MacNeil Park in College Point, where concerts are held in July and children participate in a free summer recreation program. The College Point Roadrunners Club also works out there each week and finishes its annual 13.1-mile half-marathon in the park.

Those who want to stay put can simply go to the water's edge in Malba to watch planes making their descent over the Bronx toward La Guardia Airport or gaze at the last few rays of sunlight bouncing off the Whitestone Bridge, which then lights the way to the Bronx at night.

Monday July 15, 2024

Bridge view from Malba

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