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 city’s largest freshwater lake offers enough details in its design and history to allow for multiple posts. Having previously focused on the Aquacade that stood at Meadow Lake, and the history of Jewel Avenue Bridge, I turn to its northwest corner, where Horse Brook had its confluence with Flushing Creek.
On the above image, the red triangle shows the location of my parents’ home, which will be built atop the filled Horse Brook stream bed in 1950.
In the time between this 1937 photo and the opening of the 1939 World’s Fair, the transformation of the wetlands along Flushing Creek into Flushing Meadows is one of the most unrecognizable landscape alterations in the city in the past century. Around Meadow Lake, it includes a few rejected proposals worth remembering.
Since this blog was launched in December 2015, I’ve documented the city’s hidden waterways with as much detail as possible, but then after publishing the pieces, I stumble upon more old photos, maps, and postcards of the published streams.
The photo of note here is this August 1940 aerial survey of the first World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows, looking east. It is a Parks Department photo from the Municipal Archives collection. The corridor of open land between the street grids of downtown Flushing and Queensboro Hill is today’s Kissena Corridor Park, where Kissena Creek used to flow.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
In October 2014, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz declared a slogan for her jurisdiction: The World’s Borough. The phrase catches several global things about Queens, its diversity of cultures, the site of two World’s Fairs, and the famous Unisphere globe. In 1946, the site of the 1939-1940 World’s Fair was a candidate for the permanent headquarters of the United Nations.
Had the plan succeeded, it would have left quite an impact on the development of Queens. Continue reading