.....and other random stuff......

Friday, August 12, 2016

Throwback Thursday con't.....

Since CJ asked me if my father kept in touch with his army buddies I thought I'd add this:

Historical Wonders: Elkan Park Community

Post-WWII cul-de-sac off Palmer Avenue thrives today.

By Katherine Ann Samon

One block past Central Elementary School, take a right turn onto Elkan Road, and enter Elkan Park, a housing community where families are as connected with each other today as were the original families in 1947, when the neighborhood was built.
Indeed, on a recent Sunday morning, a reporter taking photos of the circle formed by the cul-de-sac, drew families out of their houses in a way that was reminiscent of photos from the late 1940s.
Linda Filby, whose daughter Brianna was biking around the circle, has lived in Elkan Park for four years. "When parents pick up their children from play dates at my home, they're always surprised that there's this hidden gem of a neighborhood right off Palmer."
Elkan Park, which has a Larchmont address, is in the unincorporated Town of Mamaroneck.
In the circular park is a flag pole and plaques to the WWII veterans who built the hamlet, and to a couple named Benno and Madelon Elkan.
Paul Chateauvert is co-president, with wife Sue, of the Elkan Park Association.  "What's important to me is the story of Mr. and Mrs. Elkan," he said. "That they were of German descent, and the generosity of what they did for Larchmont's veterans coming home from WWII."
Paul and Sue are long-time Larchmont residents who graduated from Mamaroneck High School. They've lived in Elkan Park, where they raised two grown sons, for 12 years. In fact, they live across the circle from the house Paul grew up in when his family moved from New Jersey in 1969. A different young family lives there now.
They're also the current keepers of two thick photo albums that tell the story.
Post-WWII housing shortage
Servicemen returning home from the war encountered a historic housing shortage, finding themselves living with their families, in-laws, or in furnished rental rooms.
The shortage was also felt in Westchester.
Larchmont ingenuity
In February 1946, ten Larchmont servicemen founded Larchmont Veterans' Building Corporation with the goal of building homes for themselves.
Former Army Capt. John C. Merritt, the group's president, suggested building "cluster housing," meaning that some of the 50 houses, or "units," would be attached. This would allow them to save on land costs, and building in mass meant they could build high quality houses at $10,000 each, which was the mortgage obtainable through the G.I. Bill.
The group expanded to 50, with each investing $600, giving them  $30,000 for land purchase. Combining their housing benefits, they secured a $500,000 construction loan.
Looking for land
On Richbell Road, two acres fell through because the owner wanted them to purchase additional  six. Next was land at Boston Post Road and Mayhew, but the multiple-family design met strong opposition.
 "The local newspaper dubbed the project 'Foxhole Acres,' which did not help in getting the property rezoned," wrote Thomas Carl Thomsen in his 1999 autobiography, "A Walk Around the Square." He had served in the Air Force and was one of the of the group members.
The calvary: the Elkans
Benno and Madelon Elkan immigrated from Germany in 1906 when Benno opened a branch of a Frankfurt metals company.  They moved to Larchmont's Prospect Avenue in 1918.
Mr. Elkan became a governor of the Commodity Exchange of New York, and a U.S. advisor during WWII.
Their daughter had served in the war. Hearing about the plight of the veterans, the Elkans sold a rocky 5-and-a-half acres facing Palmer Avenue, valued at $42,000, to the vets. Some reports have the sale price at $30,000, another has it at $25,000.
Building begins
The veterans got the land zoned, and convinced the town to install an access road, sewer system, and utilities.
They broke ground in November 1946. Larchmont architect Gerald J. O'Reilly donated his services to design 12, two-story Colonial-style buildings of the highest quality, built in brick with slate roofs and copper flashing. Inside were oak floors and plaster walls.
Three buildings faced Palmer Avenue, with nine along a dead-end road that would wind around a small circular park. By varying the amount of attached homes, or "units," per building, the structures would have somewhat  individual appearances. While one building had two attached units, eight had four units, two had five, and one had six. Each had two bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths, a living room and dining room, cellar, attic, and garage.
Each unit would be individually owned, responsible for its separate taxes, utilities, maintenance, etc.
Judith Doolin Spikes, Larchmont's Official Village Historian, wrote about the group's efforts to buy in bulk to offset costs. Told that the cheapest bathtubs were at a New Jersey business, Merritt transported two at a time in his Jeep, requiring 25 trips. "The only problem came the day it rained…The Jeep broke down under the load because someone had put a plug in a tub and it filled with water."
When the project was complete in August 1947, the Elkans, impressed with veterans' efforts, refunded their $30,000. 
Thomsen wrote the following about the Elkans, "The community was named Elkan Park in memory of their son who had not survived the war. It seemed fitting that 50 survivors should build a memorial to one who had not survived."
Other sources claim that the group had intended to name the project Foxhole Acres, and changed their mind in gratitude.
In Elkan Circle, a flag pole was erected in conjunction with a plaque that reads, "A community planned and developed by World War II Veterans with the help of others who shared their beliefs. May 30, 1948."
When Mr. Elkan died in 1960, a plaque in memory of the couple's efforts was added. In 1969, Mrs. Elkan established a 20-year Capital Improvement Fund. She died in 1971.
Elkan Park today
"At one point in the early years, there were over 50 children in the Park under six years of age," reads a passage in the handbook that every incoming owner receives, about the young GI families.
These days, the population is a mix of couples of all ages, single-parent families, older residents, and returning Elkan Park residents. Though families with children are still prevalent, due in part to being walking distance to schools, and the affordability of the homes.
The units are not condos or co-ops, and so have no common charges. But Elkan Park Association, originally set up by the veterans, includes all homeowners and contains guidelines on subjects such as on remodeling to preserve the look and spirit of the neighborhood.
Some pooling of resources continues. For instance, when it's time for maintenance such as gutter cleaning, residents come together to get a group rate.
Socially, the enclave continues a 60-year tradition of  yearly block party.
"Because of the design and layout of the buildings," said Sue, "we have the benefit of individually owned  homes and a close, community feeling."
And a legacy of groundbreaking, affordable family homes that lives on.
My father was one of the original founders of the association....and apparently a member of the softball team! 
 (top row, far right) Dig those team shirts!! (methinks it was really the bowling team.....)


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