As an update for the lengthy article in Juniper Berry’s last issue, a rally was held on November 8th at Veteran’s Grove Park in Elmhurst directly across from what is called the Janta house. The 1911 home, at 88-28 43rd Avenue, is in imminent danger, if not blocked by land-marking and community efforts. It was the home of Alexander and Walentyna Janta-Polcynski, a Polish born couple, whose contributions during the WW2 effort, and achievements afterward, can be regarded as unparalleled.
The rally was organized by members of the Elmhurst History and Cemetery Preservation Society (EHCPS), along with Alfonso Quiroz, who emceed and helped document the event. The noontime gathering showcased art work done by St. Bartholomew Students, consisting of creative posters for this cause, and chalk writing on the sidewalk on Judge Street. Quiroz has been partnering with the history group for the past year in promoting events, and making videos and podcasts exploring Elmhurst.
Speakers included EHCPS Members Jennifer Ochoa snd myself, as well as Alfonso Quiroz, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, St. Bartholomew teacher Lisa Marie Mazzara, Community Organizer and New Visions Democrat Club President Shekar Krishnan, Carolyn Tran, Chief of Staff of Councliman Dromm’s office, CB4 member and teacher Lucy Cerezo, longtime Jackson Heights community activist Nuala O’Doherty, and Polish journalist Wojciech Maslanka. Quiroz, Krishnan, Tran, and Cerezo are all expected to vie for Councilman Danny Dromm’s district 25 seat when his term limit expires in 2021.
“It was critical to hold this rally to protect the history of Elmhurst from destructive development and demolition. The Janta House embodies that history. The story of Walentyna and Aleksander Janta, two humanitarians is part of the fabric of this neighborhood. It is an immigrant story, a story of resistance and sacrifice…Sunday’s rally was a reflection of how important it is for us to come together as communities to defend Elmhurst. Our voices together can send a powerful message to the city and developers that Elmhurst isn’t for sale,” said Krishnan.
Teacher Ms. Mazzara said, “Janta House is important to save because it represents the very aspects that the community of Elmhurst is all about-humbleness, devotion, and dedication. The couple that lived here for many years represented the kindness and morale for the neighborhood.” “It is important for children to see that history isn’t found only in textbooks, it’s found right outside our school window,” Mazzara added. Journalist Maslanka, who covered the event, has through his writing been helping to garner the support of Polish groups and organizations in the U.S and abroad which is essential.
The prevailing thread among the speakers was that Elmhurst, Queens’ second oldest community, has rapidly succumbed to overdevelopment, with brick box style building projects continuing block-by-block, unabated. The mood was vibrant and uplifting, with temps rising into the mid 70’s on this early November day.
Assemblywoman Cruz addressed this issue passionately. “To take that house, and turn it into a developer’s greedy dream is not what this community is about, said Cruz.
“It’s an amazing story through an immigrant’s side, from a strong woman’s perspective, and her amazing feats. Also, the importance of continuing to educate children and adults alike through these two very real people who lived it,” said Lucy Cerezo. I heralded the Janta legacy and how the house can be used as an educational forum, stressed the need for letters of support, and proudly announced that a street sign was approved by the Community Council through Community Board 4. The sign will read “Janta-Polcynska Polish Heroes Way.” Currently, ownership has yet to file for permits, and has left the house idle, without being cared for save for the parking of vehicles. Ms. Walentyna Janta passed away on April 2, 2020, thus beginning the push for saving this house and cementing her and her husband’s enduring powerful life story.