Joe Holzka Community Garden
A lifelong resident of Staten Island, Joseph Johnson Holzka (1927-1993) is remembered for his many contributions to the improvement of his birthplace. His work on the Staten Island Greenbelt and other public spaces such as Snug Harbor helped to create a living legacy of his commitment to municipal improvement.
Holzka was born on November 1, 1927 in Port Richmond to Evelyn Johnson and Joe Holzka, a native Islander and former president of Northfield Savings & Loan. He grew up on Palmer Avenue with his younger sister Barbara. After completing elementary school at P.S. 30, Holzka attended Port Richmond High School, graduating early at the age of 16. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1945 after a year at Dartmouth College. Upon completion of his term of service, Holzka enrolled at New York University, were he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1950, and a law degree two years later.
On November 22, 1951, Holzka married Sarah Ann Farlow (1928-1977) of Grafton, West Virginia. Farlow was actively involved in fundraising for the Goodhue Center, where she served on the board. The center (a child welfare organization) named their gym in Farlow’s honor. She died on April 22, 1977, and Holzka married Nancy Hutchinson in 1978.
Holzka was a prominent figure in social and political spheres. Admitted to the New York State Bar Association in 1953, he spent 38 years working as a lawyer, specializing in banking and real estate. He was a senior partner at the law firm of Holzka, Donahue & Kuhn, which later became Holzka, Donahue & Nerlino. A dedicated Democrat, Holzka ran for State Senate in 1964, but lost by a narrow margin to Republican State Senator John J. Marchi. Holzka served on many advisory committees, and worked as treasurer for Bill Passannante (1920-1996) during Passannante’s term as State Assemblyman for Greenwich Village. Professional affiliations also occupied Holzka’s time. In addition to founding Gateway Bancorp, Inc, he was a member of the Richmond County Bar Association, and chairman of the New York State Bankers Association.
Former Mayors John V. Lindsay (1921-2001) and Abraham Beame (1906-2001) appointed Holzka to various board positions. He worked to preserve Snug Harbor, served on the Council Against Poverty, and made numerous contributions toward the creation of the Staten Island Greenbelt. He served on the Committee for the Greenbelt, the 1983 Greenbelt Task Force, and the committee that established the Greenbelt Conservancy in 1989. In 1992, he received the Business Leadership Award from the Richmond Democratic County Committee and the Geeenbelt Conservancy Award. Holzka died of cancer April 8, 1993 at the age of 65.
The Joe Holzka Community Garden is located on the corner of Castleton Avenue and Baker Street. The site of a 1930s bowling alley, the property later became a catering hall called the Plaza Casino. When a fire destroyed the Plaza Casino, the property was left vacant. It remained empty and abandoned until the early 1990s, when the Neighborhood Housing Service (NHS) began to take an interest in the lot, which lies across the street from their borough office. NHS is a non-profit organization providing a variety of aid to homeowners, toward a goal of revitalizing declining neighborhoods. In this spirit, NHS leased the site through GreenThumb, a Parks Department initiative that facilitates the transformation of vacant city lots into community gardens, at a cost of one dollar a year for use of the property.
Work on the garden began in the spring of 1994. Support came from many sources, including former Assembly Member Elizabeth Connelly, who gave the garden an annual grant of $5,000 from its founding until her retirement. In 1999, the property was assigned to Parks by the City. Like many other recently transferred gardens, the Holzka Community Garden continues to be maintained by its members and volunteers.
The garden is divided into plots which can be leased free of charge by local residents. Chrysanthemums, marigolds, and impatiens add their color to the profusion of fruits and vegetables. Recent additions include a gazebo and a shed, built by garden members. A mural, flag, and seasonal decorations add color year-round.