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.
The largest park on the east side of the East River is Astoria Park, located between the Triboro (RFK) and Hell Gate bridges. It has the largest outdoor pool in the city but shortly after the park was created, there was a highly unrealistic plan to give this park a bathing beach. Under the noise of the two bridges, the public can swim, use the running tack, tennis courts, playground, and lawn, among other amenities.
Until recently, the park’s relationship to the East River was overshadowed by the massive pool and Shore Road that runs along the water’s edge. With the pedestrianization of this road, the public has easier access to the shoreline where the turbulent current of Hell Gate can be observed.
At the eastern end of Jamaica Bay, where the Rockaway Peninsula widens into the mainland of Long Island is one of New York’s smallest and least developed State Parks. At 12 acres of wetland, shoreline and lawns, Bayswater Point State Park seems like an unexpected member of a family that includes Niagara Falls, Bear Mountain, and Montauk Point.
The park is one of more than a dozen along Jamaica Bay that are managed by the city, state, Nassau County, and the National Parks Service. This park was previously a private estate that was given to the public in the will of its last owner and then purchased by the state.
In the shadow of Queensborough Bridge is a ten-acre waterfront park tucked between the bridge, public housing, and a power plant. Queensbridge Park is one of seven unconnected parks on the western shore of Queens facing Manhattan.
The water’s edge here is riprap, rocks deposited along a seawall to reduce erosion from waves and currents. These rocks were dropped here in 2014 after the seawall suffered damage from Hurricane Sandy in late 2012. As is the case with much of the East River facing Manhattan, the shoreline is almost perfectly straight, resembling a canal rather than a tidal strait.
In my effort to document some of the city’s landforms that just out into the water, the tip of College Point offers a landscape of hills with views of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Rikers Island. Hermon A. MacNeil Park honors a famous local sculptor, but it also obscures the previous owners of this tip, the Chisholm family who had a mansion on the site of this park with great views of the East River.
The tip of College Point appears on old maps as Chisholm Point, after the family that owned it from 1848 through 1930. On the left is Hunts Point and on the right where Whitestone Bridge has its Bronx landing is Ferry Point. Between them are the mouths of Bronx River, Pugsley Creek, and Westchester Creek. The resolution is small, but there is a NYCFerry boat on the other side at the Soundview landing. Also visible here is College Point Reef, a rock topped by a signal.
The Rockaway Peninsula offers plenty of sights for urban explorers and historians with its alleys, old buildings, the fort at its tip, and numerous inlets on the side facing Jamaica Bay. Until recently I did not know that the Rockaways had its its own internal waterway.
Wavecrest Lake existed at the turn of the 20th century, surrounded by mansions and summer homes of the rich at a time when the peninsula served as the city’s seaside retreat.
Not to be confused with the borough-spanning boulevard of the same name, Francis Lewis Park is a 17-acre waterfront parcel on the East River in Whitestone under the Whitestone Bridge. Surrounded by tract mansions, this park offers public access to the water’s edge on land that once belonged to a Founding Father.
The park is comprised of a bowl-shaped lawn that widens towards a beach on the East River with Ferry Point Park on the opposite shore. On the west side of the lawn are a playground and sports courts.
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.
Rainey Park is sizable but not so visible among the shoreline parks on account of its location and seemingly empty appearance.
Tune out the two highways on either side of this 47-acre lake, and perhaps then this wildlife sanctuary can be appreciated by visitors. Located at the southern tip of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it is an ideal place for social distancing during this difficult time.
The setting is naturalistic, the result of the master plan for the 1939 World’s Fair that set aside a portion of Flushing Meadows that would be left alone.
With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down public life, one can stay at home or search for outdoor spaces where there are few other people and enjoy the natural sights. One can also do research from home on hidden urban waterways by comparing historical photos, aerial surveys, and maps.
On the corner of 108th Street and the Long Island Expressway, is a previously underdeveloped superblock where Horse Brook flowed. Construction is underway on a trio of affordable apartment towers to join the three that were built here in the 1970s. Block by block, the empty spaces where Horse Brook flowed are filling up with buildings, leaving fewer traces of this phantom waterway.