Fresh Kills at Queens Museum

This past Friday, I was invited to speak about my book before the annual investors conference for the 22nd Annual Investors conference of the NYC Municipal Water Finance Authority. It took place at Queens Museum, which coincided with Maintenance Art, an exhibit on the ecology, history, and future of Fresh Kills by Mierle Laderman Ukeles.

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The central piece of the exhibit was a model of Landing, an overlooks inside the dump-turned-park that will offer visitors a view of the city’s largest naturalistic landscape. What’s an architecture piece from Staten Island park doing at the Queens Museum? Continue reading

Formation of Meadow Lake

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.

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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. Continue reading

Strong’s Causeway, Queens

On last Sunday’s bike tour of Flushing Creek, I passed beneath the Long Island Expressway overpass crossing this stream, with the overpass itself in the shadow of Van Wyck Expressway above it. An egret flies above the murky green water of the channelized creek.

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There has been a crossing of Flushing Creek at this location since the early 19th century, connecting two of Queens’ earliest towns. The highway overpass above is the most recent successor to an old crossing known as Strong’s Causeway. Continue reading

Photo of the Week

This week’s photo is a last chance reminder to sign up for my bike tour of Flushing Meadows that will take place on the day after tomorrow. Below is a Percy Loomis Sperr photo looking south at the Head of the Vleigh, where Flushing Creek emerges from the ground and begins its northward course towards Flushing Bay.

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Circled in this NYPL Digital Collections photo is the drain opening from which the creek flowed. It’s still there today.

In 1937 the Grand Central Parkway had just opened, connecting the RFK Triborough Bridge with points east. The bridge in the foreground is the trestle leading into Jamaica Yard, where trains from the Queens Boulevard subway line are stored.

Behind it is the double arch crossing of Union Turnpike above the highway. This old road stretches from Myrtle Avenue in Glendale east towards the city line.

The hilltops in the back is today’s Briarwood neighborhood, situated at the top of the terminal moraine that separates the watersheds of Long Island Sound and the open Atlantic Ocean.

I hope to see you on the bike tour!

Tidal Gate, Queens

Prior to development, a storm surge could inundate the entirety of Flushing Meadows, transforming the expansive salt marsh into an arm of the East River. In advance of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, the marsh was filled in and transformed into a fairground.

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To keep out storm tides, a bridge was constructed across Flushing Creek in 1938, separating the saltwater section downstream from the tide-free freshwater section on the other side of the bridge. Continue reading

Court of the States, Queens

In the transformation of Flushing Meadows from a salt mash and ash dump to the site of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, the meandering Flushing Creek was diverted into a straightened channel on the park’s eastern side. In contrast to the 1964 World’s Fair, where it was partially buried and hidden from view, the first World’s Fair relied on the creek as a visual feature, incorporating it into the exhibits.

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One example is the Court of the States, where a section of the creek was transformed into a rectangular pool flanked by flags representing the 48 states. At the north end of this section, a replica of Independence Hall represented Pennsylvania. Continue reading

Aquacade, Queens

In advance of my upcoming public walking tour of Flushing Meadows on May 8, here’s a World’s Fair attraction that faced Meadow Lake, a stadium torn down in April 1996. From my childhood, I remember it as a ruin.

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In the above photo from Queens Chronicle columnist Ron Marzlock, the seats haven’t been finished yet as the park prepared for the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. Continue reading

Cow Kill Pond, Queens

Having written about it earlier, I mentioned that Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens had a Sunnyside Plot on the north side of Queens Boulevard that was acquired by the city in 1934 for a park and the Van Wyck Expressway route. On an old map of the cemetery this plot had an unnamed pond at its northeastern corner.

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Prolific Queens history author Carl Ballenas tells me that it did have a name, based on an 1878 letter to a newspaper editor. Continue reading

The City’s Unbuilt Canals

As today is the day of April fools, I would like to share two outlandish proposals that would have dramatically affected the landscape of Queens.

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Imagine a canal running on the route of Van Wyck Expressway connecting Flushing Meadows with Jamaica Bay. Continue reading

Fountain of the Planets

Is it an artificial pond or the largest fountain in the city? Why is there an abandoned bunker in the center of this waterway? A mystery to many visitors of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the Fountain of the Planets (FOTP) is a section of Flushing Creek that generated plenty of oohs and aahs in the two World’s Fairs that took place in this park.

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The bunker in the center of this decommissioned fountain appears like an unused prop from Men In Black, but inside this structure were controls for what once was the city’s biggest fountain. Continue reading