FRESH MEADOWS, Queens

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I have never had even a whiff of that peculiar romance most American men feel about their automobiles. When I was a teenager, my fear and apprehensiveness when attempting to learn to drive baffled and amused my teachers: the driving school instructor as well as my cousin Jim, and soon enough the lessons were shelved as a failure.

There was just something about having to maneuver a multi-ton vehicle among scores of others at speeds of 70MPH or more. I will leave it up to you whether this reflects a healthy prudence or unwarranted cowardice on the part of your webmaster. Millions of people do it, but the prospect of my doing it is something I cannot conceive. I think it’s quite prudent, as most automobile advertising taps in to the American male’s need for speed and encourages them to drive like maniacs. If I did drive, the Little Old Lady of Pasadena would lap me.

Paradoxically, in a city with America’s largest mass transit network, the car is king and ruler absolute. NYC has the smallest number of official bike routes of any major city, and nowhere else, it seems (LA, perhaps?) do cars have the choice on whether they will defer to crossing pedestrians at green lights. Polite drivers will stop, but you never know.

Just one neighborhood over from fab Flushing, where I live, is NYC’s westernmost suburb, a neighborhood conceived, built and maintained to accommodate the car, a lifestyle that 90% of Americans but only a smaller number of NYers accept. True to my wont, however, I tend to seek out the oddball, ancient elements of any neighborhood I cover, and will do the same here in Fresh Meadows.

GOOGLE MAP: Fresh Meadows

 

 

The name “Fresh Meadows” derives from the same Dutch source that gave us Flushing. The latter is an English version of Vlissingen, a Dutch town whose name means “salt meadow valley.” After Flushing, originated in the 1640s, had been established for a while, colonists started to move to its southern reaches (but not as far as Rustdorp, the next town south, today’s Jamaica). They found the area suffused with meadows and swamps fed by fresh water springs, and so named it Fresh Meadows.

 

Most houses in Fresh Meadows, save for a very few, were built as postwar tract housing. Still, there are a number of prewar structures scattered about; on 65th Avenue east of 164th you will see the shacklike dwelling with the wood porch at left, as well as Millard Fillmore’s Restaurant (above), located in a building dated 1912 (odd since I can’t find any maps from the period that have a road where 65th Avenue is now).

Since by 1912 the New York and Queens County Railway (a surface trolley line) was already well-established on what would be today’s 164th Street, it could have been established as a roadhouse in an otherwise wide-open area dominated by farms.

 

 

 

By 1910 the major roads through the area had already been established. On this ca. 1910 Hammond map of today’s Fresh Meadows area, I have superimposed in blue the present-day names of the roads; their old names are in black. A grid system of streets has now been built around the older roads, but many of them still play major roles. The Central Railroad of Long Island was built from Flushing to Garden City by the latter’s builder, department store magnate Alexander T. Stewart. It was shortened to a spur to the Creedmoor Rifle Range (later the site of a mental institution) in the 1870s; Kissena Corridor Park today runs along most of its former length.

 

One of the major east-west local routes through Fresh Meadows is 73rd Avenue, a road with an over-200 year old pedigree. In colonial Fresh Meadows the preferred method of marking property lines between farms was to place rows of blackened stumps along the boundary, and before the name Fresh Meadows caught on the area was called Black Stump. Fresh Meadows was thought to be a rather more welcoming name, and Black Stump Road was renamed in the 1920s as part of Queens’ renumbering system taking effect at the time. Today, it’s one of NYC’s few bike paths and is lined with handsome single-family homes like this Tudor.

 

On 182nd Street just north of 73rd Avenue you will see what appears to be a weedy, empty lot, with ivy and ancient trees. This, though, is the cemetery of one of the farming families in the area, the Brinkerhoffs; there are 76 plots here dating from between 1736 and 1872. The tombstones have been long ago stolen or are buried underground. A local developer who claims to have bought it would like to build the usual tract housing on the spot, while the Queens Historical Society would like to keep it as is.

Controversy Over Development Plans on Cemetery May End up in Court [Gotham Gazette]

Major golf tournaments were held at a course built in 1923 in Fresh Meadows by Benjamin C. Ribman–the first sign of suburbanization. But it wasn’t until 1946 that the neighborhood’s signature project, Fresh Meadows Houses was built, one of the first and best examples of suburban housing in the country.

Fresh Meadows Houses

 

Land was purchased by the NY Life Insurance Company and the complex was finished in 1949; it was called by Lewis Mumford “perhaps the most positive and exhilarating example of community planning in the country.” It was purchased by Harry Helmsley in 1983. The project contains several privately owned dwellings but most of it consists of three-story buildings and some high-rises. There are 3000 families and about 7800 units.

 

Fresh Meadows possesses its own unique street layout,which stretches Queens’ street numbering scheme to the max, with intersections like 64th Circle and 194th Lane. The layout was built to prevent through traffic so trucks would not roar through. Streets are lined with FM’s own versions of street lighting.

Here we are at the corner of 65th Crescent and 65th Crescent (Fresh Meadows has its own oddball street layout, as we’ve said) and somehow, the Department of Transportation has overlooked both sets of streets signs on either corner…they’re blue-on-white Queens specials from the early 1960s!

The Last Farm

 

The Klein Farm, 73rd Avenue and 195th Street, sold produce for years in a roadside stand until 2003, when the family sold it to a realtor. The farm had been in operation here since 1895. Since the farmhouse and property have never been landmarked, they are now under the gun from developers and it seems that it’s only a matter of time until one of Queens’ last farms is gone.

The Kleins once owned approximately 200 acres in the area; some of it was sold in the 1940s to NY Life Insurance, which in turn built Fresh Meadows Houses.

Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern recognized the Kleins’ farm legacy by naming the adjacent playground for it in 1999.

Residents, Pols Oppose Klein Farm Sale [Gotham Gazette]  Fields of Queens [FNY]

 

188th Street from Utopia Parkway and Jamaica Avenue is subtitled Saul Weprin Street, after the former speaker of the NY State Assembly from 1991-1994; Sheldon Silver became speaker after Weprin’s death in 1994. His son Mark now occupies his District 24 Assembly seat, and another son, David, was elected to the NY City Council from District 23 in 2002.

Get Your Motor Runnin’

 

The eastern edge of Fresh Meadows is partially defined by the western extension of the Long Island Motor Parkway, begun as a race course by industrialist heir William Kissam Vanderbilt in 1908, extending east to Ronkonkoma. The newest section of the parkway, built in 1926, is right here in Glen Oaks and Fresh Meadows, running mostly through Cunningham Park, a right-of-way north of Richland and Kingsbury Avenues, and in Alley Pond Park. ABOVE: overpass at 73rd Avenue and 199th Street

Sam Berliner’s Motor Parkway site [LIMP]

 

Did the Motor Parkway extend this far north? The bike path that connects to it does, at 199th Street near Peck Avenue just south of the LIE. I found an old concrete rail post nearby. If it didn’t belong to the old parkway, why is it here?

 


The first important north-south colonial road in the area, Fresh Meadow Lane originally ran from Broadway (now Northern Blvd.) south to Jamaica. In the mid-20th Century, Utopia Parkway was built over its southernmost stretch.

 

Fresh Meadow Lane north of 67th Avenue. It’s not always true, but a good way to recognize an aboriginal road is to look for curves. Roads were formerly built around natural obstacles; today the obstacles are razed so the roads can be built straight.

 

Fresh Meadow Lane has ceded most of its traffic to Utopia Parkway; a Cyclops traffic light is enough to regulate things at 69th Avenue. Somehow, when going down FML, you can envision what it was like when this was a dirt path winding between farms.

 

Most of Queens is Democratic territory, but Fresh Meadow Lane seems to be an island filled with elephants!

 

For years, when I lived in Bay Ridge and I’d bike out to Queens, the deli next to the old Mayfair Theater was where I would stop to get a drink. It was just one of those repetitive things I would do. At the time (the late 1970s), the Mayfair had gone Triple-X. It’s now the Bombay and plays Bollywood fare. In the 1960s, this was the theatre patronized by the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob, of Tinseltown fame, according to a post at cinematreasures.

The Bombay at night

 

 

Utopia Playground (Utopia Parkway and 73rd Avenue) and the parkway itself are named for a pioneering housing project…which was never built! From nycparks.org:

The Utopia Land Company planned to construct an expansive cooperative community for Jewish residents of the Lower East Side on fifty acres of land east of 164th Street between the communities of Jamaica and Flushing. The land was obtained for development in 1905, at which time the company acquired a $9,000 mortgage to grade streets and divide the land into lots.

When the Utopia Land Company found itself unable to secure additional funding, the project was swiftly abandoned. While the dream of the development faded, the project’s name was remembered, providing a name for Utopia Parkway, which in turn lent its name to Utopia Playground.

 

Years before the Fountains of Wayne met “Stacy’s Mom” they named a CD after the parkway; the FOWs are NYC-based, though formed in Massachusetts.

And, Surrealist artist Joseph Cornell resided on a frame house on Utopia for many years.

nycparks.org again:

“Utopia” was coined by Sir Thomas More as the title word for his 1516 work concerning

an island, called Utopia, where individual needs are subordinated to communal ones, work is compulsory, education is universal, religious tolerance is practiced, and land is communally owned. More then juxtaposes his ideal island with English society, which according to Moore had none of these “Utopian” features.

Forgotten Fan Elizabeth Gray says: More’s coinage of the term was a sort of pun on outopos (no-place) and eutopos (good place).

Urban Jewel

 

Unlike 188th/Saul Weprin Street (see previous page), the DOT chose to put Jewel Avenue’s subtitle, Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Avenue, on the same sign, making each unreadable. (LEFT) Jewel Avenue starts placidly at 73rd Avenue and 179th Street, but later becomes a main artery crossing Flushing Meadows-Corona Park into Forest Hills.

Jewel Avenue is the only remnant of a group of streets east of Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills named in alphabetical order that turn up on maps from the early 20th Century. The streets in sequence were named Atom, Balfour, Chittenden, DeKoven, Euclid, Fife, Gown, Harvest, Ibis, Jewel, Kelvin, Livingston, Meteor, Nome, Occident, Pilgrim, Quality, Ruskin, Sample, Thurman, Uriu, Verona, Webb, and Zuni; it’s likely the streets were only on the planning boards till they were built mid-century, by which time they carried the numbers (68th Road, 68th Drive etc) they do today. I don’t know why the Jewel Avenue name was kept; it’s one of the few non-numbered streets, along with Northern Blvd. and Roosevelt Avenue, that cross Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Harry Van Arsdale Jr. was was the first President of the AFL-CIO Central Labor Council (CLC) in New York City from its formation in 1958 until his death in 1986. NYC prides itself on being a city friendly to labor, so it’s not surprising that a major throughfare would be named for a labor leader.

Oddly, in Forest Hills, west of Flushing Meadows, the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. moniker shifts to 69th Road and Jewel Avenue has its street signs to itself.

 

The Long Island Expressway, the world’s longest parking lot, begins officially where the Queens Midtown Expressway (which enters Manhattan via the Queens-Midtown Tunnel (a tunnel I’ve never been in!) leaves off in Maspeth, and extends out past Riverhead in Suffolk County. It runs on the former Horace Harding Boulevard, known earlier as Nassau Blvd. (a small piece of which can still be found in Glen Oaks). The DOT marks the LIE service roads on both sides of the parkway as the “Horace Harding Expressway” from Queens Boulevard to the city line near Lake Success.

When I was a kid I thought Horace Harding was a president, but he turns out to be the man who dreamed up the road that became LIE, for which he can forever be blamed. As Sam Berliner explains…

Horace Harding (the man, not the Boulevard) was born in Philadelphia on 31 Jul 1863 and died in NYC on 04 Jan 1929. He was a banker and was a Director of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company and the Bronx Gas and Electric Co.  Harding supported the plan of the L. I. State Park Commission in the 1920′s to build a scenic parkway from Queens to Lake Ronkonkoma (Northern State Parkway) and he urged the construction of a highway from Shelter Rock Road to Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst (to improve access to his country club!). The road was named Horace Harding Boulevard after his death {the earlier road was called Nassau Boulevard).

The “scenic parkway” stuff was scrapped when Robert Moses constructed the LIE in its place, rejecting a proposal to place mass transit in the center median in the 1950s.

The Prep

 

The new Prep, the old Prep. I know so many people who went to St. Francis Prep, it’s as if I went there myself. No wonder, since it is the largest Catholic high school in the USA with a student body of 3000. It started in Brooklyn in 1858 as St. Francis Academy and occupied the brick building at 186 N. 6th Street in Williamsburg (right) from 1952 to 1974.

It was an all-boys’ school until it merged in ’74 with Bishop Reilly High School, a co-ed facility on Francis Lewis Blvd. and the LIE. The old Prep building in Williamsburg is now the Brooklyn branch of Boricua College.

 

Across the Horace Harding from St. Francis Prep are a couple of interesting examples of 20th Century modern architecture: the Blue Bay Diner and the Quonset-like Waldbaum’s supermarket. The unique design is a legacy from when this was a Penn Fruit, a Philly-based grocery chain; all their outlets were designed like this.

The forgotten turnpike

 

Today Union Turnpike is the only turnpike left in NYC (I don’t count Jericho Turnpike, which was recently drafted onto the Queens map). There used to be another.

Booth Memorial Avenue, which runs from College Point Blvd to the LIE, was formerly known as North Hempstead Turnpike, a gloriously incongruous name since it did not extend out to the town of Hempstead in Nassau County. In the tradition of NYC roads like Flushing Avenue and White Plains Road, it was likely named because it led to roads which would take you to Hempstead. When the road was named in the 1800s, the town of Hempstead was in Queens, but when Queens joined NYC in 1898, three of Queens’ easternmost towns opted out to become Nassau.

It was renamed (probably in the late 1950s) for Booth Memorial Hospital at Main Street. However, the ‘new’ name is now also outdated, since Booth Memorial became New York Hospital in the 1980s. So, let’s go back to the old name! (Won’t happen.) Both avenue and hospital are named for William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army.

Incidentally, Northern Boulevard formerly became a completely different North Hempstead Turnpike once it reached the Nassau County line, but that made more sense, since it was entering…the town of North Hempstead.

Lastly, the Hempstead Turnpike that reaches the town of Hempstead as State Route #24 actually does begin in Queens, a few miles east from Jamaica Avenue in Queens Village; it is known as Hempstead Avenue while within Queens.

 

We find another whimsical Henry Stern-ism at the triangle formed by Booth Memorial and 58th Avenues and Utopia Parkway, where Atlantis has been sighted.

As nyc.parks.org explains…

It is said that a great natural disaster reduced the advanced utopian society of Atlantis to rubble and submerged its entire mass beneath the sea. Whether the story is fact or fiction remains debatable, but the legend of the submerged island with an ideal society has captured the imagination of people for thousands of years…

The first to write extensively about the myth of Atlantis was the Greek philosopher Plato (ca. 428 – 327). In two of his dialogues, the Timaeus and the Critias, written around 370 B.C.E, Plato claimed he found evidence of Atlantis in then 200 year-old records of the ancient Greek ruler Solon who reportedly heard the story from an Egyptian priest. Plato described a continent at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean near the Straights of Gibraltar, which was destroyed 10,000 years before his time. Those who believe that the story of Atlantis has a true historical basis point to the existence of the Minoan Civilization, a great and peaceful culture that reigned as far back as 2200 B.C.E. The Minoan island of Santorini, known later as Thera, was home to a huge volcano that erupted in 1470 B.C.E. obliterating everything on the surface of the island. The aftershocks of earthquakes brought tidal tsunamis, which destroyed what was left of Minoan society, thus leading some to believe that Santorini was the “real” Atlantis.

 

The Future is in the past

 

I was surprised to find the Future Diner at Horace Harding and 190th Street closed. In the 1990s it played a key role in Presidential politics, with Bill Clinton paying a couple of visits, both before his 1992 election and after.

David Oats wrote in the Queens Courier:

There were a number of strong contenders that year and Clinton with his controversies was by no means a shoo-in. [Queens Democratic leader Tom Manton] realized that Queens — a major slice of Middle America in the greatest city on earth was a bellwether to the outcome of the election. So he invited the candidates to personally come to address the leaders of the Queens Democratic Organization and, in effect, beg and convince them for their support. Not all the candidates came. Bill Clinton did. He rode the F train from Manhattan to the Continental Blvd.-71 Ave. station in Forest Hills, walked up Austin St. and made his case to the Queens Dems in their ramshackle headquarters above a supermarket on that street.

The personal characteristics of Clinton’s public style — now familiar throughout the world — were in evidence that night. He impressed Manton. He impressed the leader, he got the all-important endorsement. He won Queens and New York in the primary, was nominated in a united convention at Madison Square Garden, was elected and inaugurated the leader of the free world, most powerful man on earth, President of the United States, etc.

Clinton had paid other visits to our borough during that campaign to Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside, Electchester in Flushing, to Rev. Floyd Flake’s church in St. Albans. But the real sign that he had never forgotten Queens’ role in his election came in September of 1993 when he selected the Future Diner as the site for his nationally televised forum on his Health Care Reform program. Before he conducted the session with people who were victims of abuse in the health system, he opened the forum by telling the audience how delighted he was to come back to this place in Queens. “We had such a good time here last year, I really wanted to come back,” he said.

Clinton’s remarks at the Future Diner, 1993

Future Diner closes, January 2005

Out in the Kohl’s

 

At the formerly bustling corner of 188th Street and Horace Harding (which used to be the site of a K-Mart and earlier, a Bloomingdale’s) we find a Kohl’s with a pristine, white, hi-tech exterior straight out of William Cameron Menzies & H.G. Wells’ 1936 blockbuster Things to Come, in which Raymond Massey creates an, um, Utopia out of the ashes of war.

It’s a busy Sunday afternoon and not a soul is to be found on the sidewalk. There’s no hot dog vendors or sidewalk enterpreneurs, as there were during the K-Mart days. Yet Kohl’s was as busy as it always is on a weekend afternoon.

The answer is that all the action is in the parking lot behind the building! The parking lot makes Kohl’s back door its busiest, relegating its front entrance to look like a forbidding, exclusionary province, forever divorced from reality.

In the Land of Cars, that’s the new reality.

Thanks to Christina Wilkinson, the Queen of Queens, who supplied some key information for this page.

©2006 Midnight Fish





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