Fred Cantor’s Fresh Meadows

Fred Cantor does not see the glass as half empty or half full.  In his eyes, it always overflows.

Fred finds joy wherever he lives.  A longtime Manhattan resident, he loves the city.

Fred Cantor, in his Fresh Meadows hat.

In his pre-teen years — the 1950s and early ’60s — he lived in Fresh Meadows.  That pocket of northeastern Queens — centered on a housing development built for World War II veterans, which Lewis Mumford described in the New Yorker as “perhaps the most positive and exhilarating example of large-scale community planning in this country” — is the focus of Fred’s new book.

He and co-author Debra Davidson have chronicled the history of their neighborhood in Fresh Meadows, a photo project that’s part of the “Images of America” series.

But this story is not about Queens or Manhattan.  It’s about Westport, and what Fred has learned growing up here, then returning to live full time.

(Full disclosure:  Fred is one of my oldest and best friends from high school.  He’s also a frequent commenter on “06880.”)

“I am fortunate to have grown up in 2 special hometowns,” Fred says.

“Each has given me an appreciation for the other that I might not otherwise have — especially regarding some things many people take for granted here in Westport.”

In Westport — where he moved in 1963 — Fred says that he immediately noticed “the beauty of the stone walls,” something notably missing from Fresh Meadows.  To this day, he still marvels at the sight.

Fred finds beauty too at Compo Beach.  “I was always taken with the sweeping crescent shape, leading out to the green expanse of Sherwood Island,” he says.

Long Beach– his beach in Queens — was “your typical straight line of sand facing the water.”

The view at Longshore — looking out on the marina to Cockenoe and beyond — was “so different than anything I had experienced in Queens,” he says.

“I still enjoy that view when I’m at the Longshore pool.  It’s like being at a great vacation resort.”

Fred wonders if people who grew up here appreciate that in the same way.

Sid, Pearl and Fred Cantor, at home in Westport.

He says he always thought of “the open area and architecture in the area of Toquet Hall and the old Westport Bank & Trust (now Patagonia) as quintessential small-town America, and an old-fashioned town square.”

That too is far different from what he had — and loved — in Queens.

Plus, Fred says, “when we moved here there was a corner drug store, Thompson’s, where Tiffany’s is now located.  It had a lunch counter that served milkshakes.” He felt like he’d walked onto the set of “Leave it to Beaver.”

Living in Westport gave Fred an appreciation of how he could walk to nearly  everything in Fresh Meadows — a direct result of the community’s site plan.  In Westport, he depended on his mother for rides.

In Fresh Meadows Fred lived in a small 2-bedroom, 1-bath apartment — and was quite happy.  That experience, he says, “taught me that you really don’t need a big home or a lot of possessions to truly enjoy life.”  To this day, he says, “I have never lived in a big house.”

Of course, Fred wonders what might have happened if his parents had not made the move.

“Chances are I wouldn’t have discovered soccer or The Remains” — 2 of his passions.

And, he says, “I probably would not have been accepted at Yale, since the local high school in Fresh Meadows had nowhere near the reputation that Staples did.”

The fact that Fred (an attorney) conceived and worked on a variety of diverse creative projects as an adult — producing a play and a movie, writing a book, co-writing a song paying tribute to former Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette — “is probably in some way a reflection of having grown up in Westport, where there has always been such an emphasis on the arts,” Fred says.

“Obviously, the move to Westport as a kid enriched my life in so many ways.”

Fred concludes:  “This is probably way more info than you needed.  But all of this has gotten me to do a lot of reflecting on this lately.”

Actually, Fred’s insights are perfect.  All of us are a reflection of when and how we grew up — and where.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have both a Fresh Meadows, and a Westport, in our lives.

(Click here for a New York Daily News story on Fred Cantor’s new book.)

19 responses to “Fred Cantor’s Fresh Meadows

  1. You could easily have done two or three different stories on the multi-talented, creative Fred Cantor. How about his soccer career at Staples or one about the musical he wrote honoring Westport’s great rock band, Barry and the Remains. Thanks for sharing this one with us, Dan

  2. Wow, Fred, we share a love of stone walls and Metes and Bounds. I love finding out stuff about people! If you love stone walls, go for a day trip to Stonington… just filled.

  3. John–thanks for your kind words. But I certainly wasn’t as talented at soccer as most of my classmates from that record-setting ’70 team–nine of whom became captain of their college squads–and any success I had on the field was due to the terrific coaches we had: Albie Loeffler, Jim Kuhlmann, and Jeff Lea. Also, I didn’t write the musical, “All Good Things;” Michael Eric Stein wrote the script. And Dan, thanks for the wonderful column.

  4. excellent tribute to freddy! a true champion of sport and the arts, and an indefatigable creative spirit.

  5. Looking forward to reading your book, Fred. I have experienced the same sentiments suggested in this post … and I was leaving for college when you arrived in Westport. Congratulations. Bill Deegan

  6. Much success to you and your new book, Fred. You are a marvel, a good friend and an all-around nice guy. Thanks for the insights, Dan.

  7. Wasn’t it Colgan’s Drugstore? Or was that somewhere else. I don’t remember it being called Thompsons.

    • It was Colgan’s at one point … 1950s for sure … but I have no memory of when the name change came about.

  8. The Dude Abides

    Cherry cokes and french fries after BJHS on the way to the YMCA, I do believe it was called Thompson’s. Interesting saga. I moved here from the stinkhole of Naugatuck in ’53 where my father was plant manager of the highly polluting US Rubber plant. Westport was a breath of fresh air, literally. I shall look forward to reading your book for I know nothing of Fresh Meadows and would like to see your culture shock. It would appear that we not only have the commonality of Staples soccer, the law, writing (I prefer the lazy fiction of telling lies) but also such a transition to this homeland. Good luck with book sales.

    • Westport was literally a breath of fresh for us as well after our early years in Manhattan. Among the best things about the move were the evening swims at Compo after my dad got off the commuter train (no AC on those trains or anywhere else!). Good move to a great town. I’m familiar with Fresh Meadows, Fred and am looking forward to reading your book. The drugstore was Colgan’s throughout the 1950s and probably the 1940s as well. I think it changed hands and was renamed Thompson’s around 1960, just in time to welcome newly-minted BJHS seventh graders like the Dude and me.

  9. Tommy, Bill, Margaret, and Dude–thanks for your nice words and good wishes. And Mary, I have been to Stonington–thanks for the suggestion.

  10. Bonnie Housner Erickson

    I’m very happy for you, Fred, Congratulations!

  11. Caught the quote by Louis Mumford. Wondering if Fresh Meadows is similar to development of Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, where my father grew up (and where Mumford lived). Would appreciate Mr. Cantor’s take comparing the two neighborhoods. Thanks — and congratulations!

  12. Douglas, thanks, and probably the best analysis is from Mr. Mumford himself: “Sunnyside Gardens…was the first development to use a combination of apartment houses and row units of different sizes, the first to provide sufficient public open space as an integral part of a project…the first to demonstrate all over again the greater privacy of row housing as opposed to the confusion and crampedness of the detached or semi-detached house when less than a quarter acre is allotted to it. The Fresh Meadows architects thoroughly absorbed and improved upon the lessons taught by the Sunnyside architects….”

    Also, “Toward New Towns for America,” co-written by one of the Sunnyside architects, has a chapter on Sunnyside Gardens.

  13. The Dude Abides

    FC: In rethinking the article, I see that you moved here in ’63 and assume right before the assassination of JFK. Do you offer any comparisons between how his death was treated in Fresh Meadows v. Westport in the book??? Or your thoughts durings such period??? I am forever curious about that tragedy that forever changed our generation. If you tell me to read the book, I will gather the answer is the affirmative.

  14. Dude, it’s not that type of book. It’s really a photo history book of the postwar era in Fresh Meadows, similar to other Arcadia books on towns and communities. It’s intended for readers who lived or currently live in Fresh Meadows.

    • The Dude Abides

      So, here is your platform: was your preception any different in Westport when the President was killed versus that of Fresh Meadows???? I guess you would have been in elementary school. As you may know from your brother, they rounded all of us up in an assembly mode in the Staples gym to explain the shooting. It was not until we returned to class, that it was announced he was dead. As compared with 911, I found it a very mature-sensitive way to handle the situation.

  15. Loved this post, Dan! My folks and brother lived in Fresh Meadows in the 50’s before I was born, so I’m eager to get Fred’s book. I too love this town and see beauty almost everywhere I look. Even today. I moved here from Old Greenwich when I was eight. Where I grew up on Timber Lane, there were trees galore and, of course, stone walls. My only complaint was that my mother had to drive me almost everywhere. In OG, I rode my bike to town, the park and to school starting in first grade! Anyway, so glad you guys have remained friends.

  16. Gerry Kuroghlian

    Staples HS was very thankful that the Cantors decided to move to Westport. Fred was a good student and athlete and has proved to be a great alumnus giving his support long after he graduated. A very nice piece of writing Dan.
    SHS is proud of you both!