BY SERGEY KADINSKY
Forgotten New York contributor
Hunters Point has been visited before quite a few times by Forgotten-NY, but like a good book, every time you read it, you always find something new in the story. With the redevelopment of Hunters Point South on the fast track to completion, we take one more look to the area, before the condo builders arrive.
The postmodern-style Gantry Plaza State Park continues its gradual expansion north, with a set of unique landscapes, such as a boardwalk, rolling meadow, and wetlands. In contrast to earlier landscape architecture styles, postmodernism avoids symmetry, going for whimsical shapes, historical interpretation, and a partnership with nature. This park’s contemporaries include the High Line, Hudson River Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The United Nations headquarters reflects on a diversity of nations represented in the park’s playground. On the right above, a section of the park called The Peninsula has a cove where waves can be heard splashing. A gentle sloping shoreline stands in contrast to the rude seawalls that were the preferred form for much of the past century’s parks.
47th Avenue winds gently inside the park, before going on a straight path towards Jackson Avenue, where it is interrupted by Sunnyside Yards. It continues east in 8 different segments through Sunnyside, Woodside, Corona, Auburndale, and Bayside, terminating at another body of water: Oakland Lake.
In my youth, I had a passion for exploring streets, finding their sources and ends. When my family arrived in America, my father initially spent his weekends delivering papers around Queens. I would travel with him, coloring his maps with crayons, and learning English by reading his papers.
By middle school, I began writing letters to the editor on a variety of articles. My first letters appeared inQueens Tribune. Eventually, I graduated to news reporting, making my first Daily News byline in January 2009.
But I still have a love for maps. My mother used to tell me that I should have been born 500 years ago, when mapmaking was an actual profession.
The former LIRR gantry stands in a unique class as one of the city’s most recognizable unused landmarks. Others include the repainted Coney Island parachute tower and the decaying NYS Pavilion in Flushing Meadows. On the right above, the former Pennsylvania Railroad Powerhouse was mutilated, shorn of its smokestacks to make way for yet another condo.* In contrast, its IRT cousin on Manhattan’s west side, has plenty of support from prominent preservation groups.
*Ironically, the condo’s website has plenty of images of smokestacks and nifty HTML with powerhouse noises. All trace of the building’s former use was removed by the developers. — your webmaster.
In Hunter’s Point street numbers begin at Two, and looking south on Second Street, Williamsburg Bridge looms on the horizon. Enjoy the moody emptiness, because very soon, the streetscape will resemble Battery Park City, if city planners get their way (below).
The remains of the Queens County Bank building, 2nd Street just north of Borden Avenue were demolished in 2010 as part of the city plan.
The Long Island City terminal was once one of the city’s busiest, as it was the LIRR’s closest approach to NYC before Pennsylvania station and the East River tunnels were completed in 1910, as ferries brought patrons to Manhattan from the terminal. Today, only a few trains a week stop here, and passengers are unceremoniously discharged in the rail yard, walking a block to the Water Taxi ferry to Manhattan.
Behind this fence is the tip of Hunters Point, where three boroughs and two streams converge. Unlike the carefully managed landscape of Gantry Plaza, the plants here arrived on their own. Please don’t trespass through that hole in the fence.
An old street sign appears near the southern tip of Second Street. Dead ends are always a good source for outdated signage, from a time before the city’s streets were standardized green with white letters.
The tip is one of my favorite spots to meditate and contemplate. It is a mix of nature and an urban setting, with faint sounds of ambulance sirens and helicopter propellers. They are quiet enough to let me meditate, but loud enough to remind me that I am still within city limits. The view on the above right is the confluence of Newtown Creek and East River.
Queens was named in 1683 after the Queen of England. It remains uncertain whether the renaming was in honor of her office, or the actual reigning queen at the time, the Portuguese-born Catherine of Braganza.
In 1988, there were plans to honor the possible namesake of the borough by erecting a 35-foot statue of Catherine at Hunters Point. Audrey Flack was chosen as the designer. The statue had the support of several foreign leaders, businesspeople, then-Borough President Claire Shulman and Donald Trump. But historians also dug up that the queen’s family profited heavily from the slave trade, and local African-American leaders fiercely resisted the proposed statue.
By 1998, Shulman withdrew her support, and the 10-foot replica sat in a foundry in upstate Beacon. She was rescued by her compatriots, brought to Lisbon for the Expo ’98 world’s fair, where her 10-foot cast stands watch on the Tagus River. The photo on the bottom was taken in Lisbon, Portugal and came from a local travel blog.
This photo taken by the city shows a ruined railway float bridge that once transported rail cars from dry land onto barges. Similar to the industrial ruins of Riverside Park South in Manhattan, this wreck will be allowed to remain as a relic, surrounded by the expanded park around it.
For illiterates, this is what a buzzer looks like, and on the right is a set of train tracks.
The Midtown skyline from the Pulaski Bridge. If the city’s plans remain on schedule, the village of towers in the 2nd picture will create a skyline of their own on the Queens side of the East River.
The village of towers in the slide on the bottom also shows a small beach just to the north of the peninsula. There will be no swimming in the East River, but parkgoers will have the opportunity to sunbathe for free without making the trek to Coney Island.
Like Battery Park City, residents at the tip of this new neighborhood will have at least a 15 minute walk to the nearest subway station. While the park will be served by a ferry, and buses, its isolation could turn it into a desirable quiet corner, akin to Manhattan’s Sutton Place.
A destination park will frame the tip of Hunters Point (hopefully) by the end of this decade. This tip was initially slated for the 2012 Olympic Village, but the IOC awarded the games instead to London. The winding path of Center Boulevard resembles the Riverside Drive of Manhattan, as it follows the topographic contours and discourages speeding at the same time.
For more local history, visit the GREATER ASTORIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Forgotten NY contributer Sergey Kadinsky is a freelance writer, teacher, tour guide and photographer. firstname.lastname@example.org
Page completed June 16, 2010