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Landmark

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Nestled in the heart of Middle Village, Juniper Valley Park — which sits between Juniper Boulevards North and South, Lutheran Avenue and 71st Street on the west and Dry Harbor Road on the east — is almost intentionally situated far from the crowds and noise that the subway bring. It’s one of the youngest of Queens’ larger parks, having been created in the 1930s.

Middle Village lies between Maspeth and Forest Hills and was named in the 1830s after its position along Metropolitan Avenue, which was laid out as a toll road between Williamsburg and Jamaica in the 1810s. A roadhouse as well as several small dwellings and farms arrived in the area, which had come to be considered midway between Williamsburg and Jamaica, hence its name. Large cemeteries such as Lutheran/All-Faiths, Mt. Olivet and St. John’s arrived after 1850 or so, and attracted Sunday visitors; restaurants and saloons sprung up in the area to serve the crowds. In time, more streets were laid out and were lined by dwellings.

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Yesterday, I was invited to come along on the Newtown Historical Society’s walking tour of Ridgewood Reservoir, which actually straddles the border of Brooklyn and Queens. Now, I’m sort of known for my explorations of a very different part of this border — Newtown Creek — so this was terra incognita for me.

Having never visited the spot, nor the New York City park, Highland Park, which surrounds it, attending this event was a no brainer. Lots of photos after the jump.

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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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The owner of a group of retail buildings in the Jackson Heights Historic District has filed an application with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to build on top of the existing structure according to DNAinfo. The buildings at 84-11 through 84-23 37th Avenue are owned by Charlie Patel according to the website. He applied to the commission for permission to add a rooftop extension as well as to replace to windows and doors on the 1946 commercial building.

Since the building is in an historic district the landmarks commission must approve any changes visible from the street. Owners of the businesses in his building have not been notified of any impending construction and no date has yet been set for a hearing on the proposal.

Landlord Plans Rooftop Addition in Jackson Heights Historic District [DNAinfo]

Photo: DNAinfo/Katie Honan

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Newtown, founded in the mid-1600s after its colonists had fled from Native American attacks further west in Maspeth – and building literally a “new town,” mocks NYC’s preservationists, who seemingly prefer to recognize only buildings and artifacts in Manhattan and prefer to lavish designations and titles on buildings in that borough while ignoring the amazing treasures in what are considered the outer boroughs. In Queens, along with Jamaica and Flushing, Newtown (renamed ‘Elmhurst’ by developer Cord Meyer in the 1890s) retains several edifices and locales that existed in the first decades after its founding.

The brownstone and granite Gothic First Presbyterian Church of Newtown at 54th Avenue and Queens Boulevard was constructed in 1895 by architect Frank Collins with $70,000 donated to the church in the will of one of its elders. When Queens Boulevard was constructed in 1910 and widened in the 1920s, the church had to be moved back several feet. The congregation of the church goes back to Newtown’s earliest era — founded in 1695 with first minister Rev. John Moore, of the famed Moore local family. Several congregants signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a 17th-century demand for religious tolerance by Flushing’s Quakers. There is a time capsule in the cornerstone.

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Preliminary construction work started up at the RKO Keith Theater site, the troubled building recently purchased by JK Equities for $30,000,000. The development company plans to build out condos here, and they told the Queens Chronicle that they were cleared by the LPC and the DOB to obtain a permit for “soft demolition.” The head of JF Equities, Jerry Karlik, stated that “the permit allows his firm to clean up the landmarked theater lobby and ticket booth, which is expected to cost more than $6 million alone to restore.” The company hopes to officially break ground on the development by next year, which includes 357 condo apartments over 17 stories, as well as retail space, a senior center and underground parking.

This news marks serious progress for a site troubled by failed development attempts. Infamous Flushing developer Thomas Huang was found guilty of partially gutting the landmarked interior and dumping 10,000 gallons of oil in the basement. The building then moved on to Shaya Boymelgreen, who lost it during the recession. The bank sold the RKO Keith to Patrick Thompson for $20,000,000, who secured approvals for a plan to build out 357 apartments. Thompson ran out of money and sold it to JF Equities, who are moving ahead with Thompson’s previously approved plans.

Preliminary Work Begins at Keith’s [Queens Chronicle]
All RKO Keith’s Theater coverage [Q’Stoner]

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Last week, we asked you to comment on what the icon of Queens is, and almost unanimously the Q’Stoner audience said “Unisphere.” Accordingly, just yesterday, I went out to Flushing Meadows Corona Park to get some shots of this icon of Queens for you. Unfortunately, the fountains aren’t on yet, but it was sunset. I’m going to keep my mouth shut for a change, and let the photos speak for themselves.

From Wikipedia:

The Unisphere is a 12-story high, spherical stainless steel representation of the Earth. Located in Flushing Meadows – Corona Park in the borough of Queens, New York City, the Unisphere is one of the borough’s most iconic and enduring symbols.

Commissioned to celebrate the beginning of the space age, the Unisphere was conceived and constructed as the theme symbol of the 1964–1965 New York World’s Fair. The theme of the World’s Fair was “Peace Through Understanding” and the Unisphere represented the theme of global interdependence. It was dedicated to “Man’s Achievements on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe.”

Check out tons of Unisphere shots after the jump!

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Earlier this year construction workers uncovered graves at the former home of the Saint Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church, on Corona Avenue between 90th Street and 91st Place. The church sold the land to developers, who planned to build condos, a parking lot and commercial space. Once the developers uncovered the gravesite, thought to be those of slaves and their descendants, construction halted.

According to a letter obtained by Queens Crap, the church and the current site owners will meet tomorrow with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to determine the fate of the cemetery. The church, who hopes to preserve the cemetery, outlined three goals: “To leave the recently uncovered graves where they are and not to move or cremate the remains; To have this African American burial site declared a protected landmark; To hold the current owners/construction company responsible for the storage, memorial and re-burial costs of the Iron Coffin Lady as well as a memorial for the recently uncovered bodies as was initially agreed.” (The Iron Coffin lady is former female parishioner buried in an iron coffin uncovered by the construction crew.) The church also reached out to local pols, the state senator, congressman, and the mayor to petition their case.

Landmarking Sought for Elmhurst’s African Methodist Cemetery [Queens Crap]
Construction Halted on Corona Avenue After Developers Uncover Graves [Q’Stoner]

Image via Queens Crap

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The Aluminaire House, after much controversy, is not coming to Sunnyside Gardens. Queens Crap reports that the Landmarks Preservation Commission denied the proposal to move the 1930s-era modernist home, as well as a low-rise condo development, to the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street.

Here’s part of a statement from the Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance: “This victory was won by the hardest working activists (most of YOU), by the 40+ who took the day off to testify in person, by the 600+ in total who raised objection to the development proposal to the LPC, by the assistance of really smart allies at the Historic Districts Council and other preservation groups, by our elected officials and Community Board 2 who added major clout by testifying on our behalf.” The community expressed a lot of opposition to the plan at the LPC hearing in October. It’s unclear how the corner lot will be developed now, or where the Aluminaire House will go.

LPC Rejects Aluminaire House [Queens Crap]
Aluminiare House coverage [Q’Stoner]

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A marvelous Art Moderne streamlined building front can be viewed at 90-33 160th Street, just north of Jamaica Avenue. It is a 1934 addition to a building constructed between 1905 and 1910. In the mid-1930s, Jamaica was an entertainment hub as the country was emerging from Prohibition, and La Casina, a nightclub, opened here. Its two stepped pyramids flank a marquee-like overhang.

It is a rare landmarked building in Queens as only about 75 buildings in the borough claim the designation from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. After the nightclub closed, the building became a swimsuit and beachwear factory for several decades, then lay empty for several years. It is presently home to the Jamaica Business Resource Center, which provides technical and financial assistance to area startup businesses as well as entrepreneurial training for fledgling businesspeople. The building went on the market for $75,000 in 2013.

Happily, or unhappily depending on your point of view as a building owner, the NYC Landmarks status makes it very difficult for any prospective owner to alter the facade again.