By the end of the First World War, Hempstead village (“The Hub”) had developed its own suburbs, branching out into what real estate developers and the business community promoted as East Hempstead, South Hempstead and West Hempstead. There were fiscal advantages to the village to expand, if the annexed areas didn’t need too many expensive services. In the early 1930s, the village boundaries were shifted south and east, deep into School District No. 2. West Hempstead didn’t make the cut. As town politicians manipulated laws to discourage or thwart new village incorporations, housing colonies grew together, thrown in together without a plan.
Today, Uniondale’s population density of over 9,100 per square mile places it among the most urbanized unincorporated places in New York. Less than a century ago, it was a place of prize horse farms and landed estates, dotted with private racetracks. East Hempstead-Uniondale’s most prominent feature was the large windmill, with 80-foot blades, on Oliver Belmont’s 300-acre estate off Front Street, but streets and model homes were being laid out on the old farm in late 1938.
The “East Hub” went through a little identity crisis. By the start of the Second World War, there was in general a split between old-timers who preferred “Uniondale” and newer residents who preferred “East Hempstead.” Really, it was a matter of personal preference.
“Many persons, of course, hold that the name East Hempstead is more dignified” stated a local paper in 1940. “East Hempstead” had actually bled over the brook into today’s East Meadow. The Hempstead post office served the entire area. Since employees delivered letters based on their intimate knowledge of local streets, they didn’t care if the envelope said Hempstead, East Hempstead, Uniondale or East Meadow.
In the 1940s, the East Hempstead Democratic Club and the Uniondale Republican Club represented the same neighborhoods, but the local war bond committee wanted to be inclusive and used “Uniondale-East Hempstead.”
Many of our school districts took their names from the location of the original little schoolhouse, often some crossroad or gathering spot with a nickname that has no meaning to us today. For a century, Hempstead’s Common School No. 2 stood where Uniondale Avenue meets Cedar Street. “Union Dale” dates back two centuries, and outlasted Taylortown and Turtle Hook as names for the vicinity because the school was there.
In July 1951, a month after Uniondale got its own Kiwanis Club, it got a permanent postal facility when the Hempstead Post Office opened a branch a block from that corner. To facilitate sorting, residents were asked to switch from “Hempstead” to “Uniondale” in their addresses.
Uniondale was pulling away from its identity as an extension of Hempstead.
In 1953, with Hempstead jacking up high school tuition fees for out-of-district students, District No. 2 passed the biggest bond in local history to construct Uniondale Junior-Senior High School. In many Long Island districts, the unincorporated areas became the tail that wagged the village dog, and the construction and naming of secondary schools, true community monuments, settled a lot of naming issues. East Hempstead gave way to Uniondale.
In 1972, the Postal Service split the Mitchel Field area between the Uniondale and Garden City zip codes. The association of Nassau Coliseum with “Uniondale” has meant a lot to the community. There have been several pushes to claim all of Mitchel Field, including a serious drive to incorporate a village in 1970 and a two-year campaign of protests and petitions starting in 1981 (the Nassau Community College Board of Trustees actually voted to support a change to “Uniondale”).
When county legislators recently voted on new provisions in the coliseum redevelopment project, they didn’t back up Uniondale civic groups seeking the kind of consideration the same developer gave to Brooklyn neighborhoods in the Atlantic Yards deal. Uniondale, once the most politically-wired community in this county, has lost its juice with both parties.
It was never envisioned that communities of these sizes and densities would remain unincorporated in a 17th-century system of frontier township governance. They are neither masters of their future nor part of some larger, unified regional vision. That’s the larger problem.
Michael Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has worked in state and local government. He lives in New Hyde Park.