WHITESTONE’S FAR NORTH

By SERGEY KADINSKY
Forgotten NY correspondent

In recent years, the coastlines of Manhattan and Brooklyn have been reclaimed by the public as ribbons of waterfront parkland take up shores that previously belonged to industry. As we reported previously in College Point and North Astoria, Queens’ East River Shoreline is not as accessible. Here, residential developers hold sway and instead of parks, gated communities separate the public from the water. In our continuing series on the borough’s northern coast, we now visit Whitestone, Beechhurst and Fort Totten.

Whitestone is the northernmost neighborhood in Queens, situated between Whitestone Bridge and Throgs Neck Bridge. Its shoreline is largely comprised of upper income tract mansions and high rise apartments. An important ferry landing prior to the construction of Whitestone Bridge, the community was served by the Long Island Railroad until 1932. Near the eponymous bridge, Francis Lewis Park occupies a portion of the former estate of American revolutionary Francis Lewis. The park has a small cove that has a beach, but swimming is prohibited. Considering that Queens’s north shore once had numerous beaches with resorts and amusement parks prior to the Second World War, are there any swimming sites still in operation on the East River?

 

Whitestone Boosters Civic Association

At a dead-end segment of the never-completed Powells Cove Boulevard to the east of 149th Place is a traffic loop monitored by Whitestone Boosters Civic Association. It is one of the two last private beaches remaining on the Queens shoreline of the East River. A third can be found in Little Neck Bay. In a neighborhood filled with private gated communities, cameras and security guards, the best day for me to check out these beaches is when there is a heavy downpour and no one’s watching. Known as Boosters Beach, it occurring a narrow sliver of sand behind a tall fence.

 

Cresthaven

 

A former country club, Cresthaven, Powell’s Cove Boulevard between 3rd and 6th Avenues, once occupied 22 acres of waterfront real estate. Following its closing in 1989, the property was subdivided for tract mansions accessed by private streets. A couple of these streets reach the water’s edge, but it does not appear that there is a beach in use at Cresthaven. From the bead-end at Cresthaven, one can see Whitestone Point Rock. This outcropping used to have a lighthouse that was operated by a keeper until around 1990. It has since been automated like all other lighthouses in the city. Between 1889 and 1908, Whitestone Point had a romantic-looking lighthouse tower with a bell. Today, a simple skeleton tower with a beacon performs the duty.

 

Beechhurst Property Owners Association

 

At the landing of 158th Street near Riverside Drive, a waterfront parcel as wide as the street belongs to Beechhurst Property Owners Association (BPOA) whose logo resembles a DOT-issue bridge directional sign. To the left of the beach entrance is a private segment of Riverside Drive, where one can find eight oversize tract mansions with their own docks and waterfront pools. Because Beechhurst shares the 11357 zip code with the more populated neighborhood of Whitestone, it is regarded by outsiders as part of Whitestone to the dismay of some residents.

 

Wildflower Estate

 

At the eastern end of Whitestone / Beechhurst, the shoreline curves south into Little Bay. This promontory is known on maps as Cryder’s Point. In the early 20th century, this location was part of Long Island’s Gold Coast, a stretch of waterfront mansions covering the northern shores of Queens and Nassau counties. In 1924, Queens’ Gold Coast was enhanced by the construction of Wildflower, briefly the home of Broadway impresario Oscar Hammerstein II, who named the mansion after one of his plays. In 1930, Hammerstein fell on hard times and sold the mansion. From the early 1980s until 1999, the landmarked mansion fell into decay, overshadowed by Throgs Neck Bridge. Since then, the property was developed with upscale townhouses and the 15-room mansion was divided into six condo units. Because the estate has a gate and 24-hour security, the best I could do here is poke my camera between the fence posts. Although Wildflower has a beach, it is not used for swimming.

 

Le Havre

 

The modernist apartment complex’s name seems like a nod to architect Le Corbusier, who promoted the Tower-In-The-Park concept in the postwar period. Only 19 percent of Le Havre’s land is occupied by buildings. The rest is a private park-like terrain. In French, its name translates as “The Harbor.” Completed in 1958, Le Havre comprises of 32 towers on 32 acres of waterfront land. Each apartment has a terrace and full-length windows.

Wildflower and Le Havre are both located at Powells Cove Boulevard and Totten Street.

 

Utopia Parkway

 

Running between Beechhurst and Jamaica Estates, this roadway begins as a one-lane dead-end on the shore of Little Bay. Behind the dead-end are the Wildflower townhouses. Across the bay from Utopia Parkway is Fort Totten and behind it is Great Neck. At this location (by some accounts) East River becomes known as Long Island Sound.

 

Fort Totten

The northeast extreme of Queens is an ear-shaped peninsula that was used as an army base between 1857 and 1995. Following the army’s decommissioning of this historic base, the peninsula is shared by the Fire Department, NYPD, Parks Department, Coast Guard and a small remnant portion retained by the U.S. Army Reserve. While some of the buildings on the former base are actively used as offices and training facilities, others are in a dilapidated state, ravaged by the moisture and winds of the bay. Some of the former army residences appear as if transported from a small town. As a former residential community, Fort Totten had its own post office, zip code, swimming pool, little league and street signs. On the map, military names include Sgt. Beers Avenue and Walter Reed Road.

 

The largest unused building at Fort Totten is the former hospital, which flanks the Parade Ground. Reminiscent of Liggett Hall on Governors Island, it nearly spans the width of the peninsula. Considering the city’s overcrowded public schools and neighborhood opposition to new schools in residential areas, I am surprised that the city hasn’t reused some of the vacant buildings as schools.

 

Also vacant is the Willett Farmhouse, hidden behind thick vegetation. It predates the fort and is a link to a period when the peninsula carried the name Willet’s Point. The chapel is leased to a Korean congregation while the Officers’ Club is used by Bayside Historical Society.

 

Most of Fort Totten’s coastline is rocky, unsuitable for a beach. Its swimming pool however, is open to the public during the summer.

FNY will soon have a more comprehensive look at Fort Totten.

 

Francis Lewis Park

 

This 9-acre park covers a remnant of the property that belonged to Francis Lewis. The Welsh-born merchant represented Queens in the signing of the Declaration of Independence and his name also appears on a local high school and the north-south boulevard that stretches from Whitestone to Rosedale. The city acquired this park in 1937. Its beach is useful for walking, launching canoes and fishing but signs inform visitors that swimming is prohibited.

 

Samos Lane

 

The northernmost avenue in Queens is Second Avenue, which is the first number in a grid sequence that extends to 165th Avenue in Howard Beach. In 2004, a private cul-de-sac was constructed between Second Avenue and the water’s edge, containing four extravagant Mediterranean palaces. As a private road, it has its own custom-made sign.

As Whitestone has a large Greek population, it is possible that the street’s name comes from the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea. According to the historian Strabo, its name is Phoenician for “rise by the shore.”

Across the street from Samos Lane, a fire hydrant is tastefully wrapped by paving stones. Second Avenue does not have sidewalks.

 

Little Bay Park

 

When one visits Little Bay Park, the curved coastline is reminiscent of Orchard Beach.

 

This is no accident as in the early postwar years, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses intended to construct Clearview Beach on this site. Across the East River, Ferry Point Park also has a curved shoreline that was designed for a beach. Neither ever went beyond planning stage.

6/4/15

 

 


23 Responses to WHITESTONE’S FAR NORTH

  1. Jeffrey H. Wasserman says:

    An aunt and uncle of mine used to live in the Le Havre apartments. I recall a while on black sign in the the lobby of their apartment house with the initials LH on it. I used to think it meant LeFrak House until now. Their apartment had a great sweeping view of Long Island Sound and the Whitestone Bridge. The terrace was accessible from both the living room and master bedroom. The master bedroom and living room had wall-to-wall windows on the exterior wall. The fridge in the kitchen was mounted on the ceiling over the counter like an overhead kitchen cabinet! If this apartment ever went co-op or condo, it’d be worth a mint!

  2. Fred Mayer says:

    I grew up in Whitestone (10-06 148th St.) and spent almost every non-school day in Francis Lewis Park. Many days were spent riding my bike to Utopia Lane to watch the bridge construction. If memory serves, Cresthaven CC had a pool that was open to the public (25 cents) during the day except when being used by the CYO Catholic Youth Org. day camp (I think around noon for 2 hours). Wonderful place to grow up in the 50’s & 60’s.

  3. Bob Weinstein says:

    Does anyone remember a day camp on the water in Whitestone called Wide Wings?

    • Fred Mayer says:

      Sorry, spent many summer days in Whitestone and can only remember the CYO day camp. I delivered the LI Star Journal in Malba, not that it has any relevance to your post.

    • peter says:

      Yes – It was on the shore in Queens, not far west of the Throgs Neck Bridge, on which construction was just being finished my first year there. I was a counselor there during the summers of 1960 and 1961. Did you have questions about the camp? Were you there?

    • Howard Mellon says:

      There were two camps. One was Wide Wings and was closer to the Throgs Neck bridge. I remember it had an old mansion house and a large, for a little kid, wooded area. Closer to the water, the pool had a pool house that overlooked the water and we used to take rowboats out into the river. That camp closed when the property was sold and the owner reopened closer to the Whitestone Bridge calling the camp Wings. Its clearly gone now from the google earth view, but it had a huge pool in a T shape. I did my red cross junior lifesaver course there. This is all from memory, but it had acreage and was fenced. Coming in from the entrance there was a building with a few offices and then girls lockers went to the left and boys to the right. To the left of the building was a ball field, but us older kids could hit softballs on the roof of the building. Behind the building was a small open area and then a large tent where kids got lunch or played when it rained. To the right of the building was the pool, and then open space. There was a kitchen between the pool and the building, which was attached to the main building. There was an old abandoned Divco type truck (think old milk truck) way out back used for storage and a few small kids buildings to play in. On weekends and evenings it was open as a swim club. I would love to find some old pictures of the place. As a teenager I worked there 2 summers for $100 a summer.

  4. jerry says:

    Thanks for this. Growing up in Whitestone in the 60’s and 70’s, the waterfront (other than F. L. Park) was always a mystery to me, what with the large Tropicana plant, and then the private lanes and houses that you mention. Plus in days before easy access to aerial photos, it was even harder to imagine what went on at the waters edge. Real “terra incognita” as they say.

    I do remember the public pool at Cresthaven CYO (Which may have also been known as “Whitestone Pool”?), which if I remember correctly may have been a salt water pool. (Ugh….where did that water come from then?)

    Finally, F.L. Park used to offer one of my favorite quintessential NY experiences, which is hanging out in the cool space beneath a major bridge. We used to go right down on the rocks under the south anchorage and fish, smoke, hang-out, whatever. Alas, post 9/11 I believe there is a full time police presence and/or other means to prevent that. So few secret places to hang out at anymore….

  5. zoso says:

    boosters beach was my childhood.on 4 of july we greased a watermelon and had to capture it in water.then we had local bands for us teens,all played sunshine of your love,summer was quick/whitestone pool was great,they had a slide down from locker rooms/and yes CYO did take over beecghurst country club also………………whitestone/freddys pizza and carvel/is storks bakery still there? thanks for the memories,i went to st.lukes school and p.s.79 for kindergarten……

  6. whitestone says:

    storks is gone I wish I could still live there……

  7. John Prinzivalli says:

    My Great grandfather Edward Cleary had a farm on 14th Avenue around 1900 in White Plains, any suggestions on how to find more information about the farm?

    Thanks, John Prinzivalli, Hadley, MA

  8. John Prinzivalli says:

    Please excuse the last post, that was Edward Cleary on 14th Street in Whitestone queens.

  9. LP says:

    Hey Zoso! I’ve parallel experiences to yours. I also went to PS 79 and then St Lukes through 4th grade, but then off to Holy Trinity & St. Agnes for the rest! I’ve fond memories of Freddie’s Pizzeria in “the Village,” with its hitching post and a slice that, at one time,cost the same as a subway ride, 20 cents. I remember Carvell and their raspberry sorbet and Storks with their jelly donuts. Many summer days at CYO (bug juice) @ Cresthaven Pool, where, during its country club time, Bernie taught me the crawl. At other times, we went to Whitestone Pool. Frances Lewis Park was neverland to me. I’d take my bike down the hill toward the water and sometimes fish under the bridge with my grandfather (Poppy). Otherwise, I’d cycle through Malba, College Point, Flushing and Fort Totten. There was Adventurers Inn, the Aero Slife, Golf City, a watching the planes at Flushing (Speeds) Aiport At low tide, I’d go to the Cement Pier in Malba and enter what I called the tunnel and what I now believe was a storm discharge outlet! There were long walks with the neighborhood kid to the glen near the Trogs Neck Bridge for live music during the summer. When we got a little older and had phony proof in hand, we went to the Mona Kai (near Bohacks & Tropacana) for a Flaming Volcano or to Rum Bottoms for some music. Funny, I found this site when I got curious about the fate of Cresthaven & Whitestone Pools ( I left the east coast for the west in early in the early 1980’s). I enjoyed walking down memory lane and am so thankful for my time on 11th and 13th Avenues.

  10. Kate Battaglia says:

    i grew up in whitestone on 12 th road off of 150th street. I remember Cherry valley dairy, Storks, Freddies pizza, Chris’s card shop. Entered window painting contests. I wish I could find some of these awards from the window painting constests to give to my son. I miss the old Whitestone. We were middle class. We lived in a house on 12 th rd/ Life was good. We had Freddies Pizza, Bertlesons and a really great life We went to Whitestone park and watched the river go by under the bridge.We watched the Throgs Nweck bridge go up and Bayside explode, Now whitestone is an elite community. Before it was middle class. Oh well. New York is becoming too gentrified. The average person cannot live there anymore because it is too expensive, Where does the middle class live now anyway.?

    • Ed Winters says:

      I attended Immanuel Lutheran School from 1959-1968. Part of the daily routine walking home from school was to either get an Italian Ice at Bertlesons (5 or 10 cent sizes) or a slice of Pizza at Freddies (15 cents per slice, 20 cents for a Sicilian slice). Sometimes I would have to get a haircut at Frenchy’s Barber Shop. It cost $1.25 in those days. On the very day JFK was assassinated, my brother and I walked home and stopped by Chris’s Card Shop to see if we placed in the recent window painting contest (we painted a picture on one of the windows at Bohack’s Market on 14th avenue). The paper posted on Chris’s window said we came in 7th place (out of eight top spots) for our age category. It was exciting! The prize was not a trophy though, we each were awarded an art set. Only 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place got trophies. I loved Whitestone in those days! My brother still lives there.

    • RRP says:

      I’m still here! Have been for 45 years. I wouldn’t call it an elite neighborhood, but I do call it home. We have become a small city with many diversified cultures. It is not the small town I grew up in anymore, but to me, it’s still a great place to raise my family.

  11. j says:

    Jerry,
    There were 2 pools: the whitestone pool was the public pool at the end of the street. The cresthaven country club pool was only for the CYO kids and for the country club people after the camp. All are gone. Went to Boosters beach and sold my share/spot, what an idiot I am!!!! It’s sad what whitestone has become. I cry when I go back and don’t want to keep doing it to myself. Boosters beach is disgusting with all those overgrown mansions there. Same with the whitestone pool and cresthaven gone. The mansions are overcrowding what used to beautiful old farm houses and Tudors. This should have remained a historic town. Instead, money polluted/corrupted the business men there. Oh well.

  12. Michael G Curry says:

    Beechurst had a beach i went to as a child next to tropicana etc.

  13. Diane Popeil says:

    I am looking for information about the Day camp that was at PS 184 back in the 70’s. Does anyone know the name or have any info on it.?

  14. Maureen says:

    Maureen Kopelman
    I lived in bldg 16 apartment 2D. We moved there in 1958. When it went Condo, my mother bought it. After she died it was sold for a great deal of money.

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