Elizabeth Allen, a guardian of Great Neck’s charm, dies at 76

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Elizabeth Allen was often an outspoken presence at the Village of Great Neck's board meetings. (Video still from the Village of Great Neck Facebook page)
Elizabeth Allen was often an outspoken presence at the Village of Great Neck's board meetings. (Video still from the Village of Great Neck Facebook page)

For more than two decades, longtime Great Neck resident Elizabeth Allen made her voice heard in a fight to protect her village’s charm.

Just ask David Zielenziger, whose first memory of Allen was her fighting a possible high-rise nearly 20 years ago, or longtime resident Jean Pierce, who first encountered Allen when they battled home developments on Helen Lane about 25 years ago.

Even Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, who hails from Great Neck, knows of Allen’s fights.

“Elizabeth Allen was a fierce advocate for the Great Neck community,” Bosworth said on Monday. “Throughout her life she fought for what she believed was in the best interest of all residents. She was tenacious and committed to doing what she could to help others.”

Allen, a community organizer, activist, attorney and longtime resident of Great Neck, died at North Shore University Hospital on Saturday. She was 76.

Hospital representatives said they could not comment on the cause of death.

Allen was a frequent presence in the Great Neck News and board meetings of all kinds over the years, pushing against what she saw as a steady “drip, drip, drip” of overdevelopment with projects like the Millbrook Court and AvalonBay threatening Great Neck’s suburban charm.

“We’re losing that in favor of what may benefit financially, usually, the owner of a single plot,” Allen said at a Board of Trustees meeting last year. “And I think the community has lost, over the years, an insistence that the general good of the community be held to a higher regard than what may affect a single property owner.”

Zielenziger said Allen had been upset over apartment high-rises, trees being cut down, and people who didn’t care about the environment.

She would also help organize litter cleanups for the park district when she was in better health, he said, and make appearances at village, library, park and school board meetings whenever something worried her.

“She was all over the place,” Zielenziger said. “She was very active in things that concerned her.”

Dennis Grossman, the chair of the Village of Great Neck Board of Zoning Appeals, said Allen frequently attended the board’s meetings over the years.

He said he couldn’t comment on whether there was a “thread” to her various arguments, as each project reviewed was very different, but described her as consistent in her approach.

“She always had a very strong presence and I think she was a very intelligent attorney,” Grossman said.

Allen was also a key force in getting Great Neck Mayor Richard Deem elected in 2003 and a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Village of Kings Point, which initially struck down the village’s attempt to use 5.4 acres of Kings Point Park to create a public works facility.

Pierce said Allen knew “every trail” in the woods of Kings Point Park and would be “very angry” with “the thought of anybody doing anything wrong there.”

Allen also frequently went to Steppingstone Park with her to either watch the sunset or choppy waves in storms, Pierce recalled, and served on the Great Neck Park District’s open space committee that has worked on renovating Ravine Park.

Additionally, Pierce said, Allen “loved her gardens”  and trees, and always made sure to feed the birds every day “no matter what.”

“The park district could never cut down a tree unless she knew about it,” Pierce joked.

Frederick Shaw, a Great Neck resident, said he only knew Allen “peripherally” from her civic work but that she struck him as an environmentalist and someone “very dedicated to small town community and suburban life.”

“My takeaway was that she was fiercely opposed to anything that would kind of ruin the fabric of suburban and Great Neck life as we old-timers remember it,” Shaw said.

Shaw added that Allen was “not opposed to progress and development” so long as it was moderated and “done for the good of the whole.”

Allen was born on Aug. 13, 1942, in New York City and grew up in Great Neck, Pierce said. Allen went on to be an entertainment lawyer for companies like CBS, she said, until getting into a serious accident.

After that Allen moved back into her parents’ home on Steamboat Road, where she has been since, Pierce said.

According to public records, Allen has resided in the same home since 1984.

Pierce and representatives at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, where Allen’s parents are both buried, said funeral and burial services are still being arranged. No dates have been set.

1 COMMENT

  1. She is survived by her elder sister, Patricia Allen Dreyfus, and her niece, Nicole Dreyfus, 42, a teacher who currently resides in Virginia. Although Elizabeth chose to estrange herself from her sister and niece over twenty years ago, refusing any attempts at reconciliation, both sister and niece will remember her for her brilliant mind, sense of humor, her mastery of the law; as well as her love of sailing, the beaches of the North Shore of Long Island, animals, mystery novels, humor, Great Neck, travel, and walking with her dog, Bailey.

    But above all, she will be remembered for her tenacity and ferocity. Even though her determination to win and always have the last word hurt her family deeply, and cut them out of her life; it was also part of what made her the fighter, the warrior, the astrological “triple Leo,” and the deeply passionate individual that she was. When she was told after a car accident that she would NEVER walk again, she was walking miles daily within months just to prove them wrong. And when faced with a cause worth fighting, she NEVER tired of fighting the good fight.

    We hope that her legacy to animals, her friends, and the Great Neck community will live on; inspiring others to be agents of justice and change.

    Today, her sister and niece, said goodbye to the house on Steamboat Road that they, too, loved dearly and spent much time in. And we said goodbye to her presence in that beloved house. And even though I’m pretty certain her powerful spirit is what caused a large, full bookshelf to collapse upon me–TWICE–without any provocation–I had to laugh and just shake my head. That’s SO Elizabeth. I love you, Elizabeth–and always have–anyway. That was one battle you didn’t win.

    Love and peace at last for you,

    Nicole

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