Among the waterways of New York City that has experienced dramatic change in the past century is Flushing Bay, an arm of the East River that borders on College Point and LaGuardia Airport, where Flushing Creek widens into this bay. On this aerial survey photo from 1947, found at the NYS Archives, I identified some of the locations that I’ve previously documented on this blog and a few other interesting items.
The landscape here is urban but not yet as dense as it would become with the post-1965 influx of immigrants and revival of the city in the last quarter of the 20th century. The airport hasn’t yet reached its present size, as many people still used railroads and ships to reach distant places. Finally, the jail at Rikers Island also hasn’t reached its present size and it was only accessible by boat this this time.
By the Numbers
- Jackson’s Mill Creek is the first number on this photo, a remnant of a longer stream that originated in Jackson Heights and emptied into Flushing Bay at North Beach. With the development of LaGuardia Airport in 1939, the creek was routed into a boat basin nest to the airport, and a pond sandwiched between Grand Central Parkway and Ditmars Boulevard. The boat basin was later filled in favor of parking lots, and the pond was filled in favor of highway ramps.
In this annual report from the city’s Parks Department, we see the pond as it appeared before the airport and parkway were built. The houses on the bluff overlooked the pond and Flushing Bay. Today they overlook a highway and the airport.
World’s Fair Marina
2. World’s Fair Marina is located at the southern side of Flushing Bay, built for the 1939-1940 World’s Fair. Intended for an international audience, this element of the World’s Fair was not built in the way that its ambitious renderings had shown.
Ahead of the 1939 World’s Fair, a rendering from the city archives shows a row of columns akin to St. Peter’s Piazza or more locally, Orchard Beach, facing the bay, with a flag-lined avenue leading to the center of Flushing Meadows. Being nearly a mile from the core of the fairgrounds, the Boat Basin was an afterthought. Most travelers to the fair arrived by subway, railroad, buses, and cars.
But the actual marina built for this World’s Fair did not have any architecturally distinguished features. As seen in this aerial survey from 1951, it was a simple dock and a curved road that connected this dock to the fairgrounds. The sizable parking lot near this marina will be developed in 1962 as the home of the Mets baseball team. At the mouth of Flushing Creek, where it widens into Flushing Bay is the DOT’s Harper Street Yard, which I documented on Forgotten-NY.
Ahead of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the dock was slated for an update, with a design resembling the architecture of the Jetsons cartoon. Instead of a building in the sky perched atop a pole, the marina’s structures would float on flushing Bay. The only element of this plan that was completed were the three Candela structures overlooking the bay. Their actual designer was Peter Schladermundt in association with Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation. The other Jetsonesque element in Flushing Meadows are the observation towers of the NYS Pavilion, a mile to the south of the bay.
The actual marina for the 1964 New York World’s Fair was a modest affair of three distantly spaced docks and a catering hall. The only unique design element that was completed for the World’s Fair was the Sinclair floating gas station for boats. In the background of this photo from Sinclair’s archive are the homes of East Elmhurst whose backyards once touched the water. In the 1930s, Robert Moses had Grand Central Parkway built on the water, greatly diminishing the values of these homes.
The mile-long highway connecting Grand Central Parkway, Northern Boulevard, Astoria Boulevard, Van Wyck Expressway, and Whitestone Expressway, runs along the southern side of Flushing Bay. Like many Robert Moses projects, it is part of a bigger idea that was not realized: Astoria Expressway, that would have transformed the boulevard in East Elmhurst into a highway. Fortunately neighborhood opposition killed this project and the only portion of Astoria Expressway that was built was within parkland along the shore of Flushing Bay.
The legacy of this redesign is a waterfront promenade that runs between LaGuardia Airport and Harper Street that offers views of airplanes landing and taking off. Since then this marina served as a dock for fishing boats, canoes, cruises, and occasional ferries that brought spectators to baseball and tennis games.
Hemmed in by the airport with Grand Central Parkway separating Flushing Bay from residential neighborhoods, this waterway has not received much attention from urban planners. Its potential as a recreational, commercial fishing, and water transportation was given serious consideration in a 2008 proposal published by Riverkeeper in partnership with the Perkins + Will architecture firm. In the years that followed, there has been saltwater marsh restoration along the water’s edge, the promenade was renovated and renamed for Malcolm X, who lived nearby in East Elmhurst. But the catering hall and docks of the World’s Fair Marina have not changed in their appearance.
Perhaps it is the noise of the airplanes and isolation of the waterfront promenade that keeps the crowds away. The path runs atop a seawall constructed in 1938 as part of the larger transformation of Flushing Meadows from a wetland and landfill into a park. Unlike the bikeways along Hudson River, East River, and Gravesend Bay, the Flushing Bay Promenade is not connected to other bikeways. Is the shoreline better with this public path? Certainly, as it connects people with Flushing Bay, inspiring ideas for further nature restoration, boat access, and waterborne transportation.
Other Numbers in the Title Photo
3. Flushing Creek has been documented many times on this blog as it flows near my parents’ home and the cemetery where they were buried.
4. Mill Creek is the final tributary to Flushing Creek, flowing into it just as it widens into Flushing Bay. A section of this stream flows on the surface on the site of Flushing Airport.
5. Tallman Island is fused to the rest of queens and hosts a water treatment plant. In its natural state, Morris Creek separated this island from the mainland.
6. Bowne Pond is among the smallest internal waterways of Queens. A glacial kettle pond, it is ringed by a concrete shoreline.
7. Kissena Lake is the largest remaining section of Kissena Brook which flowed from Fresh Meadows to Flushing Meadows.
8. Fort Totten Ponds, Queens were used for ice harvesting i the 19th century, when winters were colder in New York. Today it is a natural feature of this former military base turned park.
9. Crocheron Pond was erroneously called Golden Pond by many park goers and official signs. But its actual name relates to a past landowner of Crocheron Park.
Protecting the Bay
Every waterway deserves an advocacy group to volunteer its time, keep an eye on its condition and propose improvements. Guardians of Flushing Bay serves the role for this body of water through its public programs.
Under its watch, the public can take to the water on tours, clean up the riprap on the shoreline, and draft reports on ideas for improving public access.
This scene of the Wahnetah Boat Club practicing on Flushing Bay no longer feels out of place as the waterway becomes cleaner and more accessible. In this scene, the boathouse is gone and highways line the shore, but as wildlife have returned, so have the recreational boats.
In the News:
Scienceline reports on the effort to expand waterfront access in the South Bronx.