My fascination with all things GIS often brings me to take a closer look at the old maps hanging throughout NYC Parks facilities. They have so much to show for things that are no longer here, things that never got built, and the altered shorelines of the city’s waterways.
Long before the tractors and construction cranes arrived, most of the city’s streets were mapped out in a grid pattern that demonstrated little respect for the landscape and the waterways.
Eastern Bronx on Hagstrom
The Hagstrom map above hangs on a wall at Ranaqua, the Bronx borough office of the Parks Department. I could not find the date for it, but it offered a few helpful clues: the maze of private streets in Bay Terrace, Queens that is the gated Baybridge community. Those homes were completed in 1985. The odd item on this map is Ferry Point Park on the Bronx side of the Whitestone Bridge, which shows a crescent shoreline marked as “proposed beach.” The quality and depth of the water at this location prevented the development of a public beach and to this day, Orchard Beach remains the only public beach in the Bronx.
Where’s Mill Creek?
Earlier this week I profiled the course and history of Mill Creek in Queens. An undated 1950s map found in the Five Boro Shop on Randalls Island shows the site of Flushing Airport covered entirely by paper streets. The pink superblocks on the map are NYCHA housing developments. The map predates the construction of Throgs Neck Bridge, which is why you do not see Clearview Expressway slashing its way through the Bayside neighborhood.
Growth of Rikers Island
At the office for Orchard Beach, there is a planning map for the Bronx that shows the natural shoreline of Rikers Island, its first prison buildings, and the bulkhead line that eventually became its present shoreline as a result of extensive land reclamation. The dotted line shows the I-shaped island as it was in 1884, when the city acquired the island from its namesake family. From its original 87.5 acres, it has swollen to its present 413.17-acres, a city unto itself. It is connected by bridge to Queens, but politically is part of the Bronx. Strangely this 1970s map has the borough border zigzagging to give North and South Brother Islands to the Bronx while leaving Rikers to Queens. Likely a mistake by the cartographer.
A Venice of Paper Streets
At the Forest Park repair shop, the southeast corner of mainland Queens shows the dotted line path of the unbuilt Nassau Expressway; two opposing thumbs of land that are Meadowmere, Queens, and Meadowmere Park in Nassau County; and a set of paper streets sandwiched between Rockaway Turnpike and North Woodmere Park. Notice how the streets do not cross the waterways. Were they supposed to be the borderline Venice of Woodmere? Photographer Nathan Kensinger has been there, documenting two lost communities: Hungry Harbor and Meyer Harbor. Perhaps some of these paper streets were that community.
Panning a bit to the west, we see the dotted line Nassau Expressway cutting through the marshes of Idlewild Park, marked here as part of Brookville Park. In 2002, a portion of Idlewild Park was demapped and developed as an airport logistics warehouse, putting a traffic signal on the 1.7-mile uninterrupted stretch of Rockaway Boulevard bordering the swamp and the JFK Airport. Prior to the airport’s development, Cornell Creek and Thurston Creek meandered across this landscape.
Looking at the official NYCity Map, we see two gray stripes cutting through Idlewild Park for the highway that was never built. These linear parcels belong to the state but for all intents and purposes, they are preserved as part of this wetland. As much as residents of the Five Towns would like a quick highway to the city, that dream died in the 1980s and despite the right-of-way on the map, I doubt that it would ever get built.
Motor Parkway on Display
Between 1938 and 1954, there’s was only one limited access highway running across Queens into Nassau County, the Grand Central Parkway. Within this time frame, the pioneering Vanderbilt Motor Parkway had been abandoned by its owner and the Long Island Expressway was not yet built. Neither were most of the streets on the map above, which I found in one of the Queens park offices.
Motor Parkway appears as a white line paralleling Union Turnpike, marked as a “bicycle path.” Today it runs from 199th Street to Winchester Boulevard. On this map, the path runs towards the city line and there are neighborhood groups seeking to do just that.
Another oddity here is Cloverdale Boulevard, shown running through the panhandle of Alley Pond Park. In reality, it is a boulevard in name only, a quiet street made up of segments that was never completed to its full length.
North Hills Golf Course was later acquired by the city and renamed Douglaston Park Golf Course. Oakland Country Club was divided between tract housing and what became Queensborough Community College. Its namesake lake is still there.
Another Old Map:
The most iconic of the old maps in the NYC Parks collection is the 1950s topographical map hanging outside the Parks Commissioner’s office in Manhattan.
If anyone is looking for me, I’ll be next to the map mimicking 1934-1960 Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.
In the News:
Queens Courier reports on complaints by residents of College Point and Whitestone regarding noisy party cruises on the East River.
The Journal News reports on school students participating in plant restoration on Otter Creek in Mamaroneck.