NORTH ASTORIA, Queens, Part 2

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CONTINUED FROM PART 1

Steinway Mansion

William Steinway’s mansion, on 41st Street, still stands on a high hill that has never been leveled, unlike the surrounding area. 41st Street still looks like a country lane.

41st Street, looking north from 19th Avenue, is totally nondescript — there are a couple of manufacturers and some storage sheds. Keep walking, though and you will get a surprise.

The road narrows to a semi-paved country lane…

…and on the right is the back entrance gate of the William Steinway Mansion, which, in 2011, was up for sale. The front entrance of the mansion faces east on the property and is not usually visible, close-up, unless you’re granted access to the property.

The mansion was built as a country home by optician Dr. Benjamin Pike in 1856, and was occupied by Pike’s widow for 10 years after his death in 1864. In 1874 William Steinway was running the piano maufacturing, having newly established it with his father and brothers in Astoria a few years earlier.

The Steinway family owned the mansion for the next fifty years, until selling to Turkish immigrant Jack Halberian, who divided it into boarding rooms for renters. Jack’s son, Michael, inherited the house and partially restored it to former magnificence. Michael passed away in early 2011, and his heirs did not feel confident they could maintain the 27-room mansion, and subsequently put it on the market. Here’s hoping any future owner will be able to maintain it.

Steinway Village

William Steinway constructed a small town near the factory with a library, a church, a kindergarten, housing for factory workers, and a public trolley line. From 1877 and 1879, Steinway constructed a group of handsome row houses, rented to workers at the piano factory, on Winthrop Avenue (today’s 20th Avenue) and on Albert and Theodore (41st and 42nd) Streets. Even the street names bore witness to the Steinway family: Albert and Theodore were sons of Henry Steinway and assisted in company opeartions.

The homes today are largely the way they were when first built, with even the Albert and Theodore signs intact.

Life on Ditmars: Steinway Reformed Church, Ditmars Blvd. and 41st Street, was built in 1891 as the Union Protestant Church but likely switched monikers after piano man Henry Steinway donated a pipe organ. It’s likely Steinway also built the church as a place of worship for the workers in his factory — he already had built workers’ housing two blocks away on 20th Avenue between 41st and 43rd Streets (above).

Nearby, Pistilli Grand Manor, Ditmars between 45-46th Streets, was built by the Steinways as a piano factory that predated Steinway & Sons’ larger factory now at Steinway Place and 19th Avenue. The 300,000 square foot warehouse became a warehouse for Stern’s Department Store in the 1950s. After the store faltered, the forbidding-looking brick factory lay empty for 20 years until developer Joseph Pistilli remade it as upscale housing beginning in 2003.

If you walk up Steinway Place (38th Street) north of 19th Avenue, the area is permeated with the smell of coffee, sometimes overpowering. This is the home of the White Coffee factory, a brand of which I wasn’t aware.

I like orange juice or soda in the morning: though I like the idea of coffee — I like the aroma — I have never gotten into the habit. I think I have drank ten cups in my life, total.

East Astoria

There’s a curious area¬†consisting of a couple of streets that ‘break the grid’ just north of the GCP and east of Steinway Street. A look at older maps in this area reveals that the region used to be a little more extensive, and had a name: East Astoria.

Beers atlas, 1873.

Bromley atlas, 1909.

On today’s map, Flushing Avenue survives as Astoria Boulevard, here a service road for the Grand Central Parkway, and Steinway Street is still Steinway Street. The other streets, which meet the grid at an angle, have disappeared, except for Nassau Avenue which is now 23rd Road, and Sound Street, which is a narrow one -block lane that nonetheless is rather busy as it brings traffic to the 44th Street Bridge crossing the GCP.

Sound Street (at left)

Nassau Avenue (with tree), now 23rd Road, crosses 42nd Street. Note the absence of a sidewalk.

Above: 23rd Road. This small subneighborhood is otherwise undocumented in most histories, but there’s undoubtedly a reason why it came to be. I wonder what it is.

Amtrak/freight line is bridged over the Grand Central Parkway at Astoria Boulevard. The RR bridge preceded the parkway by about 18 years.

Railroad concrete arch, 46th Street at 25th Avenue. The railroad is lower to the ground here, so the arch isn’t as impressive as the ones further west.

Bulova Watch

A short street spanning the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway formerly called 26th Avenue was renamed Bulova Avenue about 40 years ago to honor Bulova Watch, which is headquartered here. The company was formed in 1875 by Czech immigrant Joseph Bulova (1851-1936). The company has had numerous innovations over the years: first national radio commercial (1926), the first TV commercial in 1941, and the first ‘electronic watch,’ the Accutron, powered by a one-transistor¬†electronic oscillator¬†circuit, in 1960. The former Bulova School of Watchmaking building still stands in Woodside.

You’re barreling down 34th Avenue when the urge for ‘what you crave’ takes over, and there, just before you reach the BQE, there it is! White Castle! On 69th Street.

False alarm — this is just a regional office. There are White Castles at Queens Blvd. and 57th Avenue and Northern and 88th, though.

Now, how did I know that?

Here we are at the edge of Jackson Heights. These buildings on 34th Avenue aren’t part of the historic district, but they’re pretty swell, nonetheless. The side streets are lined with Tudors and sycamore trees.

Finally, here’a very old attached pair of houses at Leverich Street and 35th Road. Somewhere in the vicinity — though no longer accessible — is the over 300-year old burial ground of the Leverich family. No grave markers are visible.

35th Road between 69th and Leverich Streets is the last extant remnant of the ancient Trains Meadow Road, formerly the main SW-NE route across the swampy fields that, in the early 20th Century, became the Jackson Heights we know today.

1/9/12





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37 Responses to NORTH ASTORIA, Queens, Part 2

  1. Alec says:

    Your info about the White Castle locations is slightly off. The one you reference on Queens Blvd is at 57th Ave, not 57th street, right by the mall. There is also one on Queens Blvd and 43rd St. in Sunnyside. Like you, how would I know that? :)

    I lived in Sunnyside in the 90′s. Apparently, Jackie Mason also gets the craving, as I spotted him in the 43rd st location one night.

  2. Old Skool says:

    The one on Queens Blvd & 43rd st is right in my old stomping grounds.

  3. Mark Nahmias says:

    Re: White Castle. I’m surprised that you omitted the White Castle location on Jamaica Ave. Sometime ago (early 90′s?) the company closed the Union Turnpike & Parsons Blvd. store & moved to Jamaica Ave. near Parsons Blvd. where it thrived & co-existed with Wendy’s &, McDonald’s. When Woolworth’s closed, the Burger King that shared their space departed along with the old 5 &10. At least that was the stae of things when I departed the Empire State in 2005.

    • KevinJWalsh says:

      Well, Jamaica Avenue is a long way from Jax Heights.

      • DeviantSole says:

        Besides, the Castle on Jamaica Ave, is now closed. Has been since at least 2010.

        • Mark Nahmias says:

          As I stated before I left the Empire State in 2005 & I last visaited Queens in 2007 so fdrgive my ignorance of the Jamaica White Castle closure, Too bad for you, Jamaica. Here in AZ you can buy White Castles in the frozen food section of the supermarket but since McDonald’s offers $1.00 cheeseburgers (called McDoubles) why botther with frozen White Castles? Like NYC, White Castle lives in the brain’s nostalgia region, gone as I knew it but never to be forgotten.

          • Alec says:

            There is a white Castle on Hillside Ave and around 175th St. Now living in Briarwood, it’s my home location. Amazing how I know all this.

  4. Roger_the_Shrubber says:

    Pity you left out the Immaculate Conception church, it’s the most recognizable landmark in that area. Certainly more interesting than the Pizza Palace.

  5. kikki says:

    kevin you are just TOO MUCH!!!

  6. Emilio Castro says:

    Kevin –

    funny how you always hit my old haunts! I lived at Steinway and 20th for 16 years, and I always had the view of the piano factory and Big Alice (Con Ed plant) from my windows!

    • Dave D says:

      Talk about old haunts – I’ll go one better. So far, Kevin has shown a picture of the house I grewup (one of the only ones left on the block) in Flushing and in another unrealate post, a picture of my grandmothers house. Two for two so far

  7. Gerard talamo says:

    I remember the White Castle on Roosevelt Ave and 69 St when I was a kid. But frequented the one on 88 St the most. Now have to avoid all belly bombers due to the bombing effect.

  8. Joe says:

    Just a quick thank you from a reader in Seattle. I’ve never lived in NYC, I’ve only visited once, and I’m fascinated by your site. Your knowledge of NYC history, folklore, infrastructure, and culture is a blast to read. I love that you pay attention to things like stacked street signs, street light models, and red doors, as well as architectural legacy and aesthetics. I often come here to take a little vacation and imagine what it must feel like to live in the neighborhoods you portray. Thank you – keep up the great work.

  9. Kathy Dillon says:

    I was born and lived at 42-10 Ditmars Blvd. from 1944-1951. Behind our home ran an alleyway that ran the full length of the block. I remember the Steinway Piano Factory being there. Across the street from our home was a convent behind tall ornate iron gates. A few doors down from us was a little German grocery store. Dr. Dobbins lived in the brick home two doors down from us and my aunt lived on the corner of 41st St. and Ditmars, my grandmother on 21st Ave across the street from St. Francis rectory. I have many fond childhood memories of Astoria, the home of many of my relatives.

    • Rina brenkovich says:

      Dear Kathy. I have lived at 42-10 ditmars blvd since 1985 . If you ever come to Astoria you can email me if you would like to visit your old house. Ilove to hear stories of the past. Sincerely, rina Brenkovich
      Dr dobbins nMe is still on the house at 42-0 and the convent a Ross the St has been moved to the center of the St
      Best regards 2013 inastoria

  10. Tom says:

    On 23rd Road there is but one house that fronts the street (number 41-10) and there is a second one-story house behind that on where I lived for 2 years in the 80′s.

    BTW the street known as Bulova Place was called Berkey Place in the 70′s when Berkey Photo occupied a building overlooking the BQE on the same street.

  11. Robert Oggins says:

    I lived on 34 st 30 ave from 1950 to1977 then 72st an34 aVE 77 TO 2000 . NOW LIVE IN LV . I REMEMBER THE WHITE CASTEL ON UNION TPK WHEN THE CAR HOP WORE SKATES.ALSO THE KEYSTONE DINER ON30 AVE .ALSO THE GREEN SHACK BY JHS126.MURRYS MILK BAR ON STEINWAY AN 30 AVE. THE CHARCOLE GRILL ON 21ST.GERKINS RUDYS ICE CREAM POLAR ON30AVE.STEINWAY POLL HALL BWAY STEINWAY. A GERMAN RESTRAUNT ON STEINWAY CANT REMEMBER NAME.THE TRIBORO ASTORIA BWAY STRAND MOVIE THEATERS.SOKELS TOY STORE RIZZOS PIZZA.

    • Jimmy says:

      The name of the German resturant that was located on Steinway street bet. 28th ave and 30th ave was called “Hofbrau”. They also had another one on queens blvd. at 43rd by the VFW. I use to go as a child in the 6′;s with family. The german bakery on Steinway st very close to the Hofbrau was called Benkerts.Fond memories of Astoria!

    • Jimmy says:

      Rizzo’s pizza. The best when it was owned by Frank. I think that was his name. Rizzo’s is still there but it’s garbage. How bout Bill Allens sports next to Carvel Ice cream.

      • Robert Oggins says:

        that became an army nave store do u rember the green shack by 126 pauls candy store next to Bryant HS susies an ernies on34st an 31 ave the chines resturant across from the astorai movie.the gran central bar on 30 ave .the italian bkery between 33st an 34 on 30 ave phils jewish deli on 30 ave the poolhall in the basment on31st an 30ave

        • Robert Oggins says:

          my mistake sauls deli was on 30 ave .phils was on bway. how about gerkins on 30th ave Genos barber shop on 34thst .rubys housedress store brights appliance store on 30 ave.grand central bar on34thst 31ve

  12. Robert Biliski Jr says:

    I still own my my two faimly brick home on 41 street between 20th ave and 20th rd. I now live in Glen head L.I. but don’t have the hart to sell. It has been in the faimly since my great-grandfather purchased it in 1899 when william started to sell to the workers. my grandfather came over in 1877 as a craftsmaker. he worked for the Stienways in Germany. My dad passed away in early 2012 and i am now the 4th generation to own and live there. my son is 12 and is the fifth generation of Biliski”s to have lived there as well. I wanted to know if there is any new push to landmark the row of brick houses on 41 st as well as 20 ave ? Bob From GAHS reached out to the neighborhood in the mid 70s to no avail. CAN ANYTHING BE DONE??? I would hate to see the houses torn down for five story condos…..Thank you…..Rob.

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi, Mr. Biliski. I grew up in Astoria (near Astoria General Hospital and MPB Church) in the 70′s and 80′s. I spent most of my adult life working in the former Yugoslavia. I have been looking to buy one of the Steinway Houses to live in. If you are interested in exploring the possibiity of selling to a native Astorian, please let me know. I would take care of the house.
      I have checked online (NYC Landmark Preservation Commission) and there is no current push to landmark the Steinway Houses, which is a pity. I saw that brownstones in Ridgewood are slated to be landmarked. It is a pity there is no push in Astoria. I would support it.
      Thank you.
      Stephanie

  13. Carmela Vetrano says:

    Does anyone know about the pile of dirt near the entrance to Rikers Island? Was it from Midtown Tunnel or Lincoln Tunnel? I was told from Midtown but someone is disputing it because they say that land to the airport is owned by Port Authority so its from Lincoln Tunnel. I was told its from Midtown tunnel. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Ed Lufrano says:

      I used to play on that pile of dirt as a kid in the 60′s. We called it the mountain. I was told that it was dirt that was dredged up when they were expanding Laguardia airport and constructing Rikers Island. I don’t know if that is true though.

  14. risa says:

    any photos or name of ice cream parlor on ditmars blvd between 36 and 37th street in the 50′s-early 60′s?

  15. Ed Lufrano says:

    I live on 43rd street between 20th road and 20th avenue between 1962 and 1980. My parents still live in the same house. The area has changed a little. I remember it being filled with beautiful trees with each house having lush shrubbery in the front yard. Now it seems everything has been paved over. I had a great childhood in that neighborhood: PS 84, St. Francis of ASSISI school and church, Bob and Dan’s grocery/candy store on 42 st and 20th road, Didio’s pizza on Steinway street., the large, gothic-like houses on 43 st and 20 rd that have all but disappeared, Square hardware store (great toy train set up in the window for Christmas), King Penny, John’s bargain store, Leonard’s pizza, Woolworths (the 5 and 10), Laguli’s bakery (great ices in summer), Famous fashion clothing store (they had a Santa downstairs in the back for the kiddies during the holidays), treasure cove gift store, the Ditmars movie theatre, phil’s deli (the best hotdogs). We had it made and didn’t know it. I’d like to go back and re-live one day of that wonderful time.

  16. Lou M. says:

    Does anyone remember the Venice Bar/pizzeria at the end of Astoria Blvd.

  17. Marcy says:

    anyone have any pix that include Astoria Bootery on Ditmars. It was my family’s store for decades, and I have no pix of it. Thanks!

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