What’s the most unusual street in Queens?
For me, it’s a one-block street near the southern limit of Forest Hills, running between 70th Drive and 71st Avenue just north of Union Turnpike and Forest Park. There’s a nearby stables, or at least there was until recently — I haven’t checked for awhile.
As this 1915 Belcher Hyde atlas plate shows, Walnut Street is part of an old street grid that survived, despite having a newer one (the Forest Hills grid of alphabetized streets named alphabetically from Austin through Wanda — the names survive only through Olcott, with Sybilla lasting as well). The older grid featured a Northern Boulevard, well south and several miles shorter than its northern Queens namesake. As you can see here, it’s a pleasant tree-lined street that’s shaded on both sides.
What sets apart Walnut Street from most other streets in Queens is not that it carries a name…rather, its house numbers are a vestige of the Queens that existed previous to its present street numbering system.
Queens house numbers are immediately recognizable. They carry a hyphen that separates the street number from the house number. Thus, 77-25 105th Avenue (I’m just making this address up) would be between 77th and 78th Street. This system applies for named streets as well; 77-25 Union Turnpike will be between the same two streets.
But Walnut Street breaks the rules, and breaks them in a way that makes it nearly completely nonsensical to people who don’t live in the neighborhood. In Queens, house numbers get higher the further east you go, because the numbers begin at the East River. On Walnut Street, however, the house numbers begin at Number 98 at 71st Avenue, and get bigger as you go west toward 70th Drive…for only half the block. At that point, the normal Queens numbering system takes over, and you have the 70-XX numbering system, in which the numbers decrease as you go west.
But wait…that’s not all! The exact reverse takes place on the north side of Walnut Street, as No. 112 can be found at the western end of the street. The numbers decrease as you go east until you arrive at the middle of the block…where the 70-XX numbers take over and increase until you arrive at 71st Avenue!
What’s going on here?
Here’s my guess: Walnut Street’s older homes probably maintain their older numbering system that was in effect before the new numbering was imposed on Queens in the 1920s. Walnut Street’s newer homes, built after the Twenties, carry the ‘new’ numbering system with the hyphens. And Walnut Street is so small, it probably was overlooked.