Remembering Howard Johnson's, a Rego Park cornerstone
by Michael Perlman
Feb 18, 2021 | 5116 views | 0 0 comments | 164 164 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Howard Johnson's in 1940.
Howard Johnson's in 1940.
Carol Kryston in a carriage at HoJo's in 1947.
Carol Kryston in a carriage at HoJo's in 1947.
Dorothy & her daughter Joan at Howard Johnson’s circa 1970.
Dorothy & her daughter Joan at Howard Johnson’s circa 1970.
A children's menu.
A children's menu.
In 1939, a plot of land at 95-25 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park was purchased that would become home to Howard Johnson’s, a restaurant that could seat 1,000 patrons and was nicknamed “The largest roadside restaurant in the U.S.”

It was in close proximity to numerous new apartment buildings and within walking distance to the 1939 World’s Fair.

After opening in 1940, the restaurant was awarded a bronze plaque by the Queens Chamber of Commerce for excellence in design and construction. The distinctive façade featured sculptures, ornamental cast stone, and was topped off with a cupola.

A freestanding Art Deco sign boasted 28 ice cream flavors such as chocolate chip and burgundy cherry, as well as a grill and cocktail lounge. Weddings were held in the Colonial Room and Empire Room.

Regal appointments included crystal chandeliers, a winding grand staircase, and murals by the famed artist Andre Durenceau.

Esteemed seafood chef Pierre Franey was influential for adapting and creating foods for the chain’s commissary system and expanding American culinary experiences. French-born chef and television personality Jacques Pépin also worked there.

“The three dining rooms are so restful and so attractive, that at first we miss some of the details which go to make their perfection,” read an excerpt from “Freezer To Fortune: The Amazing Story of Howard Johnson.” “The thick soft carpets, the glittering chandeliers, the blue green Venetian blinds, the maroon leather upholstery, the restrained use of color in walls and draperies, and the charm of a light-fountain playing in the Empire Room.”

Without landmark protection and the public’s changing taste for fast food, the building was torn down in 1974. Today, a black glass office building stands in its place, but the memories remain.

Forest Hills resident Regina Judith Faighes was eight when it was demolished.

“I still remember how sad my parents and I were,” she said. “My mom complained and received a letter stating that there would be a Howard Johnson’s in the office tower, but there never was.”

Paul Stipkovich was in elementary school and witnessed its demolition.

“Anytime my sister and I would see an orange roof, we would beg my father to pull in for a lollipop,” he said. “They had a lollipop stand near the cash register, but these weren’t just any lollipops, but milk chocolate with a white chocolate face with images of animals.”

Some patrons recalled historic events at the restaurant, such as a performance by “First Lady of Radio” Kate Smith, famous for her rendition of “God Bless America.” Conrad Kupferman remembers John F. Kennedy campaigning in the parking lot.

Current Florida resident Carolyn Kryston was raised on Saunders Street. Her favorites were the turkey dinner and the hot dog platter with French fries and coleslaw, and she couldn’t resist the ice cream sodas.

“I grew up at this restaurant,” she said. “My family would have dinner there on a special occasion. There was a bar in the center of the dining room, where dad would always have a Manhattan.”

In February 1947, Sari Pavell Masin’s older sister’s Sweet Sixteen party was held in an upstairs ballroom.

“It was a formal affair with about 150 people,” she said. “It felt like a wedding.”

HoJo’s was a regular date place for Ohio resident Peggy Hummel Brochu and her future husband.

“We met in 1971. He always picked me up, and often times we would see a movie at the Elmwood Theatre or walk around Alexander’s and stop into Howard Johnson’s for coffee and dessert.”

It was also a tradition for Terry Randazzo and her mother Dorothy Randazzo to visit HoJo’s after shopping at Alexander’s. he remembers the children’s menu with names such as the Jack Horner Lunch, which consisted of peanut butter and jelly, gelatin in lettuce cup garnish, ice cream or sherbet, and a beverage.

“The Rego Park branch was something nice and affordable,” she said. “I remember thinking how exotic the New England style top-split hot dog roll was, and that they served potato chips with the tuna sandwich.”

After dinner, Janet Sonnenfeld Morreale looked forward to a chocolate lollipop, especially one design featuring a sailboat.

“Other times, my grandmother would take me, and we would sit at the counter, where I would get the flame-broiled burger that you could see them cook on the little grill,” she said.

A Sunday dinner at HoJo’s was a tradition for Carmel Nayman in the 1960s.

“My dad loved the cart on wheels with all these appetizers and the nice waitress,” she said. “We all loved the fried clams.”

Los Angeles resident Rebecca Chernack graduated from Forest Hills High School.

“Some high school friends and I said we would meet here in 1980, but alas it was gone,” she said.
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