This week I’m doing a different kind of Forgotten New York page in that I’m not presenting any historic obscurities, overlooked neighborhoods, or ignored aspects of NYC physiognomy. No, I’m just going to show my neighborhood — the way I found it when I first moved in, and what it’s becoming.
Queens history pictorial books show a tidy, orderly neighborhood of wide lawns, shade trees, and diverse, variegated architecture built on a two-story-with-attic template; most were built beginning in the first decade of the 1900s by firms such as the Rickert-Finlay Company, which developed properties with strictures requiring lots of a certain size, peaked roofs, and above all, relaxed openness. Rickert-Finlay developed a vast swath of northern Queens still renowned for a suburban atmosphere from Flushing to Little Neck.
When I first moved to Flushing in 1993 after a Bay Ridge boyhood and young adulthood, I found a divided, yet stable neighborhood. The closer to Main Street you were, the more crowded and congested it was. The small houses and large plots nearer Main Street had disappeared, replaced by huge apartment buildings or smaller ones bereft of any green space in front. In my area, 159th Street south of the LIRR, there was still a semblance of suburbia. It is quickly being eroded.
The scenes above show Main Street just south of Northern Blvd. (called Bridge Street when the photo was taken around 1900), Amity Street, now Roosevelt Avenue, and South 14th Street, now 154th.
As I Found Flushing
I photographed these two leftovers from the sensibilities of 1905 on Roosevelt Avenue shortly after I arrived in Flushing in 1993. Within a couple of years they would be replaced by the “objects” similar to what you will see later on in this webpage. When they were built, no two buildings were to look the same and all featured wide lawns, and as you see on the right, big shade trees were planted either in front or in back, or perhaps both.
Though not a part of the Rickert-Finlay development, this 45th Avenue building conforms closely to the developers’ vision.
This Cherry Avenue porched and peaked house is down on its luck. It still has its original bluestone sidewalk; and it also has a for sale sign. Does demolition or restoration await it?
This beautiful building, Cherry Avenue just east of Parsons Boulevard, can be found just east of Waldheim, which is already being dismembered by a combination of developers with no esthetic taste, politicians without spines, and landowners who do not value what they own.
The Dozers Arrive
I can’t pinpoint the exact date. Doctors can never say when illness first appears in the body; they can only treat the disease or at least alleviate its pain. No, the destruction of Old Flushing and the arrival of New Flushing were more a matter of gradual infiltration. A house here, a house there, and then an entire block would go. Wooden plywood boards appear around a building and then the ‘dozers appear. Homeowners are offered vast, inflated sums for their property. Who can resist?
Maybe there will be a little constructive arson to speed things along, perhaps like here, on Cherry Avenue between Union and Robinson.
Sanford Avenue and 149th Street
Station Road and 161st Street
162nd Street north of 43rd Avenue
The homes shown in these photos were not blighted, were not rundown, were by no means a detriment to Flushing’s appearance. Their replacements will be.
They were, however, impediments to what the developers of New Flushing have in mind for my neighborhood: the institution of multifamily “worker barracks” for a population apparently increasing by Malthusian lengths.
At a demo site a few yards away from chez webmaster, the plywood boards are still there…maybe the developer ran out of money after taking down the house, which often happens, and the lots sit for years.
I suppose the graffitist had seen Coming Apart, the Larry Sanders Show or Freddy got Fingered.
Evolution of a Plot
The building on the SE corner of Sanford Avenue and 161st Street had been allowed to decay and deteriorate by its final owners. That can’t be denied. Then the building and land were sold, and then the strippers showed up, though not the ones at Scores.
The building was unceremoniously razed. There was a glimmer of hope for the building’s large shade tree in front. The front yard had become overgrown. But with a little cultivation, it had potential.
The developers of New Flushing, however, don’t like trees or vegetation. Not at all.
Our rambling relic has been replaced by the chrysalis of a New Flushing barracks: concrete from curb to building line, the better to place the SUV next to the front door. Our new beauty- and vegetation-free building will get virtually no sun, meaning its heating costs will be high, and will get few breezes for natural cooling. Don’t worry — a bank of Friedrich air conditioners, logos prominently displayed, are already installed.
Nearby, on 161st Street, it’s an Old and New Flushing faceoff as one era confronts another. A relic with a porch on two floors, oval windows, and a wide lawn faces a new house with concrete lawn, exposed gas meters, and balconies that were rusting before the house was even finished. Sick transit, Gloria.
Hey, 43-22 Robinson Street: you’re about to become aQueens Crap sandwich!
163rd: plenty o’ parking here
45th Avenue and Robinson: the mark of un-quality.
Let’s see, exposed gas meters, check; concrete lawns, check; metallic doors, check; bland, anonymous brick facing, check; SUV parked in front, check. 155th Street north of Beech (left), 161st Street near 45th Avenue, right.
These are objects, not buildings. Rickert and Finlay are revolving in their graves.
Know your garbage. 43rd Avenue and 156th Street, 2006; Cherry Avenue near 147th Street, 1970s, right.
In 2005 The Queens Historical Society and a local City Councilman (now the City Comptroller) unveiled a couple of restored gateposts at Cherry Avenue and Bowne Street with great fanfare.
Despite the ongoing destruction of Cherry Avenue, the local City Councilman had lifted neither a finger nor vocal cord in protest to what is going on in his district, but he liked gateposts that once marked a differently-themed neighborhood than the one that is currently replacing the present one.
A match made in heaven at 43rd Avenue and 162nd Street: a cinder-blocked law office next to a brand-new Fedders Special , with the usual accoutrements, like on-site parking.
… and (left) a brand new neighbor, just a half block away.
More charm-free Flushing construction.
43rd Avenue and 161st Street. Stripped and ready for the bulldozers.
An ongoing trend in formerly fab Flushing is the presence of a multitude of tree stumps. The developers and buyers of New Flushing are inexpicably house-proud, not apparently knowing anything better, and routinely cut down spreading shade trees so that people will get a better look at their babies. Of course, trees are the first things sacrificed at construction sites.
A Man’s Home Is His ….
The destruction of Old Flushing, and the creation of the New, isn’t limited to new monstrosities. The owner of building left, across the street from chez webmaster on 43rd Avenue and 159th, once had a gorgeous wraparound porch. Since these are no longer tolerable… he decided to wall in the porch.
At right, the building on 161st between Sanford and 43rd Avenue has been in this quarter-finished condition for over a year. Ugly two-toned brick has been added to the front, the beginnings of a deck, and garbage all over the lawn. Apparently his neighbors don’t mind; the guy to his right paved his lawn over last year.
Photographed July 2006-January 2007. Page completed January 14, 2007.
The destruction of Flushing has proceeded apace since then.