Until 1962, Delaney, who was born in 1936, lived in the Holland House at 73-37 Austin Street with his brother Harold, a WWII veteran, his sister Dolores, his mother Anne, and his father Harry, a textile banking executive.
Delaney graduated from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in 1950 and Iona College in 1958. His 30-year radio career would take him all over the country and to Australia.
Stepping foot inside Holland House this month, Delaney chatted with Keith the doorman, toured a friend’s apartment, and conversed with the 98-year-old resident of his childhood apartment, who he knew since his youth.
He recalled a defunct valet service and a tailor named Louis DeFino, who pressed and altered residents’ clothes.
The Forest Hills of yesteryear had many undeveloped lots.
“In the warm weather, my parents would roast hot dogs with their neighbors where the Windsor House building now stands,” Delaney recalled. “Our favorite lot was across from the Holland House, where Austin Gardens stands today. It went from Tilden Arms to the Austin House, and in the middle was a tennis court mainly used by Forest Close and Arbor Close residents.”
West of Continental Avenue, developments were even fewer.
“Parker Towers was an immense lot where we used to play baseball,” said Delaney. “Where Gerard Towers stands was a wooden house where you could stay in the winter to keep warm. You also had outdoor ice skating on Austin Street and played tennis in the summer at no charge.”
Across from the 75th Avenue subway was another barren lot that extended to the Grand Central Parkway.
“We used to pitch tents and roast marshmallows in those woods,” he recalled.
Delaney reminisced about other childhood traditions.
“In the summer we all looked forward to the Good Humor man coming down Austin Street and we’d run out with our dimes,” he said. “We went roller skating down Austin Street, which you could never do today.
“Also, a truck that had a machine that sharpened knives would come around a couple times a year and parents would send their children out, but that would be dangerous today,” he added.
WWII had quite an effect on local culture. On the east side of 71st Road between Austin Street and Queens Boulevard, the community erected the “Forest Hills Honor Roll” which featured his brother, who served the Army in the European Theatre.
“It featured everyone who was in service and was broken down by branches of the armed forces,” Delaney said.
Delaney and his family were regulars at a popular meat market owned by Gus Ermish, and later his son Warren, at 26 71st Road, but the average local business was also affected by the war.
“Meat was rationed during the war,” he said. “You had to have coupons and you were limited as to how much you could get.”
Evenings were not always peaceful.
“Air raid tests were every once in a while, and if your light wasn’t off a volunteer air raid warden at 73rd Road and Austin Street would shine a flashlight into your window,” Delaney said.
Saturdays at the Forest Hills Theatre benefited the war and offered diversion for children.
“Kids would bring old pots and pans in a small red wagon for a WWII scrap drive,” Delaney said. “Then at the kiddie show for 10 cents, you could watch 10 or 15 cartoons including Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. They had two serials and then either a Disney film or a western and sometimes a scary movie such. We would be there from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and come out with red eyes.”
At Sutton Hall Pharmacy at 73-01 Austin Street, Delaney enjoyed sandwiches and milkshakes.
“It had a soda fountain and little wooden booths and tables,” he recalled. “One of the pharmacists, Mr. Dee whose real name was Drapkin, was one of the nicest men you could imagine.”
Lillian Kass Gowns at 73-07 Austin Street was a landmark apparel shop, while another couple owned Markwordt’s at 71-41 Austin Street. Another mark of a bygone era was Thomas Shoe Repair on 72nd Road.
“You could get your shoes shined and your hat blocked,” Delaney said. “Everyone wore fedoras in those days.”
One of Delaney and his brother’s most adventurous memories occurred during the 26-inch blizzard of 1947.
“There was so much snow, we took our sleds to White Rose Market [71-49 Austin Street], and when they plowed Queens Boulevard there were mountains on the islands into April.”