Photo via NYC Parks
The site of Elmhurst Park at Grand Avenue and 79th Street was once the location of two KeySpan Newtown gas holders, a highway landmark popularly known as the “Elmhurst gas tanks.” With the support of the community, the site was sold by KeySpan (which is now Brooklyn Grid) to the City of New York for $1 and was cleaned up and returned to the public as open space.
The tanks were built by KeySpan’s predecessor, Brooklyn Union Gas, in 1910 and 1920 to store natural gas used for heating, cooling and manufacturing, and were engineered to expand and contract based on the volume of gas contained within, using a system of telescoping cylinders set in a steel truss frame. The tanks sat on a 17-million gallon underground basin of water that acted as a sealant: until the 1960s, inspections were carried out by a worker who crawled through the gas main to the water basin, where he would use a rowboat to examine the tanks for leaks.
In the mid-20th century the tanks became well-known in radio traffic reports, since they were close to the Queens-Midtown Expressway (the road that becomes the Horace Harding, or Long Island, Expressway east of Queens Boulevard) since the helicopter-based announcers would use them as landmarks while relating to listeners the state of traffic on “the world’s longest parking lot.”
After KeySpan sold the land to the city, it took awhile to create the park, and it was a full six years until the new Elmhurst Park (an early name was Gas Tanks Park) opened to the public in June 2011. It has remained a marvelously wide-open space, with a large children’s playground and a hill perfect for sledding in winter conditions.
The playground features stationary bikes and the usual jungle-jims, modified for modern safety considerations. It is slightly elevated on boulders.
One of the park’s unusual aspects is that it still has an underground water collection system. Storm water is collected in a retention tank that restricts the amount of water flowing into the sewer pipes on Grand Avenue.
One of Elmhurst Park’s most notable features is is modernistic restroom facility which looks like someting out of Woody Allen’s “Sleeper.” Many in the community were surprised and outraged when construction of the facility closed a large section of the park soon after it opened. The facility cost over $2 million, and several neighborhood leaders mentioned that that kind of money could have gone to fund more pressing concerns, given its less than generous number of stalls and sinks. (I was happy that the restroom was open on a cold February afternoon — not all NYC Parks restrooms are open in the off season.)
One of the more recent NYC designs in park lighting was used here. According to the Department of Transportation Street Design Manual, this post is called the Flushing Meadows Fixture, despite the fact that was first used in Brooklyn’s Canarsie Park in 2004.