by Kevin Walsh

On June 24, 2012 the Newtown Historical Society walked Ditmars Boulevard from the N/Q train terminal to the Art Deco Marine Air Terminal, a landmarked building on the western edge of LaGuardia Airport. Sunny 80-degree weather made for optimum weather conditions for NHS’ second tour of the year. Basically the walk was along Ditmars Boulevard, though there were a couple of detours along the way.

Selected tour highlights…

LAWRENCE FAMILY CEMETERY, 20th Road and 35th Street. Lawrence Cemetery is one of two private Lawrence cemeteries owned by the family in Queens; the other is in Bayside, several miles east. This cemetery was established in 1703 when Major Thomas Lawrence was interred here. The family figures prominently in city and USA history, with government and military notables; a NYC mayor is buried in the Bayside cemetery.

For 56 years, the Astoria Lawrence Cemetery has been maintained by a neighbor, James Sheehan, who inherited the property and the cemetery from his father-in-law. As it happens, Mr. Sheehan was present that day, and he allowed admittance and pointed out several prominent gravesites.

The Lawrences were a prominent family in the early days of Queens, and produced some historically significant figures…for example, it was Captain James Lawrence who uttered the immortal words “Don’t give up the ship!” while commanding the USS Chesapeake vs. HMS Shannon during the War of 1812. The Chesapeake was defeated; Captain Lawrence was killed; the war ended in stalemate. 


STEINWAY WORKERS’ HOUSING, 41st Street near 20th Avenue. The Steinway family, immigrants from Germany in the mid-1850s, became one of the world’s premier piano manufacturers and established headquarters in north Astoria, builsing housing for plant worker and even building churches and transportation systems. Henry Steinway built a magnificent mansion on 41st Street between 19th Avenue and Berrian Boulevard that still stands today and was up for sale at this writing.


STEINWAY REFORMED CHURCH, Ditmars Blvd. and 41st Street, was built in 1891 as the Union Protestant Church but likely switched monikers after the Steinways 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.


PISTILLI GRAND MANOR, Ditmars between 45-46th Streets. Built by William Steinway in 1902 — who else — as a piano factory that predated Steinway & Sons’ larger factory now at Steinway Place and 19th Avenue. Developer Joseph Pistilli remade it as upscale housing beginning in 2003.


Compare the scale of the Pistilli Manor to this tiny house on Ditmars Boulevard between 48-49th Streets.


AIRLINE DINER, Astoria Boulevard North and 70th Street. The Airline is a Mountain View and has held down this locale on Astoria Blvd. since 1952. In Scorsese’s classic Goodfellas, the first time we see the fully grown-up Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is when he’s waiting to steal a truck in the parking lot of the Airline Diner. It is covered in gleaming stainless steel with rounded glass and features a neon Greek key above the windows and signage showing an airplane about to land.


This florist, with a classic plastic-letter sign, has been in business since 1889 if the sign is to be believed. It serves St. Michael’s Cemetery — the Grand Central Parkway was built in the 1930s, separating the florist from the cemetery by a wide margin.


The Marine Air Terminal was opened in 1940 and was originally built to handle seaplanes, known as ‘flying boats.’


Two area buildings that handled seaplanes used flying fish imagery, including the Marine Air Terminal.

After World War II, the golden era of the ‘flying boats’ ended and the terminal was closed and became run-down. It was reopened as a corporate flight terminal in 1966 and has been in operation since then.

The circular interior is dominated by a bust of Fiorello LaGuardia and a mural by James Brooks entitled Flight. The mural depicts man’s ascent to the heavens from the earliest days of imagining flight. During the Cold War it was actually covered over because the Port Authority deemed several of the images to be ‘socialist propaganda.’ Thankfully the mural was sealed before it was painted over, and it’s open for all to enjoy now after a 1980 restoration.



Lou June 30, 2012 - 9:57 am

I went to school at the College of Aeronautics, now Vaughn College, years back and the school has, in it’s rear hallways, the remaining benches from the Marine Air Terminal with the flying boat propellers on the side, as pictured on this page in the photos. They are doing restorations as of this writing and it would be a shame if they wind up in the trash. They have such historical significance and I believe they were being sought after a few years back by someone who obviously didnt know that the school had the benches in its building. They are still in good shape and were still in use when I paid a visit to the open house a few months ago.

chris July 1, 2012 - 1:07 pm

Ahhh…the marine air terminal.
An oasis of peace and tranquility in the zoo that is la gaurdia.
Too bad its only for little commuter plane traffic

Dave D July 3, 2012 - 7:35 pm

I believe the associated original hanger is still there. From what I was told, the flying boats would be taken from the water, up a ramp on tracks to the hanger for repairs and service. Can anyone confirm this?

Guardian of the Guilded Boiler July 6, 2012 - 6:11 pm

I can’t confirm this specifically relative to the Marine Air Terminal, but ramping the flying boats up to hangars for maintenance on cradles that rolled on tracks was standard procedure back when. My mother told me of a flight from Alameda to Honolulu in the late ’30s, where because of inclement weather the passengers boarded the Clipper in the hangar, and it was then ramped down to the water for departure. Flying boats were truly a first-class operation, and their luxuries made anything else called “first class” that came afterward pale in comparison.

‘Course, Mum flew trans-Atlantic on the Graf Zeppelin from Berlin to Lakehurst once, too; talk about first-class travel … what a time to be alive!

Dana Kopher August 18, 2012 - 3:21 pm

Dave, the hangar is still there. It’s now used to store NYC snow plows, and the attached offices house a couple of aviation-related businesses. My father worked for Pan Am, in the attached offices, until 1955. The seaplane ramp to the water is gone. The cradled ‘boats were towed into the hangar by tractor, after being washed-down outside. Boeing 314s, Consolidated Coronados (USN planes, flown by Pan Am crews,) and Pan Am Grumman Widgeon trainers were serviced in the hangar. Later, Pan Am serviced some of their land planes there, too. My dad and I took a little visit down memory lane last year, and visited the MAT. Our first visit since 1955!

Larry April 1, 2019 - 10:06 pm

I was fourteen years old back in 1954 working during the summer months with my uncle Tommy, he ran the news/candy stand. I realize how lucky I was to work in such a beautiful building. I remember sitting in the back of the building watching the big planes landing and taking off. The movie, “The High and Mighty” was playing in theaters. I whistle that theme over and over during that summer.


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