BOULEVARD OF DEATH. Queens Boulevard Part 2

by Kevin Walsh


WHEN IT reaches Union Turnpike, the Jackie Robinson Parkway and the Van Wyck Expressway in Kew Gardens, Queens Blvd. begins its slow process of winding down. Quiet Briarwood and Maple Grove Cemetery are all that lie between the 10-lane behemoth and its Waterloo at Jamaica Avenue.


The cottages and homes of Kew Gardens, developed by Albon Man and his sons Albon Jr. and Alrick before World War I, are not visible from Queens Blvd. From the boulevard, Kew Gardens’ most visible landmark is this late 80s green glass office box at Union Turnpike. The site was formerly Kew Gardens Hospital and Kew Gardens Inn.


Beers real estate map of the Forest Hills and Kew Gardens area in 1873. Modern-day roads are marked in red; the other roads shown on this map have now disappeared. What is now Kew Gardens was known at the time as Hopedale, after a hotel where Queens Blvd. and Union Turnpike meet today. At the top we see the now-filled Horse Brook and the long-dormant LIRR White Line, and at right, the Flushing River, which extended this far south in the 1870s.


At Union Turnpike and Queens Blvd. you will also find “Fat Boy,” or, more properly, Civic Virtue. It’s probably the most over-the-top classically-themed public sculpture in New York City; only the Bailey Fountain, in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, comes close in ebullience. A massive statue depicting a nude muscular youth (depicting virtue) with a club slung over his right shoulder; at his feet writhe two nude mermaids (depicting vice). When Frederick MacMonnies created it from a single block of marble in 1919 and it was placed in Manhattan’s City Hall Park, it engendered no end of a hue and cry from offended feminists, prudes, and heavy hitters such as Charles Norton, President of Harvard University. Such a sensual depiction would not stand! Not in virtuous Manhattan. Eventually, in 1941, it was packed up, mermaids and all, and shipped to the Queens’ Borough Hall Plaza, where, presumably, right-thinking people wouldn’t see it.


Queens’ Borough Hall is the newest in the 5 boroughs, and while it isn’t always true that the newest architecture is the least interesting, it’s correct in this case. It was constructed in 1941 by the architectural firm Gehron and Thomas; the AIA Guide says, “Thomas was capable of much better.”


I’ve had jury duty at the Queens County Courthouse twice, the second time on an actual jury. Those who know me, know jury duty is ideal for me. A quiet room and a newspaper or magazine. Heaven.


I shot this in February 2005, shortly after a retired IRT redbird was placed next to the courthouse. Boro prez Helen Marshall expressed outrage shortly after, when it was tagged with graffiti, but really, what did she expect?


Queens County courthouses are located next to City Hall. Across the street, you’ll find the essentials: pizza, Chinese, and bail bonds.

bail bond agent, or bondsman, is any person or corporation that will act as a surety and pledge money or property as bail for the appearance of persons accused in court. Although banks, insurance companies and other similar institutions are usually the sureties on other types of contracts (for example, to bond a contractor who is under a contractual obligation to pay for the completion of a construction project) such entities are reluctant to put their depositors’ or policyholders’ funds at the kind of risk involved in posting a bail bond. Bail bond agents, on the other hand, are usually in the business to cater to criminal defendants, often securing their customers’ release in just a few hours. wikipedia


At Queens County Criminal Court there’s some odd artwork including a sculpture resembling a windmill and a relief of St. George and the dragon. It is on the site of Maple Hill Park, which, in the late 1800s, featured seven saloons.


The center median of ten-lane Queens Blvd. has signs describing Queens utilities apparently aimed at students, but this is the worst possible place for them: you have to brave 5 lanes of traffic to really see them. Use binoculars or a zoom lens!


Maple Grove Cemetery, at Queens Blvd. and the Van Wyck Expressway, was founded in 1875…amazingly enough, to alleviate crowding at Jamaica’s Prospect Cemetery, which was founded in the 1660s and is now a weed-strewn, derelict burial ground being maintained by volunteers. Its successor, by contrast, is well-maintained and landscaped. Its landscaping, in fact, was modeled on Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, recognized as one of the country’s most beautiful.

Among its more striking monuments is this one, with a bas-relief of the Statue of Liberty.


n its final approach to Jamaica Avenue, Queens Blvd. passes through Briarwood, a thriving middle-class area. It’s named for the Briarwood Land Company, headed by Herbert O’Brien, which built housing here beginning in 1905. However, the company quickly went bankrupt and the area was largely empty until the 1920s. The NY Life Insurance Company and the United Nations constructed housing in the 1940s; US diplomat Ralph Bunche and feminist writer Betty Friedan have lived here.

Queens Blvd. in Kew Gardens and Briarwood [Google map]


The NYC economy was built on neighborhood stores like Chadwick Hardware, not the chains. Extra points for keeping their old-fashioned sign.


The NY Jets flew out of Queens in 1983 (with exactly 0 Super Bowl™ appearances since!). But their namesake motor inn is still here. I’m told it was a Hess gas station till the 1980s; Leon Hess owned the Jets till a few years ago.


That thing on the pole. Future generations may not know what this thing is, but I do. It’s been here probably since the 1910s or 1920s and supported the marker lamps pointing out where fire alarms are. Many of the alarms have been phased out and these marker lights are now being appended to the street lamp luminaire.


Circus-themed mural on a car wash; seen in the Eddie Murphy vehicle Coming to America.


Upon reaching Hillside Avenue, Queens Blvd. downsizes to a regular two-lane street, just a little wider than its fellows. Oh, the ignominy!


At Hillside and Queens Blvd, a triptych of the Colonel. I wonder if the ole Colonel, Harland Sanders, ever had an inkling that his would be one of the most-recognized mugs in America. I remember when he was alive and doing the commercials himself, and now most people don’t. I remember Tom Carvel and Frank Perdue.

Since 2005, the KFC likeness of the Colonel has been further stylized to look even less like him.


Queens Blvd. meets its humble demise at Jamaica Avenue with yet another dose of grease at Mickey-D’s. I couldn’t resist sidling up to that gorgeous red Tudor house on 138th Place, which extends south from Jamaica Avenue.

Queens Blvd. has one more secret to reveal…

Let’s face it, except for those space-age concoctions and the Elks lodge in Elmhurst, Queens Blvd. isn’t exactly known for distinctive architecture. But it does pull a winner out of the bottom of the bag at its southern terminus with the Queen’s House. The building’s name probably dates it to after 1910, when Hoffman Boulevard was renamed for Queens. The El Dorado has some beauties behind bars.

Photographed 11/04, 2/05 and 7/05. Page completed 9/3/05


al campbell June 16, 2013 - 4:03 pm

Hey, i was born close to that are where you took the shots. In the early to mid 80’s wasn’t there a Murder with a car at the McDonald’s that was later converted into MacDowlls for the Eddie Murphy movie? I could have sworn we made up the phrase the McMurder. Anyways if you remember and could remind me, Thanks

Nirmal November 11, 2013 - 3:31 am

al, mcdowells was actually wendys on grand ave n queens blvd. in elmhurst.

As Bruce Springsteen once sang, “Everything dies baby, that’s a fact/but maybe everything that dies one day comes back as a Wendy’s.” That logic held true for the Queens Boulevard Wendy’s, which has been better known to New Yorkers as McDowell’s from Coming To America, Eddie Murphy’s first and greatest foray into playing multiple characters on film. The building’s outer facade hasn’t changed much since the 1988 film, so it is with great sadness we relay the message that it will soon be demolished to make way for a $105-million, six-story structure with luxury apartments and ground-floor stores. So long to Golden Arcs and Big Micks.


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