Only One Sunnyside
by Leonore Lanzillotti
There is only one Sunnyside. There have been some changes, but it still remains the place that has it all.
In the old days, we played in the street: stickball, baseball, jump rope, and hide and seek. I added backyard entertainment, and charged 2 cents to neighbors to come and hear me sing. Adults and children, they all came. Everyone knew everyone.
During WW2, while young men were in the service, women brought their children to Miss Nichols’ Day Care on 39th Place and 47th Avenue, and went off to work at the Sunshine Biscuit factory, the Breyers Ice cream factory, and the English Muffin factory in Long Island City.
At night, everyone had to turn their lights off. Even street lights were turned off. I believe even cars and buses had to keep their lights off. The only light I remember seeing was from searchlights coming from Long Island City, protecting against Nazi air attacks. My mom would sit near the fire escape window and say, “Don’t make any noise,” and, “You can’t turn the lights on.”
We lost many men from Sunnyside to the War.
On Saturdays in Thompson Hill Park, there were children’s dances. There was a woman named Miss Karp who ran around with a whistle telling the kids how to behave. There was Scottish dancing, Hawaiian dancing, and Irish dancing – and the mothers would make costumes for all the children. And we’d perform in groups according to our age. Later on, we’d compete at Forest Park with children from other neighborhoods. That was a big, big thing, a whole day affair. And Miss Karp was blowing her whistle all the time.
They used to have big bands at the Park. In those days, the women mostly stayed home; they didn’t have to go to work as much. They’d all be home in housedresses during the day, taking care of the children.
On Saturday night, they’d put on their gowns and evening dresses, and the men would deck themselves out in tuxedos with the bow tie, and there would be dancing all night long.
All the husbands and wives or whatever they were – it was a time for them to get together again and to really show in their eyes, “Hey, honey, you’re the only one for me.” They became someone else. They became Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And the women felt that they were someone special, and of course, the men knew they were someone special. That was very important because many of them couldn’t afford to go out across the bridge to Manhattan and really have a great time. They had children at home, and in those days, it was pretty rough. A lot of them had come home from the service, and unfortunately, a lot didn’t come home, so that was their very special “I love you and you love me” moment.
The Celtic apartments were on 48th Avenue and 42nd Street. The Sunnyside library was on Greenpoint Avenue and 41 Street… The Sunnyside Garden arena was on 45th Street and Queens Boulevard. The Saturday movie at the Bliss movie theater cost 25 cents… And when the children came home from school, they’d stop by the police horse stable at 48-23 39th Place to say hi to the horses. And mounted police officers would ride up and down the streets to make sure that we’d get home safely and on time…
I spent my long singing career traveling the far corners of the world, but I came back to live in Sunnyside, the place that has it all.
Leonore and sister on 41 Street & 48 Avenue
Norma on 41 Street and 48 Avenue
Leonore at the Bliss Theater
Leonore's mother Yolanda Lanzillotti
Leonore and mother at PS 125
Leonore's father Carlo A. Lanzillotti
Leonore Lanzillotti was born and raised in Sunnyside, and after a long career in music, now lives there in retirement. Having received a degree in Business Law, Leonore turned to the serious study of music, attending the Mannes College of Music, and appearing in the New York City Opera for four regular seasons upon completion.
Leonore had an illustrious singing career as a mezzo-soprano with various opera companies. She has performed frequently in concerts, oratorios, and as soloist with orchestras in the United States and many other countries worldwide. She is listed in “Who’s Who in America.”