Rainey Park, Queens

In contrast to the shoreline of Manhattan, which is almost entirely ringed by a connected series of parks, the western shore of Queens has parks separated by power plants and other public utilities, preventing an uninterrupted walk on the water’s edge.

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Rainey Park is sizable but not so visible among the shoreline parks on account of its location and seemingly empty appearance.

Where it is

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On the city DOT map of the Queens Waterfront Greenway, I circled the waterfront parks between Hunters Point and Lawrence Point. Rainey Park is in the Ravenswood section of Long Island City, sandwiched between a Costco property and a lighting equipment company. Most of this greenway runs on a separated bike lane on Vernon Boulevard, deviating from that road where there are waterfront parks.

IMG_4101In contrast to Hunters Point South Park, which has views of Midtown; and Queensbridge Park, which has views of its namesake bridge, Rainey Park offers the northern half of Roosevelt Island and Upper East Side behind it as its signature view.

The water’s edge here is a straight seawall that does not provide access to the water for wildlife or people. There are no calming sounds of water lapping against the shore and little boat traffic with the exception of the NYC Ferry that runs on the East River between Astoria and Midtown.

IMG_4104The park has a view of Roosevelt Island Bridge, the youngest crossing on the East River, which connects Queens to the borough of Manhattan, but not Manhattan Island.

At the southern end of the park, the esplanade abruptly ends at a private property that could easily give up some of its unused shoreline space for parkland. Roosevelt Island divides the East River into an east and west channel, two narrow straits where water moves swiftly between its wider basins at Midtown and Hallets Cove. Close to the shore, the depth is six feet, with the depth in the middle of the channel at nearly 30 feet. Certainly this channel is not an ideal place for a swim.

IMG_4098At the park’s northern end the view is more scenic with Lighthouse Point on Roosevelt Island and the open water of Hallets Cove.

In the background is the campus of Astoria Houses and the recently-built Hallets Point high-rise. Rocks on the shore here offer a small transition between land and water. The adjoining Costco property has a waterfront walkway that connects to Socrates Sculpture Park on the other side of this wholesale store.

IMG_4132From across the channel, Rainey Park appears as a bluff overlooking the river, seemingly an ideal spot for a mansion. There was a time when the shoreline of Ravenswood had its upscale dwellings but as manufacturers moved in, the mansions disappeared.

One of the last was Bodine Castle which survived until 1966 when it was demolished for a Con Ed switching station. The site of Rainey Park also had its history of famous landowners. Following the American Revolution, retired general Ebenezer Stevens owned this property. In the second half of the 19th century, Dr. Thomas C. Rainey lived nearly and was the leading proponent of a bridge to link Queens with Manhattan.

There are a pair of nearly completed upscale apartment towers facing Rainey Park, with their own bulkhead shoreline that abuts the water’s edge. Not sure how much cheaper they are in comparison to the condo towers at Gantry Plaza.

The Unbuilt Bridge

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As seen in this 1909 illustration in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Rainey’s proposed bridge to Manhattan would have connected the sites of Rainey Park in Queens to John Jay Park on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, landing on East 77th Street. Rainey’s bridge was a cantilever design that resembled the Queensborough Bridge that eventually was built.

The bridge had the support of railroad executive Austin Corbin and local piano manufacturer William Steinway, but at the time Queens was mostly rural and politicians did not regard Rainey’s bridge as as priority. Rainey’s New York and Long Island Bridge Company only got as far as building a cofferdam on the site of his eponymous park and a pier on Roosevelt Island before it went bankrupt in 1893. The annexation of Queens by NYC in 1898 provided the political momentum to complete the bridge, which was completed in 1909 nearly a mile to the south. At the ribbon cutting for Queensboro Bridge, Dr. Rainey was honored as the “Father of Queensborough Bridge.” He died the following year at age 84.

“This is my bridge. At least it is the child of my thought, of my long years of arduous toil and sacrifice. Just over there, are the old towers of my bridge, which I began to build many years ago. I spent all I owned on the project . . . It is a grand bridge, much greater than the one I had in mind. It will be in service to thousands in the years to come, when Dr. Rainey and his bridge projects will long have been gathered into the archives of the past.” -Dr. Rainey in an interview with The New York Times

Nearly a century later, the City Council co-named that bridge after former mayor Ed Koch, who shouted “Welcome to my bridge” in a promotional video. No shame.

The site of Rainey Park was mapped in 1903 and named for Rainey shortly later. At the time, his mansion in this park stood abandoned and he was living in Manhattan. A 1911 article on construction of this park noted that the strong currents of the East River did not allow for bathing here.

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The park’s topography is enhanced by the two mounds with slides inspired by the art of Isamu Noguchi, whose museum is located across the street from this park. At the museum, one can learn about his concepts for playgrounds.

A park is a democracy that serves many interest groups. In recent years there have been proposals for a dog park, boat launch, and garden at this park. The park also hosted cyclocross and outdoor film events in the past. In the meantime, the park’s sizable field and city views are its main attractions.

Learn More:

Rainey Park is located near the former mouth of Sunswick Creek, which I documented in an earlier post.

In the News:

Cleveland.Com reports on the upcoming restoration of Stickney Creek in Brooklyn, Ohio

Tucson Weekly reports on the reintroduction of endangered native fish to Agua Caliente Park.

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