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mitchwaxman

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Since the weather has warmed up, I’ve found myself walking through and around Queens Plaza quite a bit of late. The construction boom under way in this section of Long Island City is staggering, and you’d be hard pressed to turn your head in any direction and not see cranes and concrete trucks at work. The biggest change to the horizon is actually over in Manhattan, with 432 Park Avenue now visible from everywhere in western Queens and possibly the entire eastern seaboard.

The City people always have to show off, don’t they? 1,396 feet, really? An apartment building 150 feet taller than the Empire State? Woof.

More after the jump.

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The Borough of Queens, long suffering, is always trying to tell us her hidden history. You just have to learn how to listen to her.

Case in point: 50-67 43rd Street at the border of Sunnyside and Blissville. This house is in a strange spot, just a few building lots away from the elevated Long Island Expressway and Brooklyn Queens Expressway interchange clover leaf, and at the end of the block is a local streets approach way to the Kosciuszko Bridge.

All of these modern roadways date back to the Robert Moses era in the late 1930s. The street itself, 43rd Street, is an ancient passage, and was known in the Colonial era. It was one of several paths through a swampy upland that were paved with crushed oyster shells, and it connected directly with modern day Laurel Hill Boulevard on its way toward Newtown Creek.

Calvary Cemetery and industrial West Maspeth (formerly Berlin) are on the other side of the highways and Bridge. At the start of the 20th century, you would have told people that you were going to visit either Laurel Hill or Celtic Park if this was your destination.

The building is two stories tall, and as you’ll notice in the shot above, sits considerably lower in its lot than a similar building next door. That’s the important part, and if you listen, you can hear Queens talking.

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Last night, I attended an event produced by the Queens Economic Development Corporation at the Museum of the Moving Image over on 35th Avenue in almond-eyed Astoria. It was a celebration of entrepreneurs who are doing interesting and positive things in the borough. The group announced winners in their eighth annual Queens StartUP! Business Plan Competition, which is organized by the Queens Economic Development Corporation and  Citi Foundation, with help from Queens Library.

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On March 30th, 1909, the Queensboro Bridge opened to traffic. Long Island City, and the rest of Queens, would never be the same. For the first time, vehicle traffic from eastern Long Island and Manhattan could move easily across the East River on Gustav Lindenthal’s new cantilever bridge, and the formerly independent Cities, Towns, and Villages of Western Long Island became suburbs. I know it’s difficult to conceive of Jackson Heights or Astoria as “suburbs,” but in the context of the early 20th century that’s what they were.

The Queensboro Bridge changed all of that, and Queens has never been the same since “The Great Machine” opened.

More after the jump…

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A few years ago, local controversy in LIC and Astoria was centered around a pair of Dutch era artifacts known colloquially as “The Queens Plaza Mill Stones.” The mill stones date back to the 1640s and were originally part of Burger Jorrisen’s homestead. For most of the 20th century, the artifacts were embedded in a sidewalk in Queens Plaza. When the “Queens Plaza Improvement Project” began, the mill stones were uprooted and stored in a decidedly dangerous manner. The Greater Astoria Historical Society led the charge on protesting this, and there was quite a hullaballoo about the matter, one which ended up being fairly divisive.

In the end, Jimmy Van Bramer stepped in, calmed the warring parties, and arranged for the stones to be moved from the construction zone and stored at the Queens Library until the construction was done. The ultimate home for the things was always meant to be the new Dutch Kills Greens Park, the creation of which was the whole point of the “Queens Plaza Improvement Project.” I was wandering around Queens Plaza last week and decided to check in on the Mill Stones, which ended up being a disturbing visit.

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A few things to get out of the way at the start of this post are that a) the intersection of 23rd Street and 45th Avenue in the Hunters Point section used to be part of the Van Alst family’s farming empire, b) the Van Alst land was purchased by Eliaphas Nott on behalf of Union College in 1861, and that c) it was purchased and developed by two fellows named Root and Rust in 1870. The predominance of buildings in the historic district are actually from the 1890s, and even in the 19th century this area was considered special – it was “White Collar Row” and home to LIC’s bankers and elected officialdom.

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On Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day, I was doing what you’re supposed to do on that holiday — happily enjoying a pint at my local with an old friend. Then all of a sudden, everything started flashing red. I’d only had a few sips of my first beer at that point, so it couldn’t have been the alcohol. Looking outside, a massive deployment of FDNY personnel were observed, so I grabbed my camera and made apologies to my friend – I had to get to work.

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Last Tuesday, which you’ll recall as being one of the first days of tolerable weather in months, I decided to go for a little walk right here in Astoria. My destination was St. Michael’s Cemetery, which is found around a mile from HQ. Happily, there was still snow on the ground despite it being the balmy lower 50s – and happier still – it was somewhat overcast so I didn’t have to struggle to control an over abundance of light striking the reflective snow.

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Yesterday, I discovered that there’s another eight o’clock, as it tuns out there’s actually one in the morning.

That’s what time I had to get to the corner of 40th street and Queens Boulevard, as Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer had called together the Sunnyside community for a rally. The purpose of the rally was to protest the rough treatment which the MTA has offered 7 line riders of late. The 7 train, which is the central arterial of Sunnyside, is in the midst of a weekend maintenance cycle which has, and will, shut down the line for at least 12 weekends in 2015 alone.

This is in addition to a recent spate of week day service outages and break downs – which have spawned a series of local horror stories about 30 minute daily commutes stretching into two to three hour long endurance tests.

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I was invited to ride along with the Transportation Alternatives Queens Volunteer Committee’s social ride on Sunday, which ended up carrying me all over the western edge of a Long Island. The meetup spot was at the Jackson Heights Roosevelt stop on the 7/E/R/M, so I left Astoria and travelled via the R train. The trip played out over several hours, criss-crossed from Queens into Brooklyn and then back again, and I was capturing images the whole way. Want to see where we went?

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