Although it is only 3.08 acres in size, a park in the Corona neighborhood of Queens has the distinction of being one of a few in the city that predates Central Park. Known officially since 2005 as Park of the Americas, it opened to the public in 1854 as Linden Park, sharing its name with a pond that lay in its center.
Where park goers once ice skated and admired the fish, today’s youths play ball in view of Public School 16.
A very old park
Located on a rolling plain to the west of Flushing Meadows, the neighborhood of Corona was founded in 1853 as West Flushing and renamed in 1868 for its hilltop location as a symbolic “crown” on the landscape. In its early years, the village’s main attraction was the National Race Course, a horse-racing park that lent its name to National Street, which runs to the west of Linden Park. In the center of the park, the glacial kettle pond served as a watering hole for livestock before its beautification as a recreational space.
In the early 20th century postcard above, Corona retains its village appearance. Its description as “Corona, L. I.” (for Long Island) remained in use for another generation. The village became part of New York City in 1898 but urban development didn’t pick up until the arrival of the 7 Train to Corona Plaza On April 17, 1917. On that day, nearly 5,000 residents cleebrated in Linden Park, according to historian Vincent Seyfried.
An urbanized pond
As the neighborhood developed, the pond suffered from littering and stagnant water that attracted mosquitoes. In 1912, it was drained for cleaning, with its fish and turtles temporarily relocated to other parks. All mud and stones were removed; the lake bottom was paved in concrete, and a fountain was installed in the center of the lake.
The restored lake was only two feet deep, to ensure a longer skating season. Also that year, a memorial was erected in honor of Hugo E. Kruse, a local resident who was killed in the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana, Cuba, which triggered the Spanish-American War. The monument included a souvenir cannon ball from the doomed ship. In 1917, the onset of World War I overshadowed memories of the Spanish-American War, and today, only a plaque under the park’s flagpole commemorates American fighters killed in that war, including Kruse.
In the 1940s, the pond was given a concrete bottom and shoreline, around the same time that other Parks ponds were “citified,” including Kissena Lake, Bowne Pond, Jackson Pond, and The Pond in Central Park. It was filled in 1947 with a baseball field and playground covering its footprint.
After immigration resumed in 1965, the Latin American community greatly increased and eventually formed the majority of Corona’s population, with smaller numbers of Italians, Chinese, and Pakistani residents. The growing influx of people converted small homes into apartments, and revived the shopping districts on Roosevelt Avenue and National Street. During the city’s financial deficit in the 1970s, vandalism, a flooded baseball field, unsafe playground, and homeless encampments all plagued this historic park. Restorations took place in 1997 and 2004.
Name this park
In 2005, City Councilman Hiram Monserrate requested to have Linden Park renamed as Park of the Americas in recognition of the neighborhood’s sizable Latin American population that represents many nations south of the border. Signs were installed on fences with this new mouthful of a name. At the time, I opposed the renaming feeling that it obscured the historic nature of the park and mindful that the 1945 renaming of Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue as Avenue of the Americas did not catch on with the public. The ballfield retained the name Linden Park Ballfield, according to a 2004 plaque in the park. Perhaps the park’s name change was to avoid confusion with another Linden Park located in Brooklyn.
On the park’s fence, the new name is clear but so is the old name together with a linden leaf logo. How many parks in this city come with their own logo?
I should also add that a block to the north of this park is Corona Plaza, a traffic triangle pedestrianized in 2012 and often the setting for local public events.
In my youth
In my high school days, I lived halfway on the Q23 bus route between Corona Plaza and Queens Boulevard, so I could choose which train to take to class. I enjoyed the 7 train for its views of the city and the neighborhood of Corona for its history, grid-defying streets, ethnic flavor and legendary Italian ices. I commuted with local resident and Fame School classmate Luisa Diaz. Since graduation, none of our common friends have been able to locate her. She’s Colombian and a devout JW. If anyone can find her, I could send her a copy of my book.
In the News: Queens Gazette reviewed my book in this week’s edition.
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