Mary Sendek was a homeowner on Queens Boulevard who refused to sell her home to Macy’s when they wanted to build a store on her plot. She was the only one on the block who refused to sell. She remained in the house, next to the Macy’s that was built, until her death.
Why Didn’t She Sell?
The mystery will never really be answered. One neighbor told the New York Times she just wanted to start and end her life at the same place. (Although she actually bought the house when she was 24 years old). Newsday reported she refused to even sell her yard to Macy’s because her dog needed that area to run around in. Her son Victor said he didn’t want to discuss it further, that it was a private matter. I recently tried to reach the descendants of the family, no change, I got no answers from them as well.
Queens Boulevard of 1920’s Quite Different
The Queens Boulevard the Sendek’s moved onto in 1922 was much more rural and narrow than the street we know today. One lane each way, sparsely lined with farmhouses, stores and churches, it looks like the country. But the Queensboro Bridge had just been completed in 1909 and the road was being transformed into the main approach from Queens to Manhattan. It was being widened into the multi-lane, multi section road we know it to be today. In order to accomodate the widening, the buildings on the south (or west) side were being demolished or relocated fifty feet to the south to make way for the new wide road. Luckily, the Sendek house was on the north side and did not have to go.
Who Were The Sendeks
The story of Mrs Sendek and her refusal to sell may have made her a local hero at the time, but up until 1965 there was really nothing unusual about her and her family. Mary and her husband Joseph were Hungarian immigrants, both families having come over around 1898.The Sendeks bought the small house on Queens Boulevard in 1922 for $4,000. They had a girl followed by four boys. Husband Joseph passed away in May 1938.
The Sendek’s were members of the Old Netwown church a couple blocks up the road. Children Victor, Edward and Mary sang in the church choir and took part in pageants there. Oldest daughter Mary was the leader of local Girl Scout Troop Troop 4-375 and became a teacher at nearby PS 11 in Corona. From all we can tell they were a humble, quiet, contributing part of the community.
A New Street, A New Corner
The Sendek house was originally situated in the middle of a block of houses between Broadway and 56th Avenue, but that changed when a new road, 55th Avenue was placed right through the block. In order to build the road the three buildings to the west of the Sendek house were demolished (see the above photo). If the Sendek house had been a few more feet to the west, it might have gone too (and saved Macy’s a lot of headaches).
The Plot Thickens
Macy’s set its sights on the Elmhust plot between 55th and 56th avenues for a new store in the early 1960’s. It was large, open, and had fairly few houses on it. It was centrally located, just a couple blocks west of Woodhaven Boulevard.
But the plot had an odd shape, particularly on its east side. William Robbins of the New York Times described it as looking ‘like a ham.’ This would make it difficult to build adequate parking for the store, so chief Architect William Brown conceived of a unique store in the round that would include the parking within the building itself. It would be 426 feet in diameter, contain six parking levels, accommodate 1,500 cars, and no parking space would be more than 75 feet away from an entrance, and every space was completely covered.
Everything was ready to go until Macy’s ran into the unassuming but defiant homeowner on the corner. She refused every offer made for her land, Macy’s biggest one being at $200,000. Macy’s had no choice but to adjust its huge circular store so that it stayed out of Sendek’s air space, at a cost to them of $50.000. The Sendek plot was only 169 by 52 feet. It also cost the store its plans to put landscaped plazas on that corner, and according to planning architect Michael Keselica it had a negative effect on the way the entire building was percieved.
Mrs. Sendek stayed in her house, right next to the big Macy’s for 15 years. I always wondered if she went shopping there. Mrs. Sendek died in 1980, her children then sold the house to Diplomat Enterprises who elected to destroy it and put a strip mall in its place. Maybe they should have considered moving it and keeping it as a testament to the woman who stood on her principles over monetary gain, instead it is no more.
Changes at Round Macy’s
While the Macy’s design may have seemed fresh in 1965, the opening of a new mall, the Queens Center a few blocks away in 1973 seemed to age it very quickly. The new mall was bigger, more modern, more centrally located, and had more stores. Macy’s even moved itself over to Queens center in 1996. It’s parent company tried a Stern’s store at the location but that too closed in 2000. The original Macy’s only outlasted Mrs. Sendek by 16 years. Now the building houses a number of smaller stores, including a Macy’s furniture gallery. No word if the Sendek descendants have ever shopped there.