The largest freshwater lake in the city covers 95 acres within Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. In contrast to the park’s central core that was an ash landfill prior to its acquisition by the city, the site of Meadow Lake was a salt marsh where Horse Brook flowed into Flushing Creek.
The 1937 image above shows Meadow Lake assuming its present-day shape just before construction commenced on exhibits for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. There is so much to see in this photo, so here’s an explanatory tour back in time.What we see
Horace Harding Boulevard
Conceived by its eponymous banker and business executive, this roadway extended at the time from Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst to the Nassau County line in Little Neck. By 1954, it will be expanded and upgraded as the Long Island Expressway while retaining Harding’s name for its service roads. The boulevard crosses Flushing Meadows at approximately the same route as its predecessor, Strong’s Causeway.
This ancient roadway crosses Horace Harding Boulevard at the bottom of the above aerial photo, where you see concrete on the otherwise grassy boulevard median. This intersection is where Coe’s Mill stood from 1652 until its demolition in 1930 to make way for the boulevard.
On the above image, the red triangle shows the location of my parents’ home, which will be built atop the filled Horse Brook stream bed in 1950. Colonial Avenue is seen above the triangle while the Grand Central Parkway service road is below the triangle. Horace Harding Boulevard is to the triangle’s right, with Corona Avenue on the top far right merging with Horace Harding.
This tributary of Flushing Creek was still flowing on the surface across a block that will later have the Fairview Co-op apartments on it. It is on the lower far right of the photo, crossed by Colonial Avenue.
In this 1920s image from the NYPL Digital Collections, we are looking towards Forest Hills, with Colonial Avenue crossing Horse Brook. Notice the oil barrels by the bridge, marked Socony. That’s the abbreviated name of the Standard Oil Company of New York, a spin-off of the original Standard Oil monopoly broken up in 1911. Socony was renamed Mobil in 1966. Following the construction of Horace Harding Boulevard, a Socony gas station was built on the corner of the boulevard at Colonial Avenue, where Coe’s Mill stood.
The same location today would show the Forest Hills Co-op Houses occupying the marshland where the brook flowed.
Looking in the same direction, the Mobil gas station is still there, pumping out gas for motorists, while Colonial Avenue shows no hints of its long history nor the creek that flowed across this landscape.
Although Socony kept its name until 1966, it began using the Mobil brand for its filling stations as early as 1920. In the 1939 image above the De La Corte Inn that stood next to Coe’s Mill is still in business for the World’s Fair, but will be demolished soon after the fair closes. The cars parked along Horace Harding Boulevard were those of the fairgoers. On the right in the background is the Spanish mission-style Florida Pavilion on Meadow Lake, the only state pavilion built outside the designated Court of the States.
Looking in the same direction today, only the gas station is still on the scene, obscured by the sidewalk trees lining the Horace Harding service road.
Again, the title photo
So that you don’t have to scroll up for today’s historical aerial tour, here’s the photo again. Other present-day things that we see completed are the Meadow Lake Bridge straddling the boulevard; and on top in the background, Mount Hebron Cemetery, the former Spring Hill estate of colonial times. The cloverleaf intersection connects Horace Harding with Grand Central Parkway, today roaring through with eight lanes, but only four back in 1937.
It’s amazing to see how much has changed on the landscape of Flushing Meadows since 1937. Next time you fill up at the Mobil gas station on Colonial Avenue and Horace Harding, while you wait look at your surroundings and think of what was here.
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Meet the Author:
I will be speaking tomorrow at 6 p. m. at Steinway Library on the subject of hidden waterways in western Queens. Books will be on sale as part of the presentation. The address is 21-45 31 Street in Astoria, Queens.