History hidden in plain sight

Valley Stream Historical Society: 30 W. Jamaica Ave. — a blueprint for success


In 1926, the Junior Order of United American Mechanics , a fraternal organization that was founded in 1853, moved into their stately new home on Jamaica Avenue. “JOUAM-owned buildings from that time were uniform in design,” explained Vickie Smith, the organization’s National Secretary. “Two stories high, with a brick façade. The upper floor, commonly referred to as Mechanics Hall, was reserved for meetings; the ground level was rented out to local businesses, which helped generate income for the council.”

Valley Stream Council 41, as the local chapter was known, was indeed housed in a very handsome brick building. Architectural details included an ornamental roof cornice with dentil trim; four bas-relief garland friezes — swags of draped flowers made from glazed terracotta; an ornately flagpole, and an elegantly-arched doorway. That same year, Frederic P. Wiedersum (1891-1983), founded his eponymous architecture firm in Valley Stream (he was also a resident), although it is not certain that he, in fact, designed the building.

Additional revenue was generated for the JOAUM by renting out Mechanics Hall to other organizations: the Valley Stream Flower and Garden Society, the Republican Party, the International Order of the Rainbow for Girls, Sons of Norway, and the Lynbrook Pythian Sisters. Even weddings were held there: “The ceremony was followed by a reception for 150 guests at Mechanics Hall,” noted an August 6, 1951, marriage announcement in Newsday.

In June 1929, the Police Department of the Incorporated Village of Valley Stream merged with the Nassau County Police Department and established the Fifth Precinct. “Negotiations are now underway for the county police precinct to lease the ground floor of the JOUAM building on Jamaica Avenue. Present cell blocks on the second floor of a building at Central Avenue and Merrick Road have been declared unsatisfactory. Since the merger, the Village and county police are seeking more commodious quarters,” reported the November 25, 1929 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

In preparation for the new tenant, modifications were made to the interior of the building by Frederic Wiedersum. According to his meticulously drawn blueprints, four prison cells were added, and iron bars covered the windows on the east side of the building. A freestanding six-vehicle garage was constructed to the west of the building. Affixed above one of the three entry doors was a green lamp, a custom that dates back to the 1650s when watchmen patrolled New Amsterdam carrying lanterns made of green glass. In December 1929, the Fifth Precinct moved into their new quarters; the rent was $4,000 a year.

It proved to be a productive year for Wiedersum. In September of that year, he completed his Art Deco masterpiece, Central High School. Frederic is also credited with designing all of Valley Stream’s post-WWII public schools. By the time he retired in the 1970s, his name was associated with over 500 educational institutions. Today, Wiedersum Associates Architects (WAA) is one of the oldest and most widely recognized family-owned architecture firms in the United States. Richard W. Wiedersum, a principal of WAA, is the founder’s great-grandson.

Location: 30 West Jamaica Avenue (between Rockaway and South Corona avenues)

This is part one of a two-part entry in the Valley Stream Historical Society’s biweekly “History Hidden in Plain Sight.”