Elmhurst

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If you ride the Long Island Rail Road Port Washington line as I have every day for the past couple of decades, no doubt you have noticed the four-story brick factory on the south side of the tracks the train roars past on 94th Street, about midway between the Woodside and Shea Stadium (now Mets Willets Point) stations. Well, I did, anyway, because I had noted the long-unused train siding, one of the last remaining vestiges of a time when the LIRR was used to move freight. I’m happy to report that the old factory has, instead of being razed for more “Fedders specials,” has been reinvented for the 21st Century as a building housing three high schools.

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It’s no secret that delicious bounty abounds in the borough. In fact, just last week QNS Brownstoner informed on two Restaurant Weeks that are set to take place this month: an entire Queens one and a Sunnyside promotion. Well, now it appears that the cup is overflowing as two additional cuisine celebrations were recently scheduled for next week: a Taiwanese vegetarian fest and a Thai pop-up gig. More info on jump page.

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There is something about the exclusivity, mysteriousness and the whole “secret society” element of fraternal groups that really appeals to many people. Today, many more of us are too busy with other aspects of busy city life to join such groups, but throughout the last couple of centuries, groups like the Masons, Shriners, Knights of Columbus, Elks, and all sorts of long forgotten societies were very popular, and in many cases, very important to people’s lives.

All of these groups were started to help their members; financially, socially, and in society at large. The Freemasons began as a guild of medieval builders. Since Catholics were forbidden to join the Masons, the Knights of Columbus were founded as a Catholic fraternal order. The Elks – well, their origins were a lot less important, although much more fun. The Benevolent Society of Elks began as a drinking club for a bunch of expatriate British actors in New York City.

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Not too long ago, I answered my wife’s query of “Where are you going today?” with the simple answer of “Newtown, the center of Newtown.” She’s used to puzzling archaisms at this stage of the game, so she asked “Elmhurst?” and I said, “Yes, Elmhurst.”

Off I went and before long one arrived at the navel, as it were, of ancient Queens.

From “Historic Churches of America” by Nellie Urner Wallington, courtesy Google Books:

Of the Dutch Reformed families in early New York many removed from time to time beyond the limits of New Amsterdam securing for themselves broader sections of land for tillage and among them a number of such families settled in Long Island where they formed the hamlet of Newtown. Unable to support a minister and to maintain a church building of their own they joined hands with others of the same faith at Flushing and for a number of years worshipped there until December 2 1731 when a meeting of the resident members in Newtown was called to form plans for the establishment of a church organisation of their own and to devise means for the erection of a house of worship upon land contributed by Peter Berrien.

More after the jump…

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Hundreds of Elmhurst residents showed up outside of a meeting on Monday night to protest a new homeless shelter in their neighborhood. The Pam Am Hotel had recently been converted from a hotel into a shelter with little notice and Community Board 4 set up a meeting with shelter officials, government representatives and residents to discuss the matter.

Protesters gathered outside of the Elks Lodge on Queens Boulevard carrying signs and shouting at shelter residents who arrived to speak in support of the shelter. Children yelled, “pay your rent,” “Shame on you,” and “get a job.” One held a sign that read, “2, 4, 6, 8, who do we NOT appreciate, hobos hobos hobos.”

People began moving into the shelter three weeks ago and there was little community notice because of the overwhelming need for shelter space according to city officials. Elmhurst residents said that their local schools were already overcrowded and they pointed out problems with another nearby shelter. When one person who did not live at the shelter spoke, encouraging compassion for the homeless and suggesting residents work with the shelter to find solutions she was booed by the crowd.

Homeless Shelter Residents Booed, Told to ‘Get a Job’ at Queens Protest [DNAinfo]

Photo: DNAinfo

The urban row house or town house has been with us since medieval Europe. Over the centuries, they’ve changed width, height, materials and facades, depending on time period, location, economic status and geography. Shared party walls and similar or complementing styles make for a recognizable streetscape, and a way to create a low-density, but efficient and very livable urban environment. We don’t usually think of Queens when we think of row houses, but there are neighborhoods in the borough with a long-standing architectural legacy of row houses, most of which were built in the last decade of the 19th century on to the first decades of the 20th.

Ridgewood has the largest concentration of row houses in Queens. They were, for the most part, built by the Mathews Building Company. The founder of the company was Gustave X. Mathews, a German immigrant who came to Brooklyn in 1886. He married the daughter of a builder and learned the trade, soon surpassing his father-in-law’s wildest expectations. He was one of the first developers to start building in Ridgewood in the early 20th century, when that neighborhood still hadn’t decided if it was part of Brooklyn or Queens. The borders were finally set, and Ridgewood chose Queens.

His company built row houses and his signature “Mathews Model Flats;” small apartment buildings for the working class. By the time World War I rolled around, he had filled Ridgewood with his buildings and was looking to expand. He moved his offices to Long Island City in 1919, and then to Woodside, in 1924. He began building his Mathews Model Flats in Astoria, Woodhaven, Corona and Long Island City. Moving over to Woodside, by 1924 he had completed over 300 buildings in that neighborhood alone, including model flats, smaller two-story apartment buildings, and one and two-family houses. He advertised that his rates were good, and that he had “never a single foreclosure.”

Gustave Mathews was getting older, but he wasn’t slowing down. His four sons were in the family business, and even though the Great Depression put a crimp on their activities, it didn’t stop the building. During the 1930s, the Mathews Company built 250 one-family brick townhouses with garages in Elmhurst, then another 150 two-family houses in Maspeth the same neighborhood. These are today’s buildings; the Mathews Company Row Houses.

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The former Jamaica Savings Bank on Queens Boulevard and 56th Avenue exhibits phases, like the moon, depending on where you view it. From 56th Avenue it resembles a verdigri’ed Stealth bomber, while its glassy triangle is unmistakable from other angles across the Boulevard of Death. When I last saw it, it was home to a branch of Capital One. It has always been a bank, designed by St. Louis architect William Cann in 1968.

The arrival of the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows in 1964 was symbolic of the Swingin’ Sixties, space-race go-go attitude the country had at the time; the war in Vietnam had not yet become an albatross and there seemed to be a boundless enthusiasm about the future and the wonders it would produce. Architects seemed to get the message as well and it was then that several extraordinary buildings were produced along Queens Boulevard. George Jetson would feel at home zipping by the sweep-angled, glass-fronted edifice.

Local Philistines in the City Council overturned the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision to designate it. Rumor has it that some neighborhood loons would like it torn down in favor of a more conventionally designed building. I hope it stands there forever.

The trend came to flower in other cities as well. This building, since torn down, was in a Milwaukee shopping center.

The Mark Twain Cinema in St. Louis, which was reinvigorated after a few years of neglect as the Two Hearts Banquet Center. It was constructed in 1968, same year as the Jamaica Savings Bank, a time when sharp angles were popular.

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There will be dancing in the streets. Many, many streets…bars, cemeteries, gardens, historic houses, malls, parks, nonprofits, restaurants, stoops and triangles, too. On June 21st (aka the longest day of the year), Make Music New York will host a Summer Solstice festival consisting of more than 1,000 free concerts throughout the five boroughs. From 10 am to 10 pm, musicians of all persuasions — hip hop to opera, jazz to punk, high school bands to pop stars — will do their things. Queens, of course, will be in the center of the action. For example, South African artist Toya DeLazy will perform her unique blend of hip hop, jazz and electronica at LIC Landing (52-10 Center Boulevard, Long Island City) at 1 pm. Meanwhile from noon to 4 pm, the Queens Council on the Arts (37-11 35th Avenue, Astoria) will present Reggae artist Desmond followed by Instrumental Jazz Fusion by Mind Open. Six hours of music and dance are scheduled at the Spaceworks LIC Block Party (33-02 Skillman Avenue, LIC). All told, Astoria, Corona, Elmhurst, Glendale, Jackson Heights, Jamaica, LIC, Ridgewood and Sunnyside will host events.

Click here for a complete list of all performers, venues, and times in Queens.

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Queens is the biggest borough, and has some of New York City’s longest streets. And like everything else, those streets are the result of evolution. Let’s take a look today at two of the borough’s longest routes and review their origins, while taking a look at their humble beginnings, or endings, depending on your point of view.

Roosevelt Avenue

Seen here is Roosevelt Avenue’s eastern end, where it meets Northern Boulevard at 155th Street in Flushing. Here is a soon-to-be defunct McDonalds, an IHOP restaurant, a branch of the Queens Public Library, a shopping center, and flags aplenty. Roosevelt Avenue, named for President Theodore, is relatively new on the Queens map; it’s soon to celebrate its centennial. It is a product of the Flushing elevated train, since when the line was constructed between 1914 and 1928, it required a right of way. It was decided to cut a street through that followed the unofficial border of Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, and then through the heart of Corona, and build the el along that route. Roosevelt Avenue serves as a de facto eastern extension of Greenpoint Avenue beginning at Queens Boulevard.

Initially Roosevelt Avenue ran only as far as what is now Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, as the el was not extended east of Willets Point Boulevard until it was completed as a subway out to Main Street in 1928. That year began downtown Flushing’s transformation as a quiet seat of a sleepy Queens town into the crossroads of Queens it has become today. In 1928 a preexisting east-west street running through Flushing, Amity Street, was widened and then extended through to a junction with Northern Boulevard, giving rise to the Roosevelt Avenue known today.

From the point shown in the photograph, it’s possible to bike, walk or drive all the way west to the East River in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Metropolitan Avenue

This major east-west route from Williamsburg to the edge of Jamaica is seen from its eastern end at the junction of Jamaica Avenue and Kew Gardens Road, another ancient route in itself (it was called Newtown Road decades ago and ran to what became Kew Gardens in the east end of the former town of Newtown). Here you find the relatively new Kew Gardens subway stop serving the E train, open only since 1988.

Metropolitan Avenue was opened in 1815, give or take a couple of years, as the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike and was once a toll road with toll gates and a “pike” or a lengthy log that would be move  aside when the toll was paid. It was mainly a farm to market road used by eastern farmers bringing their produce to New York City via East River shipping. In future decades Williamsburg would lose the “h” and the W&J would lose the toll, and was renamed Metropolitan Avenue. Oddly, this busy route has never gained extra lanes and the considerable widening comparable roads like Northern Boulevard and Queens Boulevard have, and remains a four-lane road throughout its length.

The neighborhood of Middle Village was named because it’s approximately halfway between Williamsburg and Jamaica, the two towns the road was built to service.

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This weekend, Elmhurst’s First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, which was founded in 1652, will celebrate its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. To accompany the celebration, the church is participating in the New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Sacred Sites open house weekend, which includes talks on the church history and architecture, walking tours, and an unveiling of a National Register of Historic Places plaque. The schedule for this Saturday includes the talks on history and architecture at 10:30 am and 2:30 pm, followed by a walking tour. The church will be open to the public from 10 am to 4 pm. On Sunday, there will be a church service followed by the National Register of Historic Places plaque unveiling at 12:30 pm. The open house will last until 3:30 pm. Check out all the event details at the Rego-Forest Preservation website.

The 362-year-old church is now in its fifth building, constructed in 1895, and boasts one of New York’s oldest congregations. It has been under three governments — the Dutch, British and American. The Gothic-style sanctuary, pictured above, features Tiffany stained glass and the original furniture. There will be historic photos and documents out on display during the open house.

Photo by Michael Perlman via the Rego-Forest Preservation Council