Hoehmtown Happenings: I Am Ready for My Close Up Mr. Zukor

Zukor Park in New City is one of our most popular parks.  The baseball fields are home of the New City Little League, parents take their children to play on our state-of-the-art playground and the basketball courts are always packed with residents playing pick-up games.  The old Street School facility houses the offices of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department in addition to hosting senior clubs, fitness classes and a host of other meetings and programs.  In many ways, Zukor Park is the center of recreation for the Town of Clarkstown, but little is known as to how the park got its name.
Movie mogul Adolph Zukor is perhaps the most famous person to ever call Clarkstown home.  Born in Austria-Hungary, Zukor came to New York in 1891 and started a successful fur business.  He first got into the movie business in 1903, when he invested in theaters in cities across the northeast. They became very successful as silent films were able to transcend the language barrier of the thousands of immigrants flocking to the United States every year.  In 1912, Zukor started the Famous Players Film Company and the first movie the company released was the French film Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth.  The 40 minute long film proved to many in the film industry that a feature length film can be commercially successful.  The first film Zukor produced was The Count of Monte Cristo in 1913.  Later that decade, Zukor launched theParamount Pictures Corporation to distribute the films he and other smaller studios were producing.

Under his leadership, Paramount Pictures became one of the biggest film studios in the Golden Age of Hollywood over the next two decades, and today is still one of the “Big Six” movie studios.  Adolph Zukor was a pioneer in the movie business, as many practices that are
now considered normal were developed by him.  He recognized the potential star power of actors and signed many stars of the silent film era to lucrative contracts while revolutionizing the industry by organizing production, distribution and exhibition under one company.  Zukor produced films until the Great Depression when his role was repositioned to a more behind the scenes financial advisor, a role he served well into his eighties. Zukor died in Hollywood in 1976 at the age of 103 and is buried at Temple Israel Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson.
While many famous film producers of the time were infamous for being ostentatious, Zukor was a quiet and serious man who enjoyed playing cards and golfing.  It was for that reason that Zukor came to Clarkstown in 1918, when he bought 300 acres of land in rural New City
from Lawrence Abraham the heir to the A&S shopping store. Zukor purchased an additional 500 acres and paid renowned golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast who designed an 18-hole course.
Next, he hired two-time PGA Championship winner and World Golf Hall of Famer Leo Diegel to be his personal coach and had many notable golfers and celebrities as guests.  Several of Paramount’s stars at the time, such as Ed Wynn, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino and Olympic Gold Medalist turned actor Johnny Weismuller would come to New City as weekend guests at Zukor’s estate. Weismuller, who won five Olympic Gold Medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics and was the first to play Tarzan in 1932 visited and swam in the pool at the estate. Working as a caddy was said to be a much sought after and popular job among local boys.  The nearby New City airfield also developed in part because of Zukor and the many notables coming to the estate. Zukor’s emergence in Clarkstown caused our town to become an artist colony as several well-known artists like playwright Maxwell Anderson and Oscar-winner  John Houseman, took up residence along South Mountain Road in New City.

When the depression caused the film industry to suffer, Zukor was unable to maintain the lavish estate as a private household and opened up the course to private membership until he sold the land in 1948.  Today the land makes up Kennedy-Dells Park, the aptly named Paramount Country Club and, of course, Zukor Park. The next time you take a walk at Zukor Park, think about the extraordinary man who once owned that land, and the next time you see a summer blockbuster, think about how Clarkstown contributed to the rise of the multibillion dollar movie industry a century ago.

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