Parsons Boulevard is one of Queens’ lengthier roads, although NYC’s various traffic agencies and city planners haven’t shown it a great amount of respect. It begins way up north in Malba, a formerly private development in Whitestone in the shadow of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, and after an interruption by its approach road, the Whitestone Expressway, runs south and southeast through the heart of Flushing, but is stopped cold by Kissena Park.
This 1949 Hagstom map of Queens shows it continuing through Kissena Park, which may have been a dream of the Department of Traffic (later, “Transportation”) at the time. Little evidence except a park path exists today that it was ever run through the park. This map also shows it stopping at 65th Avenue which was, at the time, the northern end of the Pomonok Country Club. Between the 1940s and the 196os, the country club was transformed into Electchester Housing, a project bringing middle-class digs to members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (I have photos of the complex below). Parsons Boulevard was extended through Electchester, and so runs continuously from Booth Memorial Avenue south to Archer Avenue and the end of the E and J subway lines since 1988.
I walked Parsons Boulevard from Flushing Hospital to Jamaica in August 2017, enduring the heat and humidity, and recorded some stuff I hope FNY readers will find interesting.
Parsons Boulevard, 45th Avenue and 147th Street come together at General George J. Lawrence Square, which I devoted a page to because until recently it was still marked with an old-school white Queens street sign. General Lawrence (1881-1949) practiced at Flushing Hospital, heading obstetrics and gynecology for many years. Lawrence served with the “Fighting 69th” Regiment during WWI, receiving two Silver Stars for valor. He rose to Lieutenant Colonel at the end of the war and had risen to Brigadier General by World War II.
Historical information about Flushing Hospital is surprisingly sketchy. I’d appreciate any additional information if FNY readers can supply it. It was founded in 1883 by “community-minded women” in Flushing “who set up a room with one bed in a rented house.” This postcard from the era on Forest, now 45th, Avenue presumably shows the house. The hospital expanded over the years to encompass a complex bounded by Parsons Boulevard, Burling Street, Delaware Avenue and 45th Avenue.
When I first encountered Parsons Boulevard on Queens maps, I presumed it had something to do with area churches. However, the name reflects Flushing’ former status as an area whose commerce had much to do with commercial plant nurseries.
The park lies on the former plant nursery grounds of Samuel Bowne Parsons, and does, in fact, contain the last remnants of their plant businesses, as we’ll see. Parsons Boulevard is the road built in the 1870s that connected Parsons’ farm with that of Robert Bowne. A natural body of water fed by springs connecting to the Flushing River was named Kissena by Parsons, and is likely the only Chippewa (a Michigan tribe) place name in New York State. Parsons, a native American enthusiast, used the Chippewa term for “cool water” or simply “it is cold.” After Samuel Parsons died in 1906 the family sold the part of the plant nursery to NYC, which then developed Kissena Park, and the other part to developers Paris-MacDougal, which set about developing the area north of the park. Kissena Park attained its present size in 1927. Much of its southern end remains wilderness, with bridle paths running through it.
Large apartment building at Parsons and Hawthorne Avenue. Apartment buildings of this size and type are harder to find as you go further east in Queens, and many are found clustered along railroad stops. This building, however, likely was constructed to house doctors, nurses and other workers at Flushing Hospital.
Sitting in my living room in Flushing between 1993 and 2007, I often heard the bells of Mary’s Nativity and St. Ann Church at Parsons and Holly Avenue.
The Church of Mary’s Nativity and St. Ann is a combination of two separate Flushing parishes that were founded in 1926 and 1927, respectively. This “new” church’s cornerstone was laid in 1963 and it was dedicated in an elaborate ceremony March 27th, 1965. The parish has helpfully linked to the parish dedication book, which has gorgeous Kodachrome photos of the interior, including a replica of the Pieta, Michelangelo’s work depicting a grieving Mary with the body of Jesus after His crucifixion. The Pieta was, of course, exhibited in the Flushing Meadows World’s Fair in 1964 and 1965.
“Nativity” refers to the birth of Mary; the word is also applied to Jesus’ birth, while St. Ann was the mother of Mary: although her name is not mentioned in the Gospels or other holy texts, her name and that of her husband, Joachim, come from New Testament apocrypha.
As stated Parsons Boulevard is interrupted by Kissena Park, so I walked along Rose Avenue to Kissena Boulevard, where there’s a park entrance shown here. The park, which I explored thoroughly in 2007, was a large part of my existence when I lived in the area: I could always find surcease from my background fears by relaxing in the park, which is half urban and half unclaimed wilderness.
Resuming on Parsons Boulevard again after detouring on Kissena Boulevard and Booth Memorial Avenue, I encountered Electchester, a housing project originally built for electrical union workers in the 1940s.
The middle-income project was spearheaded by Harry Van Arsdale, Jr. president of Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Another part was managed by the City Housing Authority who built the Pomonok Houses, among other developments. Electchester was the latest in a series of housing projects built for specific categories of unionized workers, joining the Amalgamated Houses, Bronx, and Seward Park Houses, Manhattan (garment workers); Concourse Village, Bronx (meat cutters); Big Six towers, Woodside (printers and lithographers).
Electchester was constructed in stages from the late 1940s to late 1960s, and the buildings in the project were named prosaically beginning with the First Houses and going up to the Fifth Houses, which are the two towers on 160th and 162nd Streets. Electchester has an unusual street layout with 160th, 161st and 162nd forming a rounded Y-shaped pattern between 65th Avenue and Jewel Avenue/Harry Van Arsdale, Jr. Avenue.
The project sits on the former grounds of the Pomonok Country Club.
Under Van Arsdale Jr’s stewardship Electchester also built a community center and library. The Electric Industry Center featured a theater, bowling alley, a shopping center across the street, dental and medical units and a bar, and the Pomonok branch of Queens Public Library. Jewel Avenue, arriving from Forest Hills to the west, was subnamed for Van Arsdale Jr. in 1988.
What is that circular object on the roof of the 107th NYPD Precinct at Parsons Boulevard and 71st Avenue? An antenna?
A walk on 71st Avenue, to the rear of the Electchester shopping center, reveals a pair of 1950s-era curved-mast bracketed lamps. These found frequent use outside the five boroughs, but not on NYC streets.
A curiously-named short street, Aguilar Avenue, connects Kissena and Parsons Boulevards at 72nd Avenue. This short path is shown on maps produced as early as 1852 and no doubt, the road was there a long time before that. Kissena Boulevard and Parsons Boulevard were once part of the same road, the Jamaica Road to Flushing, and the “kink” that became Aguilar Avenue was there likely to get around a geographical feature like a pond or a swamp.
For years I had been mystified about the Spanish-sounding Aguilar Avenue’s origins (the spanish pronunciation is most likely Ah-GHEE-yar). Sergey Kadinsky believes he found the answer: the avenue, as well as Aguilar Library in East Harlem, was named for Grace Aguilar (1816-1847), the Sephardic Jewish educator, reformer, historian, and novelist, the most published Jewish woman of the 19th Century. Aguilar Avenue runs past a number of housing projects that remain heavily Jewish.
Speaking of colorfully-named streets, 73rd Avenue is a main artery from Parsons Boulevard east to Cunningham Park. It originally was a colonial-era road issuing east from Fresh Meadow Lane (now Utopia Parkway) and was known then as Blackstump Road–it was the practice of farmers in the area to delineate their properties by marking the boundaries with burnt, blackened tree stumps. It was numbered in the 1920s.
Besides Jewish residents many Afghanis also live in the area. The outline of the country of Afghanistan is depicted in the otherwise Arabic characters of this supermarket on Parsons Boulevard and 75th Avenue, as we are on the outskirts of the neighborhood of Kew Gardens Hills.
This round-ended building on Parsons south of Union Turnpike is the “T building” of Queens Hospital Center (nee Queens General Hospital) and was originally known as Triboro Hospital, a tuberculosis treatment facility, built c. 1939-1940.
With its airy wings and sun-drenched balconies it was intended for the then favored treatment of tuberculosis (TB or “consumption”), plenty of fresh air and light. It is similar in architecture to city hospital pavilions constructed on Welfare Island (Goldwater Hosp) and North Brother Island (Riverside Hosp). –ForgottenFan Al Trojanowicz
The Grand Central Parkway, named for its position through the heart of Queens and not a reference to the grand railroad terminal on East 42nd street, runs from the Triborough (RFK) east, southeast and east again to the Nassau County line, where it changes its name to the Northern State Parkway. It was one of the first “parkways” built to carry traffic swiftly at the dawn of the auto age by NYC traffic czar Robert Moses in the 1930s. It runs in an open cut, on the surface and on an elevated section in various areas. Originally it had a rural aspect, with tree shading and “woodie” style lampposts, but only its inability to carry trucks or buses because of low clearances on overpasses is the only remnant of that era.
The unusual facade of the Arlington Benson Dowd Funeral Home on Parsons just south of the GCP. Although many funeral homes around town feature unusual or classic architecture, getting information about funeral homes on their websites is all but fruitless, the thinking being that you’re not supposed to care about such earthbound matters.
The domed St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church nearly fills the block between Parsons, 152nd Street, 84th Road and 84th Drive. As with many such churches the entrance is decorated by gold leaf with lettering in two languages and depictions of the saint, angels and the Greek characters alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of the Greek alphabet. The phrase “I am the alpha and the omega” is used to describe Christ in various holy texts, including the Book of Revelations (Apocalypse).
Like 164th Street several blocks to the east, Parsons Boulevard narrows somewhat south of the Grand Central Parkway and becomes, for a stretch, a pleasant shaded residential enclave.
Everything seems copacetic on Normal Road, which intersects Parsons Blvd. at 86th Avenue. Actually the road is named for a vanished school and once ran along the right of way of a vanished trolley line. See this FNY page.
Some bright blue storefronts on Parsons Blvd. south of 86th Avenue display Indian and religious items, mixed with secular ones. Immigrants from the Indian subcontinental area occupy the Briarwood and Jamaica Hills neighborhoods.
Caged parrots outside a barbershop on Parsons south of 155th Street. Birds outside hair salons re apparently a “thing” as I have seen this in other parts of town.
I have always been fascinated with the ad painted into bricks on the corner of Parsons and Hillside Avenue for the Crosley Super-V, an old TV brand name. Though the Crosley Super-V was an actual product, I’ve been told this was a fake ad used for a modern-day television show.
A legit painted ad for a former liquor store is a couple of doors down from the Crosley.
Befitting its name perhaps, Parsons Boulevard reaches its southern end in a thicket of churches. the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church at Parsons Boulevard and 89th Avenue, built in 1922, features some extraordinary entablatures above its secondary entrances depicting the three members of the Holy Trinity. The congregation was organized in 1886, and the first church on the site constructed in 1894. The bell tower was shrouded in construction netting in the summer of 2017, but the rehab had been completed by the fall.
What I take as the Presentation of the B.V.M. parish hall is a few doors down Parsons Boulevard (let me know if I’m wrong). The lavishly baroque building is cornerstoned 1909.
Oddly, the church is named for an incident not recounted in the accepted Gospels:
The feast is associated with an event recounted not in the New Testament, but in the apocryphal Infancy Narrative of James. According to that text, Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, who had been childless, received a heavenly message that they would have a child. In thanksgiving for the gift of their daughter, they brought her, when still a child, to the Temple in Jerusalem to consecrate her to God. Later versions of the story (such as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary) tell us that Mary was taken to the Temple at around the age of three in fulfillment of a vow. Tradition held that she was to remain there to be educated in preparation for her role as Mother of God. wikipedia
Lovat Hall, an apartment building directly opposite the church. I am reminded of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat (1911-1995), an aristocrat who nonetheless served as a commando during WWII and was played by Peter Lawford in The Longest Day. I would like to think that someone yelled at him when there was incoming fire: “Lord Lovat! Duck!”
The building on the west side of Parsons Boulevard at 89th Avenue has a complicated history. It opened in 1930 as the Central Library Building of Queens Public Library (the current building is on Merrick Boulevard between 89th and 90th Avenues, a few blocks east). In 1970, it was adapted as Queens County Family Court, and the inscription placed there that year on the pediment still remains. The Family Court mnoved to a new building on Jamaica Avenue across from Rufus King Park (see below) in 2002, and the old Family Court was converted to luxury and “affordable” housing, with a new building constructed behind the old facade.
The elaborate bronze lamps on the front staircase, as well as escutcheons on the facade, hark back to the building’s days as a library, with symbols of learning: an owl, an open book, a classic lantern. Animal heads adorn the lamps’ bases.
Jamaica’s branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association, a stolid 1927 brick building, is across the street from the ANAT. The cornerstone features the early YMCA logo, with a equal-sided triangle standing in for mind, body and spirit, and an open Bible inscribed with John 17:21: “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
The organization now has over 58 million members, who either reside at YMCA facilities, acquire athletic training and workouts, and it’s the place where millions who don’t live near the water have learned to swim.
All Nations Apostolic Tabernacle, 90th (Rufus King) Avenue and Parsons Boulevard. Information is sketchy on this building, which according to the NY Times dates to 1869. The current church was instituted in 1993 at the YMCA across the boulevard and moved here at a later date.
The Grace Church Memorial House was constructed in 1912, according to a NYC Landmarks Report, “to meet the needs of the growing congregation for a meeting place and social center. The Memorial Hall included a gymnasium, an auditorium, meeting rooms and offices. These facilities were needed as the role of the church expanded from solely providing religious services to include educational and social services. On the 250th anniversary of the founding of the church, the Memorial Hall was being used by 21 different organizations. Designed by the prominent architectural firm of Upjohn and Conable in Tudor Gothic Revival style to complement the church building, the brick building’s symmetrical massing and flanking wings add a picturesque element to the church complex.”
Located at 90th Avenue and Parsons at the back of the Grace Churchyard, the building was left unceremoniously unlandmarked by the LPC. It’s presently home to the Grace Church offices and is the site for community meetings.
Grace Church and its churchyard face Jamaica Avenue and stretch around the corner to Parsons Boulevard. This high-steepled church on Jamaica Avenue off Parsons Boulevard dates to 1862, replacing an earlier edifice dating to 1822 that burned the year before. The parish itself goes back to 1702 and the surrounding churchyard to 1734. US Senator and Presidential candidate Rufus King, whose mansion was next door, and his descendants were enthusiastic parishioners. His son, NY State Governor John King, contributed a marble baptismal font to the old church in 1847 and an organ to the new in 1862; later, the family provided an Oxford Bible, 4 prayer books and a bishop’s chair.
The Joseph P. Addabbo Federal Social Security Administration Building, completed in 1988 (the same year the nearby Archer Avenue subway line finally replaced the Jamaica Avenue El after 11 years). With its alternate brown shading, which reflects the sun nicely, it isn’t the Ministry of Love that some federal buildings occasionally resemble.
With U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Congressman Joseph P. Addabbo , Greater Jamaica Development Corporation assisted in the site selection, development coordination and urban design of the new home for the Social Security Administration’s Northeastern Program Service Center. The building, with 1 million square feet of floor space and employment of 3,000, opened in 1989. It serves New York State, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands—which comprise U.S. Region II. Greater Jamaica Development Corporation
The Addabbo Administration building stands in the same spot once occupied by the Second Empire Victorian-era Jamaica Town Hall, which was built in the same era as the still-standing Flushing Town Hall and largely resembled it. Queens once consisted of a number of separate towns: Long Island City, Newtown, Flushing, Jamaica, Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay. Queens’ western towns were dissolved when Queens joined NYC in 1898, while the three eastern were retained when Nassau became a country separate from Queens in 1899.
Parsons Boulevard between Jamaica and Archer Avenues was formerly called Twombly Place, but that name seems to have disappeared.
The main branch of the Long Island Rail Road runs south of Archer avenue at Parsons Boulevard’s southern limit. Though the LIRR Jamaica station is a few blocks west at Sutphin Boulevard, E and J trains and a number of buses have their termini here.
As does this FNY entry!