BY TRONE DOWD
Elected officials and Jamaica Estates residents gathered in front of the long abandoned Holliswood Hospital building Friday morning to condemn hate speech that a vandal had marked on the walls of the defunct facility.
Anti-Semitic imagery was etched into the already shattered windows of Holliswood, while racial slurs were spray painted on the walls inside the building. The vandals were believed to have defaced the building at some point between June 16 and Father’s Day, according to Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), who lives just a few houses down from the site.
Weprin added that his daughter was the first person to notice the offensive markings during a family visit. Upon further investigation, Weprin discovered the other tags. Upon leaving the property, Weprin said that he noticed a red Toyota Camry idling outside. When he approached the vehicle, the car pulled off.
“It was a young woman driver,” Weprin said. “Looked like she was in her late teens, early twenties. I immediately called the 107th. Commanding Officer Scott Henry sent over a squad car immediately.”
The assemblyman jotted down the license plate number and gave it to authorities. Police have tracked down the owner of the Toyota and are interviewing her to determine if there is any connection to the incident, which Weprin said is being viewed as a hate crime.
“Our main message today is that we will not tolerate any kind of hate speech or graffiti in our neighborhood or in any neighborhood,” Weprin said. “We want to come together as people in good faith to condemn these type of hateful acts. This is not just vandalism or teenagers performing mischief. This is hate speech, which is very hurtful and has dire consequence.”
The old Holliswood Hospital has been a site that has attracted a slew of negative attention since it was left vacant two years ago. In 2016, it was sold to a developer named Steve Cheung, who is said to be building single family homes at the site. But much to the chagrin of many of homeowners, Cheung has not been able to secure the property and ensure the safety of those living nearby. Linda Valentino, the president of the Holliswood Civic Association, said that Cheung’s failure to do so has hurt residents.
“For several years, Mr. Cheung has owned this property and we have gone to him over and over asking for security patrol, a fence anything,” Valentino said. “He has done nothing and—as you can see—it is in deplorable condition. It’s just screaming for this kind of horrible thing to happen.”
The property has repeatedly become an easy target for squatters, vandals and troublemakers. In December 2016, the Queens Tribune reported that the site received two “unsafe building” violations, due to several unsealed openings that allowed entry to intruders.
“The despicable actions of the vandals who defaced the Holliswood Hospital site neither represent nor have a place in our community,” said state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) at Friday’s press conference. “Queens is not a place of division. Queens is a bastion of harmonious diversity—and that’s what makes us great.”
Comrie said that he’d like to see cameras and other security measures set up near Holliswood to ensure that potential future offenders could be brought to justice more swiftly.
“We have a message for these people, whoever they may be,” Councilman Barry Grodenchik said (D-Oakland Gardens). “You better cut it out or the men and women of the 107th Precinct are going to cut you out of our community. They will take you to jail, where you deserve to be.”
Martha Taylor, chairwoman of Community Board 8 and a Jamaica Estates resident, said that she wouldn’t stand to see heinous acts in her neighborhood.
“I’m sick of this,” she said. “I am shocked and disturbed that this could happen in this neighborhood.
Following the discovery of the graffiti, officers from the 107th Precinct are patrolling the area to ensure that vandals do not strike again.
“Queens in general and Holliswood in particular are known for its diversity,” Rabbi Moshe Taub, of Young Israel of Holliswood, said. “On the weekends, one finds in Holliswood Sikhs, Muslims and Jews—the three main demographics of Holliswood—walking with their families. This act was a stain on this beautiful and diverse community. This is not to mention the survivors of the Holocaust who already have their arms painted by the Nazis and who now must also have to witness a sign painted on the walls of their neighborhood that brings them back to years of torture. Sad and infuriating.”