The Architecture and History of the Powhatan Democratic Club in Astoria

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The organization which owns this centuried structure, found at 41-05 Newtown Road amidst the trackless sands of Astoria, is a local Democratic club which boasts an influential and famous list of members and associates. It is named for Chief Powhatan (actual name Wahunsenacawh) who was the father of the famous Pocahontas.

My understanding is that Astoria City Council Member Peter Vallone is associated with the group, which makes the structure a frequent target for vandals and graffiti artists (Mr. Vallone is an outspoken critic of graffiti and has legislated heavily to increase fines and legal penalties for “writers.” In doing so, he has become a target and foil for proponents of street art. Locales that he is associated with, such as the area around his offices or this building, are frequently “bombed” with graffiti tags).

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The second story windows look like modern vinyl sashes, but everything else about this place harkens back to the early 20th century.

I’ve been told by old timers that a lot of the building stock in Astoria and Long Island City used to look like this. Information is  scarce on the group or structure in the public record, other than mentions for the usual “food drives,” “charities” and “voter registration drives,” which are political mainstays engaged in by all such organizations.

In the case of this group, however, I’ve found references to them that date back to the days of Mayor Seth Low.

According to the Queens Gazette, it’s one of the oldest political organizations in the entire country.

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Notice the neat herringbone brickwork on the cornices, and those crazy lights meant to illuminate the sign. Wish I could tell you more, or reveal some deeply hidden political secret about the place, but gossip isn’t not my bag. Go ask a politician or wannabe aspirant, they can probably hand you a list of sins and accomplishments a mile long.

According to the Department of Buildings (whose historical records on Queens are not always accurate or complete) this structure was either erected in 1909 or 1921. The latter date would make more sense given the age of surrounding building stock (which includes an amazing block of double sided Matthews Model Flats) and the arrival of the subways on nearby Broadway ca. 1922.

Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman blogs at Newtown Pentacle

3 Comment

  • The Powhatan Democratic Club was the home base for Congressman James J. Delaney who served as our Representative from January, 1949 through December, 1978 – he also resided in the neighborhood. According to a February, 1975 New York Times article the building was purchased by the Congressman’s father (himself politically involved) for $2500.00 in 1908…I may be wrong, but I believe Councilman Vallone had his roots in the Taminent Club on 23rd Avenue, Astoria.

    • Thank You Mr Harp, corrections and additions always welcome. Together, I think we can all fill in the hidden details on this amazing place we’re lucky enough to live in. – Mitch

  • My grandfather, whom I’ve never met nor have ever seen a picture of, was an early member of the Powhatan Club in Astoria, his residence town. I’m told he was an active member for years. I was hoping that the Queens Gazette would have some articles or pictures dating mid 1930s to mid 1940s so that I may perhaps find a picture of him. His name was LEANDER DANKS and he died in Astoria in April of 1948 (Waked at Quinn & Sons on Broadway in Astoria). I know it’s a slight chance, but if he was an active member of Powhatan, perhaps many an article appeared about events sponsored by its members.

    Thank for in advance for any information and your time.