"[A] handsome book. . . . Maps and photographs, historical and contemporary, illustrate a lively introduction to the people and cultures of Queens's 99 neighborhoods."—New York Times Book Review (paperback row)
A grand tour of the neighborhoods of Queens in all their richness and diversity This up-to-date, intimate portrait of the 99 neighborhoods of Queens is a wonderful tribute to the borough’s past history and present diversity. Detailing the history, people, and cultural activities of each neighborhood, the book is generously illustrated with more than 200 photographs, both contemporary and historical, and over 50 new maps that chart the precise neighborhood boundaries.
With two airports (La Guardia and JFK), Shea Stadium, and Aqueduct Racetrack, Queens is a destination for millions of travelers and visitors each year. But those who live in the borough’s neighborhoods know that it offers much more: parks, bridges, colleges and universities, museums, shops, restaurants, and other institutions and sites that testify to its more than 350-year history. From Astoria to Woodside, with points in between, Queens, the most diverse county in the country, offers a cornucopia of cultures, sights, tastes, and sounds.
With input from residents, historians, demographers, politicians, borough officials, shopkeepers, and many others, The Neighborhoods of Queens captures the unique character of each neighborhood. The book features practical tips (subway and bus routes, libraries, fire departments, hospitals), quirky and unusual neighborhood facts, and information on famous residents. For anyone who lives in Queens, visits its neighborhoods, or remembers it from earlier times, this book is an unsurpassed treasure.
Read an Excerpt
THE NEIGHBORHOODS OF Queens
By Claudia Gryvatz Copquin
Yale University Press
Copyright © 2007 Citizens Committee for New York City
All right reserved.
The gorgeous, regal sound of a just-finished Steinway piano. The dreamy smells of a shisha (water pipe) café wafting onto the street. The hubbub of a bustling shopping district, with friends chatting in many languages. In Astoria, multilingual residents and unique cultural elements come together in a wonderfully diverse neighborhood.
Astoria was perhaps destined to become trendy. With its affordable rent, cosmopolitan flavor, and close proximity to Manhattan-via the Triborough Bridge; the N, R, and V trains; and the Q101 bus-Astoria is now a highly desirable home for commuters with downtown jobs.
Astoria is a welcoming place to come home to, but it's also an exciting place to live. History buffs will enjoy discovering one of the oldest parts of the neighborhood, Hallets Cove, named for a family who settled in this northern waterfront section in the 1600s. Before the Civil War, wealthy merchant Stephen A. Halsey purchased real estate there and with associates began laying out lots. In 1839 he had the area chartered by the state as the incorporated village of Astoria, after millionaire John Jacob Astor, Halsey's acquaintance, who had made a minor financial contribution to a local girls' seminary. Astoria remained a distinctive village until 1898, when it officially became part of New York City.
Successive and overlapping migrations of people into the area have led to a wide array of international offerings for visitors and residents alike: delis, grocery stores, cafés, and restaurants throughout the neighborhood offer foods and other goods from Greece, Italy, Brazil, Ecuador, Thailand, Mexico, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Pakistan, Israel, Argentina, Ireland, and Romania. Steinway Street, which cuts across Astoria in a northerly direction, is a shoppers' paradise, with more than 300 stores in a small, walkable area. The street, dubbed the "World's Largest Department Store," features familiar chain stores as well as independent, one-of-a-kind shops. Several blocks on Steinway are unofficially known as Little Middle East, with Arabic signs for cafés, bookstores, delis, barbershops, and other stores.
Two other hotspots for those hoping to discover an eclectic mix of stores and foods are 30th Avenue and Broadway, which run parallel in an east-west direction. Ditmars Boulevard, situated farther north, is quieter but offers its own sampling of international shopping and cuisine. Theater lovers can indulge their passion at the Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) on 33rd Street, a not-for-profit organization presenting original and classic theatrical works.
The Greater Astoria Historical Society holds walking tours of Old Astoria, where restored pre-Civil War mansions, charming cottages, old churches, and colonial family cemeteries dot the streets as testaments to the past. Farther north is an area some residents refer to as Ditmars, the core of Greek Astoria. New York City has the largest Greek population outside of Athens, and those Greeks who don't live in Astoria flock to the neighborhood for the culture, most evident in Ditmars. Greek may be heard as often as English along Ditmars Boulevard, and Greek banks, newspapers, radio and television stations, restaurants, and Orthodox churches contribute to this area's special flavor. Even the MetroCard vending machines in some stations have instructions in Greek.
Ditmars was named after Abram Ditmars, who became the first mayor of Long Island City in 1870, and it is home to the 66-acre Astoria Park, with a solar-heated bathhouse and a pool in which the Olympic swimming trials were held in 1936. Founded in 1913 (and expanded twice) in a prescient effort to save some of the East River shoreline for the public, Astoria Park offers breathtaking views of the Triborough Bridge and the Manhattan skyline. Ditmars also boasts the last surviving outdoor beer garden in New York City: Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden on 24th Avenue. Construction of the landmark began in 1910, funded by the Bohemian Citizens' Benevolent Society, a Czech-Slovak organization formed in 1892.
Nestled within Ditmars is a small but distinct area known as Steinway. The German Steinway family, famous for its piano manufacturing company Steinway & Sons, developed this part of Astoria beginning in 1877. They built a company town, consisting of a factory complex, homes for employees, a post office, a library, and other amenities-and along the waterfront, an enclosed dock and basin for keeping wet the logs that were needed to make their famous pianos. Today the company employs more than 500 people within its 11-acre site, and remnants of the original Steinway Village can be found throughout the area. One intact example is the Steinway Reformed Church on 41st Street and Ditmars Boulevard. On 20th Avenue and 41st Street is a group of two-story neo-Greco- and Italianate-style brick houses, built before 1880 for company employees. The Steinway family mansion, still standing today, was built in 1856 to resemble an Italian villa. Also in Steinway is the Lawrence Cemetery, a New York City landmark on 20th Road and 35th Street, which has ninety-one monuments, some dating as far back as 1751.
On the outskirts of Astoria, at 34-12 36th Street, is Kaufman Astoria Studios, built in 1920 to serve the new film industry. This 14-acre complex of sound stages and production offices is today headquarters for Lifetime Television and WFAN Radio. The Museum of the Moving Image, which screens films and other works from its collection of film, television, and other moving image-related artifacts as well as offering educational and interpretive programs, is situated nearby. But for an authentic cultural treat, there's nothing like street theater. People-watching is a wonderful source of entertainment while sipping a cup of coffee at Omonia Café on Broadway or any other local café or bakery-there are plenty to choose from in this lively neighborhood.
An important geographic feature of the area is Hell Gate, the narrow strait between Astoria and Ward's Island connecting the East River and the Long Island Sound. For years the waterway (whose name means "beautiful strait" in Dutch) was extremely hazardous for navigation, because of its powerful tides and rocky outcroppings. Before 1876, when the Army Corps of Engineers began blasting most of the dangerous underwater rocks, hundreds of ships sank there, among them the British frigate Hussar, which was said to have carried a freight of gold and silver. The strait is also the site of the worst single disaster in New York City's history before September 11, 2001, and one of the worst maritime disasters ever. On June 15, 1904, the steamer General Slocum caught fire, and at least 1,021 passengers of the 1,300 aboard, many of them women and children and most of them members of St. Mark's German Lutheran Church, burned to death on the ship or drowned in the turbulent waters of the East River before the ship ran aground on North Brother Island.
The treacherous strait is spanned by two major bridges: the motor-vehicle Triborough (see the Bridges photo spread) and the Hell Gate, a railroad bridge. The Hell Gate was designed by Gustav Lindenthal, who also designed New York City's Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Queensboro Bridges. Chief engineer for the project was Othmar Ammann, the designer of six major New York City bridges, including the Triborough, the George Washington, and the Verrazano-Narrows. When it opened in 1917, the Hell Gate was the longest steel-arch bridge in the world, with an arch of 1,017 feet-a title it lost in 1931 to Ammann's Bayonne Bridge, linking Staten Island and New Jersey.
Since the twenty-eight-gun British navy frigate HMS Hussar sank in Hell Gate on November 23, 1780, it has been a source of interest to residents, historians, and perhaps especially treasure hunters because it was rumored to have hundreds of thousands of pounds of gold and silver aboard. (The ship may have been carrying the payroll for British soldiers fighting in the colonies, along with perhaps extra plunder from American and French ships in the area.) But the location of the ship and whether there is indeed treasure aboard are a source of continued debate. In his day, Thomas Jefferson made an attempt to find the vessel, but came up empty-handed; others too have tried and failed. One man, actor and diver Joe Governali, has recently stumbled upon documents that he thinks identify the ship's location, and his dives have unearthed ballast and an earthenware pitcher from the period. But are these relics truly from the Hussar? And could the treasure have survived the canal-opening efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1876, when it "blew the worst features of Hell Gate straight back to hell" with 56,000 pounds of dynamite? One thing is sure: the mystery of the shipwreck and the potential treasure it holds will continue to captivate those interested in Astoria's historic waterway.
Bayside and Bay Terrace
Residents of Bayside and Bay Terrace enjoy the upscale neighborhoods' excellent schools and prime waterfront on Little and Little Neck Bays. But they are also justly proud of their history of preserving and enhancing their neighborhoods' open spaces, even when challenged. The result: uniquely beautiful parks and a historic fort that enchant residents and visitors alike.
Bayside was settled in the late seventeenth century by the English, who displaced the Matinecoc Indians. In 1644 rights to the area were given by Charles I to William Lawrence, and the prominent Lawrence family retained a large portion of Bayside until after the Civil War. Around that time, in 1866, the Flushing and North Shore Rail Road arrived, and a building boom began.
Some of the most colorful history of the neighborhood is told through its magnificent parks. Overlooking the bay in the heart of Bayside are the John Golden and Crocheron Parks, located next to each other between 32nd Avenue and Corbett Road and offering athletic fields, picnic grounds, playground equipment, and hiking trails. John Golden was a Broadway producer and one of the founders of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). After he and his wife moved into a 20-acre estate in 1920, they opened their grounds to community residents, who often held Little League baseball games there. Golfers, too, could frequently be seen practicing their swings. When Golden died in 1955, he left his estate to the city so that it could become a neighborhood recreational area.
Crocheron Park is named after the Crocheron Hotel, which was reportedly a popular hangout for the likes of Boss Tweed, who reigned over city politics from 1866 to 1871. Tweed and his Tammany Hall crew held picnics on the grounds of the hotel, and it's possible that Tweed hid there after he escaped from prison in 1875, before fleeing to Cuba. Twenty years after the hotel burned down in 1907, the city of New York purchased the property and by 1936 had converted it into a park.
Just south of Crocheron Park is Corbett Road, named for the heavyweight boxing champion James J. "Gentleman Jim" Corbett, who held the title from 1892 to 1897. After retiring from the sport, Corbett became an actor, and the road named after him became known to many as Actor's Row because movie stars like W. C. Fields and Gloria Swanson made their homes here, commuting to Astoria Studios (now Kaufman Astoria Studios), where they worked. Other famous people who called Bayside home include Buster Keaton, John Barrymore, Irving Berlin, Norma Talmadge, and Rudolph Valentino.
Among the prominent names associated with Bayside's development are John Rodman, a Quaker who settled there during the American Revolution, and Thomas Hicks, a Flushing resident who owned a 246-acre Bayside farm, "The Oaks," that spread from what is now 46th Avenue to today's Long Island Expressway. The farm was purchased by Abraham Bell in 1824. Bell Boulevard, which crosses all of Bayside in a north-south direction, was named after this shipping merchant, who erected a mansion (razed for development in 1971) on Bell Boulevard and 39th Avenue.
Hicks's farmland later belonged to John H. Taylor, one of the founders of the 110-acre Oakland Golf Club in 1896; other land was developed during the late nineteenth century and, especially, following World War II, when single-family housing and apartment complexes went up. In the early 1960s the city purchased the Golf Club, and the land is now the site of a housing development, Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, P.S. 203, and Queensborough Community College. (The college's art gallery is housed in the 1920s Oakland Building, the former club house.)
South of the original farmland lies the area known as Oakland Gardens, which extends from the Long Island Expressway to Hollis Hills, bordered by Alley Pond Park to the east and Cunningham Park to the west. Some single-family ranch and Colonial homes can be found here, but most residents live in garden apartments, condominiums, and co-ops.
The overall character of Bayside was transformed after 1930, when the politically powerful Robert Moses, New York City Parks Commissioner and head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, designed the Belt Parkway system, and in particular the Cross Island Parkway, opened in 1940, which cut off access from Bayside and Bay Terrace to Little Neck Bay. Thereafter, the Throgs Neck Bridge, opened in 1961 to connect Bayside and the Bronx, and the Clearview Expressway, completed in 1963 and designed to link the Throgs Neck Bridge with the major east-west arteries of Queens and Long Island, were also built to accommodate motorists.
Today, train commuters into Manhattan have a half-hour direct ride on the Long Island Rail Road, beginning at the gambrel-roofed station built in 1923 at 213th Street and 41st Avenue. A large section of this area, from 41st Avenue to 26th Avenue, is currently being rezoned to halt developers from tearing down single-family homes and replacing them with multifamily houses. Neighborhood residents-white, Asian, Hispanic, and Indian-enjoy the tranquil, suburban character of their neighborhood, and have organized civic groups to protect idyllic, tree-lined enclaves such as Bayside Gables, Bell Court, and Weeks Woodlands.
One stunning example of how such neighborhood activism can succeed is the revitalized Oakland Lake in Alley Pond Park (which is shared with Douglaston), the second-largest park in Queens (see the Corridor photo spread). The 15,000-year-old spring-fed kettle pond was nearly destroyed by mosquito-prevention efforts in the 1940s, when workers from the Works Progress Administration laid pipes, dug drainage ditches, and filled in low areas. Beginning in the 1960s, however, under the spirited leadership of Dr. John O. Riedl and the Alley Restoration Committee, and continuing into the 1970s and 1980s with the efforts of Gertrude Waldeyer and the Oakland Lake and Ravine Conservation Committee, the lake experienced a dramatic turnaround. Today's lake is stocked with several varieties of fish and supports many bird species. Part of the original forest remains, and many other mature trees now offer shade around the lake's natural shoreline.
On the opposite end of Bayside, starting at 26th Avenue, lies Bay Terrace, an upscale neighborhood of townhouses, condominiums, and cooperative apartments whose proudest achievement may be the preservation of Fort Totten, which opened as a New York City park in June 2005. Area residents, along with the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, Friends of Fort Totten Parks, the Fort Totten Conservancy, the Bay Terrace Community Organization, the Bayside Historical Society, and the Citizens Action Committee, devoted years of planning, negotiations, and paper-pushing to preserve the 49.5-acre park. And while some express concern about lack of sufficient parking at the fort and the effects of additional traffic on quiet Bay Terrace, most feel relieved that the historic landmark will not fall into the hands of developers.
Excerpted from THE NEIGHBORHOODS OF Queens by Claudia Gryvatz Copquin Copyright © 2007 by Citizens Committee for New York City. Excerpted by permission.
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