By Supervisor George Hoehmann
Zukor Park in New City is one of our most popular parks in the Town of Clarkstown. 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 a public preschool. 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 theatres 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 U.S. 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 the Paramount 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 and he revolutionized 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 into his eighties.
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. He paid renowned golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast to design an 18 hole course and he hired two-time PGA Championship winner Leo Diegel to be his personal coach. Several of Paramount’s stars such as Ed Wynn and Douglas Fairbanks would come to New City as weekend guests at Zukor’s estate and working as a caddy was a popular job among local boys. Zukor’s emergence in Clarkstown caused our town to become an artist colony as several well-known artist 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 industry a century ago.