Elmhurst gas tanks
A Traffic Reporter’s Dream
The Elmhurst gas tanks were dismantled in 1991.
For decades as commuters drove along the LIE heading west if the sun just happened to cast a glare on the green signs over head they could always look to their right and assure their location with the help of two gigantic red and white steel structures.
As soon as the looming gas tanks came into sight you knew you were somewhere between Elmhurst and Maspeth. When cars were bumper to bumper on the LIE the Elmhurst Gas Tanks became a familiar item heard in radio traffic reports letting drivers know exactly where the congestion began or ended. The Tanks, which once stood between 57th Avenue and Grand Avenue, did more than just act as traffic markers during their nearly century long lifespan, they were natural gas storage facilities.
But when the beloved landmarks weren’t really doing the business anymore they came down in 1996 and by 2001 there was almost no trace of the tanks that once supplied business and homes across the city. Commuters drove past the open space and bits of gravel took their place as 6.2 acres of land sat bare.
In 2003, the city took part in one of the best business deals since Manhattan was bought from local Native Americans for $24, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg purchased the gas tank site for $1 from KeySpan CEO Robert Catell to convert it into a public park.
Plans for the park show rolling green hills and a children’s playground where these Queens giants once stood.
The Pirate Paradise
Spelling wasn’t important at Adventurer’s Inn.
Just off the Whitestone Expressway once stood Queens’ answer to Coney Island – Adventurer’s Inn.
From the Batman slide to the Toboggan Ride to the Flight To Mars, the place had carnival-style rides permanently mounted – many of which came from Palisades Park in New Jersey.
The whole place was a mish-mosh of styles, and even the garbage cans were leftovers from the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.
But the place had a certain level of enchantment that no other permanent spot in Queens had. From the pirate mosaic in the ground by the entrance to the guy who gave change for the games in the arcade, to the rust slowly growing on the steel structures, the place had a carnival atmosphere
Though much of the place was demolished in the late 1970s, the arcade lived on until the mid 1980s. The whole thing is gone now, replaced by some office buildings around Linden Boulevard, including the College Point DMV.
1964 World’s fair
An Enduring Legacy
The legacy of the 1964-65 NY World’s Fair continues.
The 1964 World’s Fair is responsible for several of the most recognizable landmarks of Queens, like the Unisphere and the Fountain of the Planets (well, when it was working, anyway). Those structures were meant to capture the theme of the fair, “Man on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe.”
But what most people don’t remember, or simply don’t know, is that the 1964 World’s Fair was a little bit of an outlaw – the rebellious teenager of expositions. Because the Bureau of International Exhibitions had already sanctioned the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, and the rulebook apparently only allows one World’s Fair per country per decade, the BIE turned its back on the Queens event.
The Queens organizers also wanted to hold the fair for two years, as opposed to a one-year limit enforced by the BIE. Many European and Communist countries boycotted the fair as a result, although 36 foreign countries did open pavilions.
But in true New York fashion, the city held the fair the way it wanted, big, bold and in-your-face, eventually breaking an international record for attendance. All those people still weren’t enough to turn a profit, however, and the 1964 fair joined its older sibling from 1939 in being a financial disaster.
The fair still played a large part in shaping the Flushing Meadows Corona Park that we know today. Just think, without it, several Puff Daddy videos and the Men and Black series wouldn’t be the same.
Jahn’s Ice Cream
Delicious Old Time Treat
The original Richmond Hill shop is all that remains of the boroughwide chain. Photo By Ira Cohen
For years, it was a cherished Queens tradition. A man would take his sweetheart on a date to the RKO Keith’s Theatre in Richmond Hill, snuggle up cozily next to her in the theatre seats, and watch a flick. When the movie ended, the evening would be capped off with a scoop of ice cream at Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor next door.
Today, the RKO Keith’s Theatre has been shut down and converted into a flea market and bingo hall. Jahn’s however, is still around and is the last shop remaining of what was once a boroughwide ice cream parlor chain. Residents outside and inside of the Richmond Hill area still enjoy heading over to Jahn’s and jamming their spoons into a delicious scoop of ice cream.
Everything about Jahn’s is old-fashioned, whether it’s the stained glass windows, the nickelodeon piano, or the ice cream itself. Most of the toppings and flavors are homemade, with the hot fudge sundae still a top choice. If feeling adventurous, or really hungry, Queens residents can also try the “Kitchen Sink,” a sundae made up of 22 different flavors and 11 toppings.
Original Queens Supreme
The LIC Courthouse is an architectural wonder. Photo By Ira Cohen
On entering the Long Island City Courthouse, a large and majestic marble staircase leads a visitor to the courtrooms above, perhaps a metaphor for ascending the ivory tower of reason on which our justice system is based. Wood-paneled hallways with decorative plaster ceilings give the interior a sense of classical esteem fitting for a place of law.
The building originally was constructed in 1876, before the borough was annexed into New York City, and it functioned as an important symbol of order during a time when the outer boroughs were little more than farmland. A fire gutted the structure around the turn of the century, leading another architect to modernize the exterior of building by adding pillars and balconies.
The courthouse gained landmark status in 1976. Although most criminal justice matters are handled next to Borough Hall, the city still holds trials at the Long Island City venue. No criminals are actually held there anymore, however, as its small jail was turned into a parking garage in the late 1980s.
Located across from the Citibank building, the brick and granite features of the courthouse can still inspire awe, both in those who administer the law and those who break it.
A Soft Spot For Soft Serve
Mr. Softee is a classic of Queens youth. Photo By Ira Cohen
Ring, ring went the bell and a child’s eyes would light up in similar fashion to Pavlov’s dogs. Quickly, they’d run over to the nearest parent and hold out their hand in a torrent of impatience awaiting a few spare coins. Then it would be out the door and straight to the end of the driveway to meet the ice cream truck as it came rolling by.
Ice cream trucks are a staple on the streets of Queens during the summertime, and have brought refreshments to children for many generations. Two of the most notable ice cream truck companies are Mister Softee and Bungalow Bar. Those of the Baby Boomer generation will remember how these trucks would rumble into the neighborhood and have all sorts of delicious ice cream treats to munch on.
Today, the Mister Softee company is still available, while Bungalow Bar suffered from a poor reputation among children. One chant that originated in Bayside went “Bungalow Bar, Tastes like tar, The more you eat, The sicker you are.”
Mr. Softee, however, remains a favorite in playgrounds across Queens.
Our Own Celebration
The Queens Festival was captured on film by Audrey Gottlieb.
In 1977 business leaders, politicians and other Queens bigwigs got together to celebrate Queens, creating the first Queens Festival, an annual tribute to all that Queens has to offer.
By the early 1990s the festival was drawing nearly 3 million residents and outsiders to Flushing Meadows Corona Park for a weekend of fun, games, entertainment, good food and a carnival-like atmosphere.
The weekend event would often feature concerts, a running race, games and rides for kids and adults, a wide variety of local and imported vendors
Eventually, the spirit that brought the festival together each year was hurt by infighting, politics and other influences, and the annual party was ended. Though some have tried to revive it in recent years, it hasn’t seen the same type of community support that drew the crowds in the 1980s.
Long Island Press
The Old Queens Leader
Columnist Walter Kaner’s influence still carries on today.
What began in the early 1800s with the name Long Island Farmer, eventually became the original Long Island Press.
The daily newspaper lasted 130 years before the presses stopped in 1977. The current Long Island Press took the name in 2003, but it is distributed out of Long Island, where the original paper was published in Jamaica.
Giving insight on issues that the original Press regularly covered, the Greater Astoria Historical Society’s Web site reproduced some of the happenings in the time period between the American Revolution and the Civil War.
There, some interesting advertisements and articles are shown. One ad reads, “Grass for sale on the Meadow Land, at Jamaica South, near Cornell’s mill, generally known as the town commons. It consists of a mixture of salt, short, sedge and black grass, is of very fine growth and has a sufficient border of upland for the purpose of stacking. It is supposed to be equal to any other, for quality of grass, and convenience of getting the hay. For a view of the grass, and for terms, apply to James Denton, Esq. at the Beaver Pond.”
The Press was well-known in the mid-to-late 20th Century for its coverage of the news, and at its soul was columnist Walter Kaner, who touched the lives of readers, and of the kids whom he would donate Christmas gifts to every year.
Niederstein’s has been demolished. Photo By Ira Cohen
For a century and a half, Queens families would bury their loved ones along Metropolitan Avenue and take a short, slow, and sad procession to Niederstein’s restaurant in Middle Village. There, the wooden paneling, old pictures and belt driven fans would provide a connection between past and present, comforting mourners with a sense of tradition and neighborhood history.
The food and atmosphere would also draw people from around the city, looking to feast on Old World delicacies in a setting of an authentic European alehouse. Just about anything ending in “wurst” was available, along with goulash, fish and a variety of frothy drinks. The portions spilled over the sides of the plate, often complimented with heaping piles of sauerkraut.
But a decline in business and the deterioration of the building structure eventually led last year to the demise of the restaurant itself. The old venue has been torn down, and in its place, an Arby’s will be erected by the spring. Residents protested, but like any loved one, sometimes a family has to accept it was time for them to move on.
We Can Hitch A Ride
Rockaway Park in its heyday.
This was the place that dreams and songs are made of. Walking the boardwalk on a hot summer evening, going for a ride on the Atom Smasher, eating cotton candy, and then running across the sand into the water.
“Chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum; The sun is out and I want some; It’s not hard, not far to reach; We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach.”
Those words by the Queens punk band The Ramones, produced by Phil Spector, will forever give the feeling of fun that exuded from the great open air amusement park, which was open from 1901 to 1986.
Though traffic was often a problem on the hottest of the summer days, once you got there the mingling aromas of salt from the ocean, hot dogs from a stand and suntan oil (before sunblock, baby) aroused great feelings within people coming of age in a borough that, only in good weather, remind us that we are bounded by the beach.
“Rock, rock, Rockaway Beach…”
Son of Sam
Queens Gripped By Fear
Since Sept. 11, New Yorkers have a keen sense of their vulnerability to terrorism, but they continue on in their daily lives with the knowledge that thousands of people scattered around the globe are plotting to kill them. But in the late 1970s, one man alone held Queens hostage with fear: The Son of Sam.
A random shooting in the Bronx soon turned into a rash of connected shootings in Queens, all targeting couples and women with long, dark hair. Mysterious notes started to turn up at murder scenes and in the mailbox of famed Queens newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin. After six were killed and another seven wounded, the panic was palatable. Women dyed their hair and couples didn’t venture out of their homes.
Eventually cops tracked a parking ticket to the door of David Berkowitz, a chubby, thin-haired man, who confessed on the spot. He claimed that his neighbor’s dog had instructed him to kill people, but he later recanted the story. Once a Satanist, Berkowitz has since converted to Christianity in prison, where he still has just over 350 years left to serve.
An Old Friend Passes
The Weeping Beech.
On Dec. 8 1998, the Queens Historical Society, together with the Parks Department and Flushing Savings Bank, celebrated permanence and change, as well as dignity and grace, miraculously embodied in the life of a tree. After declaring the 151-year-old tree dead it was mourned in a memorial service.
Flushing’s landmarked 151-year-old Weeping Beech was noble...and beautiful even in its twilight. Most of all, the tree was testament that its immortality is with its offspring, the little beeches growing up around its trunk (“Sons of a Beech”).
We all love to tell the story of this mother of all the weeping beeches in the United States: It was carried here as a slip from Belgium by nurseryman Samuel Bowne Parsons in 1847 and planted in or near his now-famous nursery, where it grew and thrived to this day, grew to become one of New York’s two living landmarks.
QHS loves to tell how the Kingsland Homestead and the Historical Society came to reside together beside the famous tree. The home, of course, was saved by being moved next door to the tree in September 1968, and the Society was founded only two months later, almost under the shelter of the tree.
Queens Historical Society
Where The Games Began
Most schoolyards are now filled in. Photo By Ira Cohen
There was a time in Queens when all you needed for a good time (as a mid, mind you) was a pink or blue rubber ball and the space next to your school – your schoolyard.
Every school had one. It was the place where the school would hold its annual spring festival, where you would run outside after quickly plowing through your lunch when the weather was nice, where you would hang out after school, playing handball, punchball and other schoolyard games.
But as the population grew, and the need for school seats started to rise, this valuable real estate next to the actual school buildings started to shift to other uses. At first a school would get a “min school,” a metal trailer outfitted with classrooms to accommodate the overflow.
But eventually even those got to be too cramped, and construction projects were initiated to fill in the empty spaces on school-owned property. The schoolyards of old are mostly memories now.
Some remain, but the days of raucous fun before, during and after school are now spent out on the streets, mingling with the public, rather than within the confines of the chain link fence that surrounded a giant patch of asphalt.
TWA FLIGHT 800
Plane Crash Mystery
Crews pull up pieces of TWA Flight 800 wreckage.
On July 17, 1996, a flight leaving JFK Airport, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Long Island’s south shore killing everyone on board.
The TWA Boeing 747 was headed to Paris, but 11 minutes after takeoff, the plane carrying 230 people exploded 13,700 feet above sea level.
According to official records, there were no reports by the flight crew to air traffic control that there were any problems after take-off. The plane itself had been used for passenger travel for nearly 25 years.
A number of eyewitnesses reported from the ground and other pilots in the air said they saw a bright object streaking toward the plane as it exploded and rumors surfaced that it could have been a missile. The Associated Press reported that Air Traffic Control “detected a blip merging with the jet shortly before explosion.” Other news agencies reported that a missile could have been fired from a boat.
It was also reported that the FBI attempted to cover-up any possibility that the plane had been taken down by a drone or dummy missile fired from a Navy vessel, though the families of the people killed have never been satisfied by the answers given.