Bayside

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Brownstoner recently took a look at historical and culinary highlights centered on or near Bell Boulevard, the “main street” of Bayside, Queens. But the neighborhood is large and goes far beyond that stretch, with a deep history in film, theater and sports, as well as eclectic architecture.

Here are some of Bayside’s historical and architectural highlights.

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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.

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What is Antonio to do? He’s a well-respected community leader, but through a complex effort to help a friend in love he owes a pound of his own flesh to a man who despises him.

And what about that pathetic Sir John Falstaff? He devised a get-rich-quick scheme that backfired big time. Now he’s being humiliated bigger time.

These two scenarios come to eight Queens parks in July and August (the Bronx, Jersey City, and Southampton, too). The Hip to Hip Theatre Company is back for its ninth year, providing free, family-friendly performances of Shakespeare plays. This summer, Woodside-based co-founders Jason and Joy Marr have chosen The Merchant of Venice, a dark drama about a 16th century merchant, Antonio, who defaults on a loan from a moneylender, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, a comedy about a flat broke, alcoholic aristocrat, Sir John Falstaff, who tries to bed the wives of two rich men. However, the women are not amused and respond with a series of practical jokes.

The fun begins on Wednesday with Merchant at the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. On Thursday, Merry Wives plays at Crocheron Park in Bayside. Then, the professional actors do 17 more productions in such neighborhoods as Forest Park, Fresh Meadows, Long Island City, and Sunnyside.

Click here for the complete schedule.

Photo by Hip to Hip Theatre Company

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The “Mass for Troubled Times” or “Lord Nelson Mass” was composed by Franz Joseph Haydn over a six-week period in 1798. The symphonic work’s unusual orchestration — strings, trumpets, timpani and organ (no woodwinds or low brass) — creates a stark sound, capturing the fear and turmoil of the time in Europe as Napoleon Bonaparte had just won four major battles and the French military chief was threatening to conquer the world.

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The hit 1993 movie A Bronx Tale tells the story of a young man named Calogero who gets involved with organized crime despite his father’s attempts to steer him toward a law-abiding life. The film is based on author Chazz Palminteri’s childhood memories of his largely Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx.

Palminteri, whose given first name is Calogero, plays a mobster in the movie, but in 2007, he also did a one-man stage version of A Bronx Tale on Broadway, winning Outer Critics Circle Awards for acting and writing. On Sunday, Palminteri takes this same act to the Queensborough Performing Arts Center in Bayside as part of a national tour.

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Named for an 18th century family who owned property in eastern Queens and not the credited inventor of the telephone, Bell Boulevard has developed over 150 years from a dirt trace to harboring some of eastern Queens’ more entertaining samples of eclectic architecture.

From the NYC Landmarks Designation Report:

“Until the last decades of the nineteenth century, Bayside was primarily farmland. The property on which the house stands was acquired by Abraham Bell in 1824. A shipping and commission merchant operating in lower Manhattan, his firm, Abraham Bell and Company was involved in the cotton trade and in transporting immigrants from Ireland during the potato famine of the 1840s.

“His son, Abraham Bell 2nd, became head of the firm around 1835 and the company changed its name to Abraham Bell and Son in 1844. The Bells had homes in several locations: Bayside, Yonkers (where Bell Brothers operated a money-lending business) and in Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island.

“The Bell property covered approximately 246 acres and  extended from near the site of the current Bayside station of the Long Island Railroad at 41st  Avenue to Crocheron Avenue (35th  Avenue) and from Little Neck Bay to 204th Street. An unpaved lane, known as Bell Avenue (now Bell Boulevard) bisected the farm.The east section, closer to Little Neck Bay, was called the lower farm, and the west section, the upper farm. Near the center of the property, along Bell Avenue, the Bells built a house in 1842. It is likely that it was occupied by Thomas C. Bell and Eliza (Jackson) Bell, who married in 1840. The house was demolished in 1971.”

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He ain’t afraid of no ghost. James Van Praagh is one of the world’s most celebrated spiritual teachers. Known as a “survival evidence medium,” the Bayside native writes books, gives speeches, and generally teaches about communication with the dead. He has appeared on TV shows such as Oprah, Larry King Live, and 20/20, but he got his big break with the CBS mini-series Living with the Dead, which featured Ten Danson playing Van Praagh. He also worked on The Dead Will Tell with Eva Longoria and Ghost Whisperer starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. Currently, Van Praagh has a streaming show, Spirit Talk, and a radio program, Talking to Spirit. On Saturday night, he returns to Bayside. More information on the jump page.

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It’s the most diverse county in the world and the best tourism destination in the United States, so it’s no surprise that Queens is overflowing with wonderful Valentine’s Day activities and bargains. In fact, local chances for romance and fun related to this international holiday are so numerous that they run for more than two weeks and include everything from live music to a “love run,” hotel getaways, and even a blood drive for the do-gooders. Another photo and many more details are on the jump page.

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On the west side just south of 39th Avenue, we find the venerable fish-scale mansard roofed John William Ahles House (built in 1873).

According to longtime Bayside historian Joan Brown Wettingfeld, in 1873, Robert Bell, nephew of Abraham Bell, a local landowner for whom Bell Boulevard is named, built this house for his daughter, Lillie and her husband, John Ahles as a wedding gift on “Ahles Road” (now known as 41st Avenue). This road ran then from 208th Street to present day Bell Boulevard. Old maps show a portion of 41st Avenue as Ahles Road as late as 1941.

The naming of Ahles Road was no accident, for the road supervisor at the time was Abraham Bell II, and John William Ahles married Robert Bell’s daughter, Lillie, in June of 1873.

Known for his integrity and business acumen, John William Ahles died in 1915 after amassing a large fortune.

The old Bayside Theatre on the NE corner of Bell Boulevard and 39th Avenue opened in 1927 (as the Capitol Theatre) and was designed by prolific theatre house architect Thomas Lamb. According to cinematreasures commenters, it was closed during much of the Depression, but reopened in 1941.