The shoreline of Manhattan is almost entirely encircled by parks and bike trails. Likewise, the Brooklyn shoreline is also receiving more park space. In contrast, the decaying industrial shoreline of the College Point peninsula remains largely off-limits to the general public, with few parks on the water’s edge.
The peninsula is bounded by the Flushing River, Flushing Bay, East River, and Powell’s Cove. To its east, the peninsula is separated from the rest of Queens by the Flushing Airport site and Whitestone Expressway.
There are only two major parks on the shoreline, the Herman MacNeil Park on the northwest tip, and Powell’s Cove Park at the bottom of Powell’s Cove. An interior space, the abandoned 70-acre Flushing Airport, is the subject of debate on whether it should be preserved or developed. Currently, only 8 acres of this site are planned to be preserved as a park.
The rest of the shoreline is occupied by private residential developments, manufacturing, and large parking lots. As a result, most residents of the neighborhood who live within a block of the shoreline, are denied access to it.
Walking the Shoreline of College Point
By Sergey Kadinsky
Forgotten NY contributor
College Point from the air. Google map of the area at this link.
RIGHT: Some of the streets that approach Flushing Bay trail off into private properties along the waterfront. Few of these businesses have docks or piers, so their relationship to the water is minimal.
Southwest College Point
AERIAL VIEW: On the extreme right, a remnant of Mill Creek empties into Flushing River, and the Whitestone Expressway bridge towers over the confluence. To the west, cement companies occupy the shoreline. On the map above, the only business that uses the water is St. Lawrence Cement, with a barge docked on its shore. The small green strip to its left belongs to Home Depot. Notice the huge size of its parking lot!
At this point, Flushing River widens into Flushing Bay. The large grayish lot is College Point Asphalt. The blue structure off the shore to its north is a sanitation garage where trash is transported onto barges. BecauseLaGuardia Airport is located just across the bay, the presence of trash-consuming birds is aconcern to aviators. The point of land to the north of the sanitation garage is Cape Ruth, a tiny residential enclave with a yacht club.
Between the sizable parking lot and the water’s edge, there is a narrow wetland buffer. This parcel is located at the point where the Flushing River enters Flushing Bay. The view above looks west towards East Elmhurst and the World’s Fair Marina.
This sanitation garage used to transport local trash onto boats, but its proximilty to LaGuardia Airport could mean a dangerous combination of seagulls and airplanes. RIGHT: For a homeless encampment, this place has prime waterfront views. It’s hard to believe that we are still in the city. There’s so much nature here.
Looking west towards LaGuardia Airport. Originally named Sanford Point, it became a small airport in the 1920s. In 1939, the city enlarged it, naming it after a mayor who was still in office at the time of its opening. In 2008, construction began on a new control tower (in black), replacing a shorter, sparkplug-shaped older tower to its right. Only the abandoned tires testify to the urban setting of this image. Behind the airport is the gray skyline of Manhattan. While LGA is closer to Midtown than JFK, it does not have a subway connection to Manhattan.
Williamsburgh Yacht Club
Founded in 1865, it was once located on Newtown Creek, at Penny Bridge in Greenpoint, a mile from its namesake neighborhood. It was incorporated as a yacht club by the state in 1871. As the creek became more developed and polluted, the club moved east. In 1887 piano maker William Steinway and beer baron George Ehret moved the club to Bowery Bay near Astoria. Repeating the pattern of development, the club moved to College Point in 1928.
The private yacht club sits at the tip of Cape Ruth, a small promontory on the western shore of College Point. Club members told me that photography here is discouraged, due to the club’s proximity to the airport.
When we think of capes, long, thin points such as Cape Cod, Hatteras, or May, come to mind. So why is a small bump of land at the western end of 28th Avenue in College Point known as Cape Ruth? It is possible that a long-ago landowner gave it the name, and it stuck. Like the rest of Queens, it is an odd mix between charming old bungalows and ugly brick boxes of recent years.
Looking north towards the Bronx. The flat, grassy island to the far left is Rikers Island, and on the right is the western tip of College Point. Between them, Flushing Bay empties into East River, an arm of the Atlantic Ocean.
Parking with a view: Local lovers can try the parking lot of this nursing home, where airplanes come and go, with a Midtown skyline in the background.
Western College Point
Looking at the aerial view, the residential neighborhood is separated from the shore by parking lots and gated private developments. The small alley between the two parking lots in the middle of this aerial view is 25th Avenue. Much of the shoreline here is a cliff rising to a dozen feet above the water.
An Alley to the Shore: Where 25th Avenue slopes down towards 114th Street, a narrow alley entends towards the shore. This alley ends on a waterfront pier, acting as an unofficial waterfront park for local residents.
23rd Avenue meets the shore at 119th Street, but appears to jut towards the water’s edge. Old maps of the neighborhood show proposed streets extending past the shore, in expectation of land expansion. As a result, the street touches the shore.
Another beach spot. Just don’t swim here, the DEP sign says that there is a storm drain nearby.
Northwest College Point
The northwestern edge of College Point is where the neighborhood began. Until the 1930s, a ferry connected College Point to Manhattan…
After the service ended, the commercial center shifted to College Point Boulevard, a few blocks to the east. Industrial tenants took hold of this tip, including early aviator Igor Sikorsky. Much has changed in the peninsula’s history, as the 1909 Bromley map shows. Large estates on the nortern tip have been subdivided and developed. Only the Chisholm estate was saved as a public park on the northern tip. On both sides of this tip, landfill has expanded the peninsula into the East River, which was once considered a part of the Long Island Sound by mapmakers.
Poppenhusen Institute stands on a hill at 14th Road and 114th Street overlooking Flushing Bay. Bluestone sidewalks surround the building, and a yard that appears to be a dry moat.
The Institute featured the nation’s first free kindergarten, as well as a justice of the peace, the first home of the College Point Savings Bank, German singing societies, the first library in the area, a court room, the sheriff’s office with two jail cells (still there in the basement), and a grand ballroom. Today the Institute is used as a community center and features karate and piano lessons, summer band concerts, and fire department museum and Native American exhibits, while the ballroom is rented for wedding receptions.
The neighborhood of College Point dates back to the colonial period, when the Lawrence family claimed the peninsula, and lent their name to Lawrence Street. With the exception of a small stub in Flushing, most of this street was later renamed College Point Boulevard. Other names for the neighborhood, Strattonport and Flammersburg, were also taken from early landowning families. Its present namesake is St. Paul’s College, which stood at the northern tip of the peninsula from 1835 to 1850. Its building was demolished in 1900, but the name College Point endures to this day. Until recent times, the isolation of neighborhood meant quaint, narrow streets with century-old homes, bluestone sidewalks, and a small-town feel. However, with the rest of Queens bursting at the seams, developers are gobbling up old houses and the few remaining empty parcels, replacing them with boring brick boxes.
To preserve local history, the city can declare a building to be a landmark, preventing its demolition or alteration. At this time, College Point has only one landmark, the Poppenhusen Institute. There is currently a strong movement to designate the Schleicher Mansion, which dates to 1857.
Finding a candidate for landmarking is not difficult in College Point, there are so many still standing. Some of these houses have views of the water, with generous amounts of yard space. Prior to Prohibition, College Point was lined with hotels, beer gardens, and amusement parks. Today, its waterfront is largely unused by the community.
The Western Edge
The western tip of College Point juts out by 9 blocks into Flushing Bay, pointing directly at the flat-topped Rikers Island (right). Much of this island was expanded using landfill in preparation for its prison, which opened in 1936. Part of the punishment includes nonstop airplane noise form the nearby airport. On the left is a view to the south, with the Mets’ new ballpark in the center. Seaplane inventorEarl Dodge Osborn once had a plane factory on this tip. His initials formed the company’s name, EDO Aircraft Corp. Famed as a defense contractor, the growing firm relocated to Long Island in 1996. Rubber and early airplanes were once College Point’s industrial staples.
Edgewater Business Park occupies the western edge. The largest of its five tenants is Time Warner Cable. On some maps, the western tip was mapped as the beginning of Powells Cove Boulevard, but I’ll talk about that later. Edo Seaplanes once took off from this point, as did city-bound ferries.
Built in 2004, Edgewater Estates is nowhere near the Bronx neighborhood (see this FNY page) that shares its name. Financed by an Asian developer, its two privately-owned streets are Taipei Court and Dalian Court. It sure beats a boring name like 114th Street. The homes stand atop reclaimed land created in the 1950s. Unfortunately, the residents cannot park their boats or swim in the river, because the steep shoreline comprises of riprap, or large boulders. The residents of these two-family homes have their own daily shuttle bus to Flushing.
This westward view shows the diverse topography of College Point. At the bottom of 24th Road is the Edgewater Estates development. Some local residents are concerned about the development’s effect on marine life along the shore.
In its middle, a narrow canal was preserved for some reason. Hopefully, it’s not a storm drain outlet.
Just north of Edgewater Estates, after passing by another unassuming waterfront condo village, Bay Park Estates- a beach opens up with ample natural scenery. The 26-acre preserve was once home to the neighborhood namesake, the short-lived St. Paul’s College. Named after local sculptor Hermon MacNeil, this park provides a view of “four marine corners,” where Flushing Bay, Bronx River, and the East River meet. From here, one can try fishing, or observe airplanes and their avian counterparts.
The tip of College Point is a quiet rock jetty with a view of the Whitestone Bridge, and a small beacon called College Point Reef. Some old maps call it Chisholm’s Point, after a local landowning family. On the Bronx side of the East River is Ferry Point Park, named after a Bronx-Queens ferry that preceded the bridge. Built in 1939, the Whitestone originally had sidewalks which have since been eliminated. The nearest pedestrian crossing between Queens and mainland Bronx is the RFK-Triborough Bridge, five miles to the west.
A new development, Soundview Pointe, is an example of how pretentious developers use extra letters to give a sense of history to their bland brick boxes. Meanwhile, in the heart of MacNeil Park, a timeless rural scene remains.
The North Point
A century ago, the northern edge of College Point was largely undeveloped. Tallman’s Island was a waterfront picnic park, a destination for city dwellers during the summer months. Just below Powell’s Cove, the Long Island Railroad’s Whitestone Branch connected the area to the city.
Tallman’s Island was converted to a sewage treatment plant in 1935, and connected to the mainland. The railway was abandoned in 1932, after a failed proposal to convert it to a subway line. On the southeast corner of the map are wetlands on which the Flushing Airport later stood. On the northeast corner, the tony Malba neighborhood overlooks the bay with wide, rambling streets. Built in 1908, its acronym name long predates SoHo or TriBeCa. Its name was derived from the first letters of the developers’ last names: Maycock, Avis, Lewis, Bishop, and Alling.
Between MacNeil Park and Tallman’s Island, a neck of reclaimed land has nautical-themed private streets such as Capstan, Ketch, Keel, Cove, and Endeavor. The developers used their imaginaitons with the addresses, but none of these homes have beach or boat access. The water is simply for admiring. There is a private waterfront park being built on nearby Lax Avenue for the residents.
The Blue Collar Yacht Club
The College Point Yacht Club has neither a regatta nor a sailing school, nor tennis courts. Its commodore, Tony Tondo, 60, is a retired auto parts dealer. Most of its members are retired public employees or blue-collar workers. The clubhouse is a former barge. It does have 112 boat slips for its 88 members. New York Times
In its rural days, Queens was home to a number of white-collar institutions, including a few racetracks, country clubs, a private highway, and yacht clubs. A century later, only one racetrack, 4 large public golf courses, and 8 yacht clubs remain. Three are on the north shore, all in College Point. The College Point Yacht Club is sandwiched in a narrow lot next to Tallman’s Island.
Powell’s Cove and its Boulevard
Powells Cove Boulevard is one of the great unfinished roads in Queens. Initially it was to begin at the western tip of College Point, then continue along the shore, around its namesake cove, east towards Whitestone. To date, only four separate segments have been completed. Some parts were demapped because of reluctant property owners, others were remapped for park space. The westernmost section begins at Lax Avenue, and goes for almost three blocks before stopping dead at Powell’s Cove. The street picks up again in Whitestone, in three separate segments, before ending at Wildflower, a former mansion of Oscar Hammerstein II, overlooking the Throgs Neck Bridge.
As you may have noticed, Powells Cove is the same as Powell’s Cove. Over the years, mapmakers have a habit of turning possessives into plurals. The city already has Wards, Randalls, Governors, and Rikers Islands- which once had possessive names. Some sources still list the first two names as possessive, but most maps do not. Powell’s Cove is possessive, but its boulevard is plural.
Maybe the mapmakers were Latvian [properly, Lettish –ed.] where most male names end with an s, for example former president Bils Klintons, and actor Morgans Frimans. Female last names usually end with an e. Our Secretary of State? In Latvia, she’s Hilarija Klintone!
The entrance to Tallman Island. It is one of three water treatment facilities in northern Queens. The narrow creek separating the island from mainland Queens was buried beneath the road in the foreground. Tallman Island was not mentioned in The Other Islands of New York City. This book does include Broad Channel, Roosevelt Island, and Rikers Island. The latter two are not administratively within Queens, but their only connection to land is through Queens.
Powell’s Cove is an indentation of the East River between College Point and Malba. It is surrounded by mansions, but also has a sizable nature preserve on its southern edge. I accessed the shore through the backyard of an unfinished home, where a rotting pier juts into the water.
The bottom of Powell’s Cove gives a perfect impression of the Queens that Adriaen Block had seen. Of course there is a neighborhood behind these trees, but the shoreline appears undisturbed. I can imagine the natives emerging from the woods, curious about their visitor. In 1613, Block was the first European to circumnavigate Long Island. Block Island, a resort community off the coast of Rhode Island, is named after him. This timeless view is part of Powells Cove Park.
The Spa Castle of College Point opened its doors in 2007 to rave reviews. Four floors of hot, cold, food, massage, unisex, single sex, indoor, and outdoor options. And they supply the towels, too. At the same time, the spa has been criticized by some neighbors for creating a parking nightmare and zoning violations. Local city councilman Tony Avella sued the city after it approved the spa.
Avella’s then-colleague, Dennis Gallagher, wrote a letter to the city in support of the spa. Of course I’m sure it had nothing to do with the campaign contribution he received from the spa’s builder, Chon Engineering. In my opinion, the spa has the potential to be a true destination for Queens, as long as it plays by the rules and reaches out to the community. It deserves a place in the borough’s guide books.
A development in the park. In 1992, Mayor David Dinkins was pushing ahead with the expansion of the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, in an effort to keep the US Open in Queens. This meant the loss of 31 acres of public parkland. As a compromise, the city-owned land around Powell’s Cove, initially slated for development, was designated as a park. The park consisted of two large parcels, but in the middle, a smaller parcel somehow remained in private hands.
In 1999, developer Thomas Kontogiannis began building 27 two-family homes on the lot abutting the park. Local residents opposed the creation of yet another coastline gated community, but the developer argued that the upscale homes will be a boost to local land values and will not disrupt the park. Its pretentious name shows that it strives to have the same fancy reputaiton as nearby Malba. Its architecture is exactly identical to Taipei Court. The result was a residential village surrounded by Powell’s Cove Park on three sides.
Powell’s Cove was slated for a high school in 1971, but it was killed by local opposition. Being isolated from major streets and bus lines made it an unlikely spot for a school. A park was proposed for the site as early as 1971. If it wasn’t for the USTA expansion in 1992, this park proposal would probably have continued gathering dust in the city’s archives. The city is committed to keeping the park in its natural state, but this shouldn’t mean it can neglect the trash, invasive plants, and disease-carrying mosquitoes found in the park.
As for Kontogiannis? His name reappeared in 2000 in a $2 million bribe involving school construction in Queens. Well-connected in Republican circles, he was a co-conspirator in the scandal that brought down Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham(R-CA).
It’s nice to know that these are the ‘reputable’ builders who are developing our neighborhoods. In May 2008, a San Diego judge handed him a $1.05 million fine and an 8-year prison sentence. Kontogiannis argued that his terrible health was punishment enough, but the justice sent him directly to jail.
I will sign off this trip with two final shots of College Point’s northern shore. Can you believe we’re still within city limits?
What lessons can we learn from this trip? That Queens deserves better. As a local resident, I am happy that at least we have some access to our borough’s waterfront.
But this is a pittance compared to Manhattan’s 5-mile long Hudson River Park. The amount of waterfront access Queens residents have, is an insult, compared to Brooklyn’s new East River and Brooklyn Bridge parks.
Furthermore, while the Bronx River and Gowanus Canal have their share of supporters, Flushing River continues to be in a sad state. Half of it is buried, and the other half stinks!
It is not too late. There are still plenty of spots along the College Point coastline, as well as that of Queens in general, where parks can be developed. We can do better. Lobby your elected leaders.
FNY contributor Sergey Kadinsky has been living in Queens since age eight. His interest in journalism can be traced back to childhood, when he made a hobby out of writing letters to the editors of local newspapers. He is assists in the production of news stories at NY1 and is a contributing reporter at the New York Daily News. At times, he has been spotted giving tourist-friendly monologues atop Gray Line buses. His website is mazeartist. Follow Sergey on Facebook
Photographed May 2009; page completed July 12, 2009