He plays guitar and sings for Chicken Head Rocks, a Queens-based free-range rock and blues band. But DiBenedetto played an even bigger role that night at the event: he was the host.
DiBenedetto is the president of the Bayside Historical Society, which organizes the annual celebration. The group provides education courses and lectures, cultural programming, and perhaps mostly importantly, works to preserve the neighborhood’s history.
“My wife and I moved here in 1995. We used to walk all around and we loved the housing stock,” he said. “But we noticed from 1995 to 1999, when we bought our house, that the houses were getting knocked down. McMansions, these unsightly homes, were being built in their place.
“I became an activist because I wanted to curb that overdevelopment,” he added.
In 2005, after DiBenedetto joined the community board, he worked with elected officials and community groups to downzone the area to protect the homes.
“I’m just sensitive to old structures. These were built at a time when they were built by hand,” he said. “A lot of that stuff cannot be replicated today. I hate seeing it go if it doesn’t have to.”
Since he became president of the historical society, two buildings in Bayside have been landmarked, an achievement DiBenedetto doesn’t take lightly. Still, he said, short of landmarking, there’s “no way to mandate what goes on.”
“The best we can do is to tell people about the history of Bayside and hopefully encourage them to take that old house and maybe fix it up,” DiBenedetto said. “They’re beautiful homes, why get rid of them?”