by Kevin Walsh

FOR reasons the doctors are still unsure about, I’m unable to walk more than a mile or two without pain; I hope to get a diagnosis and treatment sometime soon, because walking with a camera is what I do. The October weather between rainstorms has been too good to pass up, so I’ve been confining myself to short walks. A recent one took me through Sunnyside, admittedly well-chronicled in FNY through the years as it is but a hop and a skip from the Long Island RR Woodside station. I hope to present some material here that you’re unfamiliar with.

In all my years of taking the train to Woodside (I must have done it hundreds of times since moving to Queens in 1993) and then walking around Woodside and Sunnyside, I had never used this particular staircase on the eastbound platform that lets you out onto 60th Street! Yet, I had used the staircase at 62nd Street frequently. The stair onto Roosevelt Avenue is rather inconvenient, as it allows only an exit to the north side of the street, with the other side occupied by an up escalator. This one is convenient if you are going west. There’s an additional abandoned staircase at 59th Street.

On maps, this parking lot serving employees of fire and emergency equipment manufacturer Firecom (which fronts on 59th Street) was known as Vaux Road; if it honors parks architect and landscaper Calvert Vaux, it’s pronounced as spelled, rather than the French pronunciation “voh.” Apparently it has been used as a parking lot and gated off since the 1980s, but was only demapped in 2014, as this 72-page report describes.

Woodside Avenue is a very old colonial-era road that was the only road between swamps in western Queens; once part of Newtown and Hellgate Ferry Roads, it today survives mostly intact, though the swamps have been drained. It runs past Windmuller Park, which is on a hill way too steep to run roads through on an irregular plot defined by 52nd Street, 39th Road, 39th Drive, 54th Street, PS 11 and 56th Street.

Within the park, you will find the WWI memorial known as the Woodside Doughboy.

The monument was commissioned by the Woodside Community Council at a cost of $5,000. Its granite pedestal was designed by C. N. Kent. The sculptor Burt Johnson was born in Flint, Ohio, and lived for a time in Flushing, Queens. Johnson studied with sculptor James Earle Fraser and Louis Saint-Gaudens, brother of the renowned artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Johnson received many public commissions from coast to coast, and he also created the doughboy statue for the Flanders Field Memorial (1929) in Manhattan’s Dewitt Clinton Park.

Unlike more active war memorial figures, Johnson’s depiction of the doughboy portrays a somber World War I soldier, with a downcast bandaged head, holding his helmet in front and his gun to the side. The sculptor’s health was failing as the piece was being completed, and he supervised the final work from his wheelchair.

Woodside residents remember that even before the statue was erected local soldiers gathered here at the “mustering ground” before departing to fight in World War I. Ten men who left from this site did not return as they made the supreme sacrifice and gave their lives for their nation. The statue was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1923. The ceremony included music by St. Mary’s Military Band, a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” by the children of P.S. 11, the doughboy’s unveiling by Gold Star Relatives, and blessings by ministers from St. Paul’s and St. Sebastian’s Churches.

In 1928, the American Federation of Arts selected the Woodside Doughboy as the best war memorial of its kind. In 1990, the Woodside Doughboy benefited from an extensive conservation, and in 1995 and 1998 the site was upgraded with new plantings and fencing. The improved statue and park remain a neighborhood focal point, where, since the dedication in 1923, community members have gathered at the monument each Memorial Day for patriotic ceremonies. NYC Parks

The evocative Doughboy is a haunting rendition of a man who has survived where his friends didn’t.

Heading west on Skillman Avenue, walking amidst one of the largest collections of Gustave X. Mathews apartments featuring yellow brick manufactured in Staten Island. Mathews built acres of such housing between 1915 and 1930 in Astoria, Woodside, Ridgewood and Elmhurst. 

These Skillman Avenue units were produced for $8000 in 1915 by Gustave X. Mathews, who is virtually unknown today but responsible for much classic residential architecture in Queens. The distinctive yellow bricks were produced in the kilns of Balthazar Kreischer’s brick works in the far reaches of Staten Island. (The Kriescher and Long Island City stalwarts, the Steinways, were linked by marriage.) By 1917, Mathews flats were in such demand that it’s said that if laid side by side the entire string of houses would reach 4.5 miles.

Mathews mass-produced these multi-unit houses for about $8,000 and sold them for $11,000. They did not have central heating or hot water systems. The only heat came from coal in the stove and a kerosene heater in the living room. Despite this, the U.S. Government gave special recognition to Matthews’ concept in 1915 when an exhibit was opened at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. It showed the world how efficiently these type of apartments met housing needs for a surging population.

Mary’s Express Deli, Skillman Avenue and 53rd Street. I was impressed by the red paint scheme that extends to the roll gates. Street View shows they have been at it with the red paint since at least 2007.

I don’t get to the bars and restaurants on Skillman Avenue as much as I used to but I have been a patron of both Copper Kettle and Aubergine. I have always been impressed by the small town mom and pops on Skillman and always was attracted to both the Gustave Mathews flats on the east end of the avenue and Sunnyside Gardens on the west end.

A pair of signs on Skillman and 51st that appear to go back awhile, but the woodcut W&L sign has been there only since 2012 or so. I’m very impressed with woodcut sidewalk signs, as you don’y see very many anymore and they must be hard to manufacture.

I’d say I have wound up in P.J. Horgan’s 6 or 7 times since I moved to Queens in 1993. However, I have only been in their former Queens Boulevard location between 42nd and 43rd Streets (and a few films at Center Cinemas including the second Toy Story). The Queens Boulevard property was sold a few years ago and Horgan’s was forced out, but they reconvened at Skillman Avenue and 49th Street in 2018. Horgan’s was founded November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

49-15 Skillman is a large apartment complex facing Skillman Avenue, and it’s basically a big brick box, so I won’t show the whole thing. However, I did find the front entrance awning to be a work of art. Over a decade ago I walked up West End Avenue on the West Side and found about a dozen of these beautiful sidewalk awnings! I have yet to use the photos.

I can’t think of another NYC neighborhood that carries both present and past street names on DOT signs, but it’s done in the Sunnyside Gardens area. Sunnyside’s streets are numbered in the overall Queens system, most of its streets also carry their old names, seen on this 1909 map: Heiser, Gosman, Carolin, Bliss, Grove, Packard, Laurel Hill. This is likely a nod to the MTA’s persistence in keeping the old names of three Sunnyside stops on the #7 train: 33rd Street (Rawson) 40th Street (Lowery) and 46th Street (Bliss).

In the 1930s, Queens signs carried old and new names, but that was likely for the benefit of oldtimers who knew the streets by the old names.

Sunnyside Reformed Church was organized in 1896 and, apparently, the old church is still there but hidden behind modern brickwork. The Mystery Worshipper dropped in a few years ago.

Skillman Avenue is at the southern border of Sunnyside Gardens between 44th and 46th Streets; the Gardens extend south to 43rd Avenue between 46th and 48th.

The turn-of-the-century English Garden City movement of Sir Ebenezer Howard and Sir Raymond Unwin served as the inspiration for Sunnyside Gardens, built from 1924-1928. This housing experiment was aimed at showing civic leaders that they could solve social problems and beautify the city, all while making a small profit. The City Housing Corporation, whose founders were then-schoolteacher and future first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, ethicist Felix Adler, attorney and housing developer Alexander Bing, urban planner Lewis Mumford, architects Clarence S. Stein, Henry Wright, and Frederick Lee Ackerman and landscape architect Marjorie S. Cautley, was responsible for the project. Co-founder Lewis Mumford [the long-time architecture critic at The New Yorker] was also one of the Garden’s first residents. The part of Skillman Avenue that runs through Sunnyside Gardens has been renamed in his honor.

The design of the Gardens was novel in that large areas of open space were included in the plan. Construction costs were minimized, which allowed those with limited means the opportunity to afford their own homes. Rows of one- to three-family private houses with co-op and rental apartment buildings were mixed together and arranged around common gardens, with stores and garages placed around the edges of the neighborhood. Just about every interior window in the Gardens offers a view of a landscaped commons. A typical price for a two-story attached brick house in the development cost $9,500 in 1927!

Artists and writers were also attracted to the amenities of Sunnyside Gardens; in fact, the development in its early years was sometimes referred to as the ‘Greenwich Village annex’.” Artistic residents of the Gardens included painter Raphael Soyer, singer Perry Como and actress Judy Holliday. Crooner Rudy Vallee, NYPD Blue actress Justine Miceli, “Rhoda’s mom” Nancy Walker, and tough-guy actor James Caan also lived in Sunnyside. 

I had always admired the Gardens, but never lived here. I did, however, move into a smaller facsimile, Westmoreland Gardens in Little Neck in 2007. I had no idea that the midblock passages were named (Jefferson Court, here) but the addresses likely go to the cross streets like this one, 48th.

The Department of Transportation has changed 39th Avenue, which runs through the heart of Sunnyside Gardens but became, in its judgment, too much a conduit for traffic traveling through in this heavily residential section, so in a complicated set of alterations made some portions eastbound only and others westbound only between Barnett and Woodside Avenues, implementing slower speed limits, and giving priority to bicyclists. Urban advocates pushed for the plan, while some neighborhood groups object.

Sunnyside Gardens Park, between 39th and Barnett Avenues and between 48th and 50th Streets and is officially a private park “for members only” — one of just two in NYC. The other is Gramercy Park in Manhattan. Sunnyside Gardens Park makes do without Gramercy’s fences and keys, however. The park, unlike Gramercy’s graveled paths, includes baseball fields, tennis courts, a wading pool, and woodlands with grills and picnic tables.

In Sunnyside it’s important to know what you are. This plastic and vinyl sign on 39th Avenue between 50th and 51st is likely the original from when the laundromat opened decades ago.

Steel tycoon Henry Phipps (1839-1930), a friend and partner of Andrew Carnegie, sold his interest in the Carnegie Company (later US Steel) to J.P. Morgan in 1901 for $50 million and set about creating a series of public houses in NYC, model tenements that would remedy the rampant problems of disease that held sway in the cramped, airless buildings in NYC in the era.

The first Phipps Houses were built in Manhattan in 1906 at 321-337 East 31st Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues rented for $14 a month for a one-bedroom. Four six-story buildings at 233-247 West 63rd Street followed later that year; these apartments were chiefly rented to African-Americans. A third development followed in 1912 at 234-248 West 64th Street, and the fourth, Phipps Garden, arrived in 1931 at Middleburg (39th) Avenue and Fitting (50th) Streets in Sunnyside. The 63rd and 64th Street and Sunnyside Phipps buildings still stand.

1931 Phipps Garden brochures: locationamenitiesfloor plans, and interior views. Affordable housing built for working class and 9 to 5ers, with spacious apartments, modern kitchens, sunny courtyards…could this be done today?

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” is a saying attributed to German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) in “Twilight of the Idols.” His original quotation was “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens.—Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker,” or, “Out of life’s school of war—what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” It has been oft quoted by the likes of Nixon-era conspirator G. Gordon Liddy and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian. And by a wet concrete scrawler on 39th Avenue.

More FNY in Sunnyside

As always, “comment…as you see fit.” I earn a small payment when you click on any ad on the site.



christopher thomas brady October 23, 2022 - 9:50 am

Try a chiropractor.Sometimes they work,sometimes not.Just dont fall for their
“regularly scheduled visits” routine in the event that they actually do fix your

Anonymous October 23, 2022 - 11:19 am

Kevin, so sorry you’ve been in pain while creating these wonderful historical mementos that I’ve appreciated for so many years. Wanted to share
something with you: I’m 71, and between my mother and myself, we had over a dozen chronic conditions that traditional MDs could not help —
Yet ALL these were cured or adequately treated by Naturopathic Doctors. You can easily find a non-traditional M.D. to help you by searching for an
alternative, or a holistic, or at the very least an integrative doctor. (As you probably know, that third category is traditional MDs who also incorporate
alternative/holistic methods in their practice.) Wishing you good health, Renée (former Staten Islander)

Peter October 23, 2022 - 11:41 am

P.J. Horgan’s was also founded the same day as Disney World. About an hour before JFK’s assassination Walt Disney flew in a helicopter over some Orlando ranch land and decided it would be the location of his new theme park.
I suspect that 60th Street entrance to Woodside station doesn’t get much use. Most people who get the LIRR eastbound are transferring off the 7.

Michael Haggerty October 25, 2022 - 10:40 am

You might have compressed spinal discs at L4-L5 and L5-S1. See a neurologist. You may need an MRI.

redstaterefugee October 26, 2022 - 10:43 am

Good advice. I know a guy who is about my age, a former amateur athlete, who s considering an electronic implant that has the effect of short-circuiting the pain signal caused by herniated discs. It requires pre-op evaluation, including a session with a psychiatrist to rule out hypochondria. I agree that consultation with a neurologist is preferable to a chiropractor or orthopedist since a compressed nerve root causes the pain in the intervertebral disk which is different from arthritic changes to vertebrae.


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