Bayside, in northeast Queens, was first settled by the British around Alley Creek, the East River inlet now leading to Alley Pond Park, in the early 1700s. It was first named Bay Side in 1798 and by the time the one-word spelling appeared in the 1850s, it was a small but potent community, giving rise to governmental leaders and statesmen.
The neighborhood has always retained a small-town atmosphere centered around Bell Boulevard. The street is named for Abraham Bell, an Irish Quaker who was a partner in a shipping firm and owned a vast farm in the area, and has nothing at all to do with Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor who obtained the first patent for the telephone. The city, however, has added to the confusion by naming P.S. 205, as well as its playground at 75th Avenue and 217th Street (a couple of blocks from the boulevard), Bell Park and later, Telephone Park, in honor of the inventor.
Today, Bell Boulevard’s “business and entertainment” stretch runs from 35th Avenue south to Northern Boulevard. History and commerce run together here: Queens’s first White Castle appeared at the northwest corner of Bell and Northern boulevards in the 1930s, and has been there to the present day, albeit with a modern rebuild. A mix of tempting culinary attractions and interesting architecture awaits you during a stroll down this interesting thoroughfare.
Bell Boulevard’s Architecture
Queens isn’t short on cobblestone-fronted buildings — such as the Elmhurst Baptist Church at Whitney Avenue and Judge Street, a building on Cherry Avenue in Waldheim, and even a partial cobblestone façade on a Pre-K center on 37th Avenue and 223rd Street — but this one, at 35-34 Bell Boulevard, is certainly the borough’s most notable. It was declared a NYC landmark in October 2004.
The house was built in 1906 and, according to local legend, it housed a speakeasy during Prohibition. Utahan actress Maude Adams (1872-1953), who had the title role in more than 1,500 performances of Peter Pan, is thought to have lived in the house during her Broadway days.
Former Bayside Theatre
The former Bayside Theatre on the northeast corner of Bell Boulevard and 39th Avenue opened in 1927 as the Capitol Theatre, designed by prolific theater architect Thomas Lamb. It was closed during much of the Depression, but reopened in 1941 as the Skouras Bayside Theatre. The reopening was a gala affair that featured stars of stage, screen and radio, such as stage actors Patti Pickens and Rob Simmons, singer Bob Douglas, and the movies’ Erick Rhodes, who often served as the foil in Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers pictures.
The theater closed in October 2001. The last features were Zoolander, Don’t Say a Word, Tortilla Soup and Rush Hour 2.
Bayside Long Island Rail Road station house
The present Bayside Long Island Rail Road station house is a gambrel-roofed structure dating to 1923. In those days, station agents and their families actually lived at their stations; the family quarters were on the second floor. When it was built, the Port Washington branch still ran on the surface, but it was placed in its present open cut here in 1927.
A railroad has run here since 1866, when the Flushing and North Side Railroad, operated by Elizur Hinsdale, ran east through Bayside to Great Neck (Port Washington wasn’t reached till 1896). It became a part of the LIRR, then owned by rubber magnate Conrad Poppenhusen, in 1876.
On the Manhattan-bound side, Ed McGowin’s “Bayside Story” sculptures portray historical Bayside scenes. Notable is a raised boxing glove, honoring the still-standing home of late-19th-century heavyweight champion “Gentleman Jim” Corbett.
Bell Boulevard’s Culinary Attractions
Martha’s Country Bakery, which originated in Manhattan in 1969, is perhaps now better associated with Queens, where it now has three branches: Astoria, Forest Hills, and this three-year-old locale at 41-06 Bell Boulevard, one door removed from the Long Island Rail Road stop. It’s your best bet for a coffee or cappuccino and a pastry, but its cakes, pies, cookies and other baked goods are renowned — so much so that lines are the rule especially on weekends and before holidays. Martha’s is affordable, but a bit more expensive than other bakeries of its type.
Donovan’s of Bayside is a branch of the bar/restaurant’s original location at Roosevelt Avenue and 58th Street in Woodside, which opened in 1966. Its Bayside location, at 214-16 41st Avenue, is perhaps more straightforwardly laid out — in Woodside, Donovan’s features a lot of hallways and smaller dining rooms and is somewhat cozier, while the Bayside location is larger with a vast front dining room and private party rooms in the rear. Both locales are renowned for their burger selections (in 2004 the burger was voted New York City’s best by Time Out New York) but the menu is sufficiently varied to satisfy. Though Donovan’s is quite busy on weekend afternoons, the decibel level is lower than that of its surrounding sports bars.
How to Get There
Bell Boulevard is reached by taking the Q12 or Q13 buses from Flushing; the Q13 runs up Bell Boulevard. You can also take the Cross Island Parkway to the Northern Boulevard exit, and it’s approximately 10 blocks to Bell Boulevard from there.
[Photos: Kevin Walsh]