In our April 5th column, a spirited debate broke out in the Massapequas about the disposition of Louisa Floyd-Jones Thorn's 44 acre estate, Little Unqua, upon her death in May 1961.
Choices ranged from a shopping center, several dozen small homes, a hospital, a school and even an apartment house development. The size of the property was extensive, the location ideal. There seemed to be no limit to the possibilities. As these ideas were percolating through the area, a remarkable woman came to the forefront of the debate and steered the property to its eventual design.
The name Marjorie Rankin Post must be included in any discussion of significant public figures in twentieth century Nassau County. Mrs. Post was born in New Jersey in 1895. Her family moved to the Massapequa area in the early twentieth century and she helped her father, who owned a general store on Broadway and was the Postmaster, deliver mail throughout the area, including to Little Unqua.
She later became Massapequa's first female Postmaster. She eventually became a member of the Town of Oyster Bay Zoning Board, the Town Historian, a Red Cross ambulance driver during World War II, and one of the founders of Krohn's Insurance, a company that exists to this day. She achieved her greatest public success in 1957, when she was elected Oyster Bay's first Councilwoman. This accomplishment put her in a unique position to influence the fate of the Thorn Estate, especially since she had become friendly with Louisa Thorn from the days when she delivered mail to her and her family.
Little Unqua was much sought after by many organizations, as noted above, and all had strong arguments backing their recommendations. They show the effects of the area's enormous population growth:
- The need for an elementary school to educate so many youngsters;
- The need for a hospital in an area becoming ever more populated;
- The need for an arts center, there being none in all of Nassau County;
- The need for a large shopping center, to eclipse the small Bar Harbour Center, which had opened in 1958.
As discussions continued, it became public knowledge that Louisa Thorn had supported the idea of a park, including a pool, on her property, which Marjorie Post had proposed to her sometime after her election as Councilwoman in 1957.
A school became the most likely alternate, but a November 1962 proposal by the School Board to buy the northern eleven acres of the property for $260,000 was voted down by the community. The vote was 1624 against, 1538 in favor. The Board did not call for a revote, clearing the way for the Town of Oyster Bay to buy the entire 42 acre parcel for a park shortly thereafter for $893,000.
As plans moved forward, the Park's design became readily apparent. Marjorie Post, at a Town of Oyster Bay hearing, indicated the Plainview-Old Bethpage Park would serve as a model and there would indeed be a swimming pool available to residents.
The Town subsequently authorized $2.5 million to tear down Little Unqua, clear and grade the land and build a park with three pools (diving, wading and children's), tennis courts, a ball field, playground and parking facilities.
Naturally, the question of who would pay came up immediately and presented an unusual situation involving Massapequa Park residents. The Thorn Estate was located in what is still today the Town of Oyster Bay's park district.
Residents pay taxes that are used for park-related purposes and these monies are segregated from other expenses. Village of Massapequa Park residents were not part of the TOBAY park district. Why then should they be allowed to use the new pool and related facilities, several Massapequa residents asked.
Even more interesting, the Village Mayor, Arthur Thompson, and other Trustees indicated initially that they were not interested in exploring use of the new facility, preferring their idea of building a recreational area in the northwest part of the Village, in the Massapequa Preserve near Walker Street.
Their vision, detailed in February 1964, included a pool, parking field, playground, basketball, tennis and handball courts, a Little League field and two regulation baseball-football fields, covering 25 acres and costing between $500,000 and $750,000. Original estimates called for completion in two years.
The Village's Trustees became less enthusiastic about their proposal as the Thorn Estate facility progressed and as the Town of Oyster Bay, with Marjorie Post in the lead, invited them to discuss a fee structure that would enable Massapequa Park residents equal access to a facility that would open far sooner than theirs.
The eventual solution was to charge a higher fee to Village residents than Town residents would pay, to make up for the absence of revenue from non-park district homeowners. That solution continues today, as the 2011 fee for ToBay park district families is $175, while Village residents pay $210.
There are several happy endings to this story. The Village of Massapequa Park scaled down its park proposal and eventually created several fields used for soccer, baseball and football in what is now .
The pools and other features on the former Thorn Estate were completed in 1965, with access to all Town of Oyster Bay residents. Most appropriately, the Town voted to name the complex over the objections of Mrs. Post, who had declined to run for office in 1965. She finally agreed, after prodding from family members and friends, and her name has graced the facility she loved dearly for the past 46 years.