The Worlds of 29th Street


    I was slowly and steadily making my way down 29th Street in Long Island City recently from 38th Avenue to Queens Plaza. As with a previous post on 37th Street, I was fascinated by Astoria’s varied and eclectic housing stock. Nowhere else in the borough, and certainly not west of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, have buildings of every era and every architectural design been thrown together as if in a blender and tossed as if at random onto a streetscape, and nowhere else is hand-drawn signage of the early 20th century counterbalanced against ultramodern Babylonian towers thrown against the sky. 29th Street has all of these and more.

    Shoppers Corner, 29th Street just south of 38th Avenue, employs a hand-painted awning sign that has begun to fade from the sun at last, after several decades in service.


    A couple of doors down, Our Coffee Shop is just a hole in the wall, the interior stuffed with mattresses for now with a Sharpied cardboard sign behind the rollgate that says “Coming Soon.” I am not sure how long the shop has been coming. Meanwhile, there is a handsome brown paneled sign with yellow graphics, a color combination of which I have always been fond.


    The porched wood frame house, which may date from the Civil War or postbellum period, is wedged now between two brick 3-family buildings that also have perhaps been there for a century.


    The Gadenpa Buddhist Center arrived on 29th Street in January 2011, featuring the teachings of Achok Rinpoche, one of four Tibetan Buddhist Monks in residence. The Center was funded by former SoHoite Noni Pratt, who also resides in the building.


    In 2008, developers took advantage of a delay in zoning regulations to build a variety of high rise hotels, some of which total 15 stories and tower above their three-story neighbors, such as this Holiday Inn on 39th Avenue and 29th Street.


    Dutch Kills Centraal, on the southwest corner of 39th Avenue and 29th Street, is a new culinary addition to the area, on the north edge of the Dutch Kills neighborhood. It is owned by Dominic Stiller, the president of the Dutch Kills Civic Organization. Centraal, spelled in the Dutch manner, features six craft beer and an American comfort food menu. The space had been used by a succession of neighborhood bars for several decades.

    Dutch Kills, named for the Newtown Creek inlet, is concentrated near Queens Plaza and the west end of the massive Sunnyside railroad yards servicing Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak trains. In 2011 Dutch Kills was beginning to transition from mainly industrial to upscale residential, and several of its older treasures such as the old Long Island Star offices, where the long-lived newspaper was produced, have fallen to the wreckers. The term “kill” is derived from middle Dutch “kille” meaning “riverbed” or “channel.” A number of NYC bodies of water are called “kills” including Dutch Kill(s), English Kill(s), and the Arthur Kill and the Kill Van Kull between Staten Island and New Jersey. Dutch Kills and English Kills in the colonial era led to territory held by the Dutch and the British.


    The nine-story Nesva Hotel stands across 29th Street from the Holiday Inn. You can easily see in the photo the utter contrast with its two-story frame house neighbor.


    The Nesva is flanked on the north by these two old neighborhood campaigners, one of which has retained an old storefront now occupied by plants.


    This brick office building, judging from its especially wide entrance, may have been a stable or hostelry at one time. Note the two “Office” signs chiseled into the concrete above the doors.


    39-25 29th Street is a fairly run of the mill brick apartment building, except for the wild carvings above and on each side of the door, depicting two cornucopia, the old symbol of plenty.


    Alfred Mainzer, Inc. published a “dressed cats,” “dressed dogs,”dressed mice,” and “dressed hedgehogs” series of greeting cards between the 1940s and 1960s, with artwork by Eugen Hartung (1897-1973). The card company was founded in 1938 and has been located here in Queens since 1977, although this building is now also occupied by artists’ collective Flux Factory.


    St. Patrick’s Church of Dutch Kills was founded in 1869 and constructed a church at 24th Street and 40th Avenue. With the population of the congregation expanding, the church moved up the avenue to 29th Street and laid the cornerstone for this handsome brick structure in 1898. The building has undergone some alterations to its brickfaced exterior since then.


    The Verve Hotel, in various shades of beige, is a new addition to the Queens Plaza region’s collection of hotels, though it’s not a high rise like the other two we’ve seen on 29th Street.


    This squat church now home to a Korean congregation on 29th (formerly Academy Street) between 41st Avenue and 40th Road was once the First Reformed Church of Long Island City, organized 1875.


    It’s a shame that Dena’s Coffee Shop, at 29th Street and 41st Avenue, seems to be shuttered now, since even though new office buildings line Queens Plaza, there are relatively few lunch options for area office workers.


    Newcomers High School used to be called William Cullen Bryant High School; Bryant moved to 31st Avenue and 48th Street in 1930, with this school becoming Long Island High School and then Newcomers in 1995. When ground was broken for the school in 1902, workmen uncovered the gravestone of a John Francis Ryerson.


    This is one of 29th Street’s old school high-risers at 41-15. The carved band above the 2nd floor places it squarely in the Art Deco era, of the late 1920s into the early 1930s. Like many area buildings it is being converted to residential use.


    In New York City, painted, hand-lettered building ads can be briefly uncovered when adjoining buildings are razed and they’re exposed, some of them in pristine condition. These two ads on 29th Street are preparing to enter the shadows again, as a new tower is being built in front of them. Fear not, Forgotten NY showed them in all their glory in 2013.


    At 29th Street’s southern end at Queens Plaza, the former Corn Exchange Bank has been revitalized as the Q4 Hotel.

    Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of Forgotten NY and the author of Forgotten New York and, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten Queens.

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