I had the opportunity recently to talk to Ethel Chahales. Everyone from the Maspeth area knows the Chahales name and immediately identifies it with their restaurant, the Spartan. Ethel is the wife of the late “Mayor of Maspeth,” as he was called, Pete Chahales, and she worked side-by-side with Pete throughout the years they owned the restaurant, which was about 40 years.
She said she keeps in touch with some of the celebrities who passed through their world. I personally remember going to see the comedian Pat Cooper who appeared at the Spartan on a very snowy January night. Ethel said that she still talks to Pat who has remained a good friend. Also, the JPCA held several of our annual dances at the Spartan Restaurant
The purpose of my call to Ethel was to get her memories about the yearly Maspeth Gay Nineties Parade, which her husband, Pete, planned with Ethel by his side. Ethel, who was the point person in the parade’s planning, told me of the tremendous amount of work it took to get the parade together every October but made it clear that it was a job she really loved.
She did her job so well that they were even successful in receiving a letter from President Lyndon Johnson congratulating the people of Maspeth on their achievements in the past and wishing them well in their future growth. The letter is in their journal celebrating Maspeth’s 325th Anniversary, which was held on Sunday, October 22, 1967.
Ethel enthusiasm for the parade was evident in her voice as she went on to tell me about the event, the participants and the antique cars that they would have to chauffeur some of the dignitaries. She said that participants would totally get into the moment by dressing up in gay nineties costumes and, to add to the fun, they would always have professional clowns who happened to live in Maspeth and would work the parade route. Local business people, too, would get into the festivities, using floats with their various business signs and dressing up in costumes.
The parade route would start at the site of the Spartan Restaurant at 73rd Street and walk along Grand Avenue, past the Carvel and into the Polish area of Maspeth. She clearly reminisced about the NYC Mayors who would attend like Abe Beame and Robert Wagner and some of the Grand Marshals that they would select such as Congressman Joseph P Addabbo and Monsignor John Balkunas from the Church of the Transfiguration in Maspeth.
She told me how much she and her husband, Pete, loved Maspeth, its history and its future. She said they lived in Maspeth for many years, raised their two children in Maspeth and it wasn’t until Pete passed away at the age of 72 in 1994 that she moved away.
I also had the opportunity to talk to Al Banke who was one of Pete Chahales’ best friend and an eager participant in the Maspeth Gay Nineties Parade. Al’s recollection of the Parade was very similar to Ethel’s and he added also, what Ethel had told me and that was that Pete Chahales viewed the Parade as his gift to the Maspeth community. He said that Pete Chahales always thought of Maspeth as a little piece of country in the heart of a very busy city.
Some of Al’s memories of the Gay 90’s Parade included the old fire engines and the appearance at the Parade of Sammy Fuchs’ Bowery Follies. Participants would dress up like hoboes and girls dressed in costumes that were popular in the 1890’s. Al said that the Maspeth Gay Nineties Parade started in 1961 and ended in the 1980’s when Pete got sick. He said also that insurance implications hurried the demise of the Parade along when many of the participants wanted to be covered by insurance in the event of an accident during the Parade.
Talking to Ethel and Al Banke was a joy as they recalled their memories of a bygone era. The Maspeth Gay Nineties Parade was special to everyone and, most particularly, to Pete Chahales, and to all of Maspeth.