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For more than fifty-five years the air in a comparatively quiet but progressively decaying area of Queens just outside Jamaica, reverberated to the thunder of horse’s hooves as they beat around an elliptical course known as the Jamaica Race Track. Then progress in the form of a population-explosion out stripped the facilities of the Jamaica track, and on August 1, 1959 the last race was run at Jamaica. The possibilities of erecting a large housing development on the 170 acre site of the Jamaica track was the vision of Robert Moses, the then Chairman of the Slum Clearance Committee and City Construction Coordinator. The Jamaica Race Track was demolished in 1960 to make way for the complex, which was built for $ 86 million as a middle income cooperative.
Since Rochdale Village was to be the largest single cooperative housing community ever to be undertaken at that time, considerable thought was given to endowing it with an appropriate name. Because it was expected that the development would set a precedent for establishment of future “cooperative villages” around the country, the name most fitting seemed to be that of the little English village of Rochdale which gave birth to the Cooperative movement in 1844. This lead to the Rochdale Principles of Cooperation. Thus did Rochdale Village derive its name.
The architect’s concept for Rochdale Village was an attractive community covering 122 city blocks, that would provide the residents with the park-like setting and facilities of suburbia within the limits of the urban Jamaica area.
Rochdale Village in southeast Queens opened in 1963 ( pop. over 25,000), lying within South Jamaica and bounded to the north by Baisley Boulevard and Bedell Street, to the east by Bedell Street, to the south by 137th Avenue, and to the west by Guy R. Brewer Boulevard. When the village first opened in 1963 it was the largest private housing complex in the world (later surpassed by Co-op City). The population was at first heavily Jewish but became mostly black in the early 1970s.
Rochdale Village is composed of 20 buildings, each with 3 sections, 13 floors. In addition, there are two shopping malls with parking lots, 11 cooperator parking lots (3,200 spaces) and a community center. This complex has its own power plant, its own post office, police precinct, 3 schools and is surrounded by other stores on Guy R.Brewer Boulevard.
Rochdale Village library was built to serve the Rochdale Village-Springfield Gardens area . The library was planned for the north side of 137th Avenue and the west side of 173th Street. In 1965, Mayor Robert Wagner approved preliminary plans for the proposed library branch. The nearest libraries are the South Jamaica branch and the Baisley Park branch. The library was dedicated on April 21, 1969 and invited then mayor John Lindsay, Municipal Service Administrator John G. Duba, Borough President Sidney Leviss, and trustees of the Queens library board. The Rochdale Village library is the 55th branch of the Queens system.
In 1985, the Rochdale Village branch opened its new Adult Learning Center to serve adults who wanted to improve their basic reading skills. Now it has been expanded to a full-fledged center, with computer-assisted instruction and a full range of instructional materials both for learners and teachers of Adult Basic Education.
Excerpts from: Rochdale Village: A New Concept In Community Living United Housing Foundation. 1967
Book: The Encyclopedia of New York City edited by Kenneth T. Jackson
Queens Borough Public Library News July-August 1969.