Interview with Bea Badian in summary
May 26, 2000
by Molly Turner
Bea (Barufkin) Badian was interviewed as part of a history of the neighborhood for the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance. http://www.placeinhistory.org/projects/sunnyside_gardens/
Bea and her husband were living in Flushing but wanted to move to Sunnyside because it was more convenient for her husband’s job at the Breyer’s ice cream company in Long Island City. At that time, most of that part of Queens was a wasteland. Northern Boulevard existed sort of as a road to nowhere, sometimes covered with water.
According to Bea, there were many artists in Sunnyside in those years during which the neighborhood was sometimes called the “Annex to Greenwich Village’’—as well as many civil servants, policemen and firemen. Gradually, more and more professionals such as lawyers and doctors moved in. Sunnyside Gardens had been designed with civil servants in mind, but once the Depression hit it was really difficult for people of that income level to make a go of it, plus many of them lost their jobs.
During the Depression and the War years there were many foreclosures and the various mortgage companies took ownership of the units, but they generally let the occupants stay on, sometimes paying rent. The mortgage companies were in a difficult position because they didn’t want to be landlords, and didn’t want to pay janitors and gardeners, etc. Some of them did try to evict residents, but the residents organized to protest evictions. When they heard the sheriff coming they would form a ring around the house. According to Bea, they kept the sheriff away.
This response to a common crisis united the residents, and they were very close. During the war many of the men went away (though Bea’s husband did not) and the women became even closer. For example, they organized in opposition to the principal of their local elementary school over school lunches (the principal wanted to send the kids home for lunch even though many women were working by that point and couldn’t be there to let them in and feed them), and managed to get the principal fired. Bea and her son personally took the petition downtown to Livingston Street.
Bea said that the sense of community started to fall apart after the war, because of prosperity. She said most people still cared a lot about the neighborhood, but they weren’t as tightly organized. When the covenants ran out a couple of courtyards gave up the common gardens.
The house that Bea lives in now was foreclosed during the war, and Bea and her husband bought it just afterward. Perhaps because of what she had seen in the preceding years, Bea insisted that they pay cash for the house, so they owned it outright from the beginning. Bea said she was told that the house had sold for $15,000 in 192(6?) when it was first on the market. By the time they bought it (she wasn’t clear on the year, just “right after the war”) it was $8,000.
Bea’s children and grandchildren all have left New York City and are spread from California to Chicago to North Carolina, but she refuses to leave Sunnyside. She loves it, and it’s a home base in New York for her far-flung family. Her daughter in Kinderhook has built Bea an annex to her house, but Bea still won’t move.
Bea used to love to travel, but now she just walks to Queens Boulevard where it’s the “most ethnic part of the city.” She says that some of the new immigrants to the area have moved into Sunnyside Gardens: people rent out their basements to just-arrived Mexicans who do yard and maintenance work, and a few Indian and I think maybe Turkish merchants and professionals have bought houses near her. She says that a lot of the people in the Gardens are resistant to these changes and are basically pretty racist, but she thinks it’s great.
The trees in Bea’s courtyard were taken down just a few weeks ago, victims of the Asian longhorn beetle. Many of the grand old trees in Sunnyside’s courtyards are dying this way. There are some younger trees but she’s not going to see them grow up (I didn’t ask her age, but my guess would be about 95.)