A Walk Through Queens - With David Hartman and Historian Barry Lewis
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The First Residents Birth of a Borough Growth and Urbanization
Photo of the construction of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909.
Newspaper ad encouraging development in Jackson Heights.
The Rocket Thrower, Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

TOP: Photo of the construction of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909.

MIDDLE: Jackson Heights was the first garden apartment community.

BOTTOM: The Rocket Thrower is one of the works of art created for the 1964 World's Fair.

The Post War Years    Ever Changing Borough

The most momentous event in the history of Queens occurred in 1909 when the long planned Queensboro Bridge was finally opened.
Rapid Expansion

The sudden expansion of rapid transit changed Queens forever. When the Pennsylvania Railroad purchased the Long Island Rail Road in 1900, then electrified it through Queens in 1905-1908, and opened the Penn Tunnels under the East River in 1910, it brought virtually the whole of Queens within the suburban commuting zone of Manhattan. A record number of new communities were founded at this time. Forest Hills (1906,) South Ozone Park (1907,) Howard Beach (1911,) and Kew Gardens (1912,) were some of the towns that were built.

The most momentous event in the history of Queens occurred in 1909 when the long planned Queensboro Bridge was finally opened. This ended the century old isolation of the county and dependence on ferries. A whole new road system grew up to accommodate the traffic, and Queens Boulevard, a 200 feet wide roadway, was laid out as the main arterial highway of the new borough.

From 1915 onward, much of northern and southwestern Queens came within reach of the New York City subway system. In June 1915 the Interborough service opened to Long Island City and later Queensboro Plaza (1916,) and Astoria ( 1917.) Another branch extended along Queens Boulevard and the newly laid out Roosevelt Avenue, reaching Corona in 1917 and Flushing in 1928. In southern Queens, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company built an elevated line along Liberty Avenue through Ozone Park and Woodhaven to Richmond Hill in 1915 and along Jamaica Avenue from the Brooklyn border through Woodhaven and Richmond Hill to Jamaica during 1917-1918. As all developers and realtors knew, these massive improvements in transportation, especially the opening of Queens to five-cent fare service, promised rapid growth. Farms and open areas began to vanish and endless rows of new streets and one family houses began to spread out all over Queens.

During the 1920s, Queens rocketed from 469,042 to 1,079,129, a growth rate of 130 percent. Although the Great Depression of the 1930s ended this boom, growth of another kind was underway, with the construction of more bridges (the Triborough Bridge in 1936 and the Bronx-Whitestone in 1939,) roadways (the Interboro Parkway in 1935 and the Grand Central Parkway in 1936) and airports (LaGuardia Airport in 1939 and Idlewood in 1948.)

The World's Fair of 1939-1940 put the new borough on the national map for the first time. Massive preparations for the event began in 1936 and brought about the elimination of the stupendous Corona dumps -- dubbed the "valley of ashes" by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby. Afterwards, the fair site became Flushing Meadows Park (later renamed Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.)

The Post War Years

After World War II, growth surged again, leveling off in the early 1960s. City block size garden apartments sprouted in many areas of the borough. The remaining tracts of land in northeastern Queens, including former golf courses, filled up with single family and attached housing. In Fresh Meadows, between Flushing and Jamaica, a complex of highrise apartments built by the New York Life Insurance Company housed 14,000. The final transportation triumph occurred with the completion of the Long Island Expressway in 1960.

During this period of growth, great progress was also made in the field of higher education. In 1937. Queens College opened on spacious grounds in Flushing. Saint John's University moved from Brooklyn to the former Hillcrest Golf Course in Jamaica in 1955. In 1960, Queensboro Community College opened on the grounds of the former Oakland Gold Course and York College was opened in 1967.

The 1964-65 World's Fair returned to Flushing Meadows bigger and better. It featured 140 pavilions on 646 acres and can best be remembered as a showcase of the dynamic technological and scientific changes that took place between the 1930s and 1960s.

Ever Changing Borough

The most important and visible changes in the long history of Queens have been the ethnic transition of the 1970s and 80s.

On July 1, 1968, Congress enacted a major restructuring of the immigration statutes that for the first time relaxed the restriction on immigration from third-world countries.

In the last thirty years Queen has witnessed a flood of newcomers from Central and South America, the Caribbean and Asian countries principally China, Korea and Japan, and India. The new arrivals have tended to settle in clusters in particular neighborhoods. Flushing is now predominately Asian; Jackson Heights and Woodside, Hispanic; Corona, Dominican; Elmhurst, Colombian. With Astoria heavily Greek; Forest Hills, Israeli Russian; St. Albans and South Jamaica, African American, Queens has become the most ethnically diverse county in the country.

This article was excerpted with permission of Vincent F. Seyfried