The Line That Links Us All
Riders pack the 7 train. Photos By Ira Cohen
Rumbling under the East River from its last stop in Manhattan, the 7 train pushes hot air ahead of it as it barrels its way into the Vernon Boulevard station. One stop later, as its doors close and wheels begin to move the 300,000-pound beast out of the Hunter’s Point stop, the hot air from underground blasts into the cold winter, releasing steam as one of the best above-ground tours of Western Queens begins.
From Courthouse Square in Long Island City, headed for its final destination back underground at Main Street in Flushing, the 7 train connects a string of international outposts that define the parts of Queens west of Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
From Irish in Sunnyside and Korean in Woodside, to a mix of Latin American and South Asian cultures of Jackson Heights and Corona, to the Asian metropolis of downtown Flushing, the 7 train earns its nickname of the International Express.
It picks up the flavors, the aromas and the people who make Queens the most diverse place on Earth, connecting us all in one unified line of steel, unbroken, forever linked by the daily option of choosing the express or local.
The 7 train has been running the same route since 1948, when much of the area it passed through was farmland still being developed into the solid residential communities of today.
Mind the closing doors. Next stop – Queens.
The Newest Link
The AirTrain approaches JFK.
By far, the newest member of this list, the AirTrain is seeking to redefine the way Queens moves – and the way people move in Queens.
Conceived as a way to make a simple switch from JFK International Airport to your choice of two New York Transit subway lines, the AirTrain has become so much more.
The redevelopment of downtown Jamaica hinges upon its success. Still awaiting a developer, a hotel or conference center in Jamaica would house the clients of New York City companies and give them a gracious, hospitable place to stay, meet and broker big deals.
The AirTrain is the link that will make that happen. As the number of passengers grows on the $1.9 billion system, the economic effect will trickle down, bringing a new vitality to the once dilapidated Jamaica.
Only open a little more than two years, the AirTrain is well on its way to meeting the goals of its initial plan – and has a potential new future ahead of it. With a proposed rail link from JFK to Lower Manhattan, the AirTrain may turn Jamaica into an even greater hub, keeping the flow of people, of business and of money moving through Queens for decades to come.
Our Friendly Skies
Delta has a hub at LaGaurdia.
Just as Ellis Island once stood as the gateway to America, Queens has become its modern day version with two major airports that span nearly 6,000 acres across the country’s eastern seaboard.
John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport both act as many immigrants’ first step toward the American Dream when they touch down in Queens.
The larger of the two, JFK Airport, transferred more than 37 million passengers in 2004, giving it the highest total ever. The first passenger flight to embark out of JFK occurred July 1, 1948, when it was called New York International Airport. 15 years later, the airport was renamed in honor of the late president.
LaGuardia Airport was first occupied by the Gala Amusement Park and was later transformed into a private flying field in 1929. The airport opened to commercial traffic 10 years later and both JFK and LaGuardia airports were leased to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on June 1, 1947. Like JFK, LaGuardia Airport showed its largest number of passengers recently, when in 2000, the airport transported over 25 million people.
According to the Bureau of Transportation, both LaGuardia and JFK airports were noted as some of the most delay prone airports in the country. To improve travelers’ conditions, a $5 billion budget was approved by the Port Authority in January that focuses on getting passengers through the airport more quickly. Included is the new Terminal 5 at JFK, which will be leased to the busiest and most profitable airline, JetBlue Airways, which was founded in Queens by David Neeleman.
Your Mother’s A Mudder
Catch the ponies at Aqueduct.
Celebrating its 112th year in the borough, Aqueduct Racetrack, which is located on Rockaway Boulevard in Jamaica, showcases one of the many professional sports that can be found in Queens.
Horseracing, the one sport where adults in Queens can legally gamble, allows people to make wages on which jockey mounted horse makes it around the oval track and across the finish line the fastest. The track is open in the winter, spring and fall at 12:30 p.m. each day.
To see the races, especially this time of year, the cost is free from Jan. 2 to March 7, but there is no telling how much money you could win or lose once you get inside.
In what has been a struggling entity of late, the month of January showed a rare 5.4 percent rise in on-track attendance at Aqueduct, bringing an average of more than 3,000 people to the track each day. A decent number, but considering the grandstand holds 40,000 spectators, there is still plenty of elbowroom. The last month’s surge in attendance, however, is still plagued by a 34 percent drop in wages at U.S. tracks overall in the past 9 years. From 1985 to 2005, Aqueduct’s daily attendance has also dropped 75 percent.
In what hopes to gives gamblers a lash to the ribs, 4,500 video slot machines are poised to begin operation. The machines are expected to generate more than $400 million annually for the state and millions more for the struggling industry.
With more than a century under its belt, traffic officials are hoping that people will “Go, baby, go!”
Our Triumphant Tower
The Citibank building. Photo By Ira Cohen
The address 1 Court Square in Long Island City has been said by many to be the catalyst for the economic and aesthetic rebirth of the neighborhood.
Once home to many factories and bakeries, like the former Silvercup bakery, which is now Silvercup Studios, and high-rise housing that is now being built on the former Pepsi-Cola site, Long Island City has seen businesses come and go. But with the completion of the Citibank Building in 1990 by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP Queens saw 4,800 jobs brought before them.
The 1.4-million square-foot building does hold the title of being the only skyscraper outside of Manhattan. It’s the design of the 50-story late-modernist glass and steel building that has architects around the world talking. For a building that simply houses offices, the prominent angled roof is a sight to be seen from the Queensborough Bridge on a sunny day.
Rescued By Asians
Asian stores dominate Flushing. Photo By Ira Cohen
For decades, Flushing sat, simmered and began to decay. Its early 20th Century charm fell into disrepair, and the bottom began to drop out.
A new community of Asian immigrants capitalized on the easy connection to Manhattan via the 7 train terminal at Main Street, and within a few years, the decay of old had moved on, replaced by a glorious rebirth, replacing Roman letters with Asian characters, delis with sushi, dollars for Yuan.
Although difficult at times to navigate your way through the daily pedestrian traffic, one of downtown Flushing’s most notable amenities is its eateries. Some more favorable than others, one thing remains consistent throughout the stretch that includes Main Street, Northern Boulevard and Union Street – there is no shortage of ethnic cuisine.
Asian signage remains prevalent throughout the area, where American travelers might find it difficult to find an English address. But to Korean and Chinese immigrants, downtown Flushing is a replica of their roots and they are proud to showcase its many themes.
Cutting Through Queens
The LIE cuts through Queens. Photo By Ira Cohen
For centuries, Queens was a rural suburb of “The City,” literally covered in farms and dirt roads. But we grew up, “The City” grew out and Queens transformed itself in the early 20th century into a solid part of our metropolis. The suburbs were now Nassau County and Queens was growing denser with development and a blossoming population – especially following World War II.
In order to accommodate the growing population, the need for suburban access and the volume of vehicles muddling their way through, a plan was devised to cut a huge swath through Queens.
From Maspeth to Little Neck, communities that had once been whole were sliced in two, divided into north and south. Parishioners were separated from churches, students from their schools, and parents from children.
Construction has seemed perpetual, with widening, HOV, new on-ramps, reworked off-ramps, replacement bridges, new asphalt, pothole filling, electronic signs, new lanes and more. During the life of the Long Island Expressway, it seems there has always been work going on somewhere in Queens.
The Old Greasy Spoon
The old Sage Diner.
Fine dining is a relatively new concept for most of Queens. Sure, there have been some long-standing, traditional high-end kinds of places, but when it comes to providing a fast, cheap, sit-down meal to people on the go, noting beats a Queens diner.
Breakfast 24 hours a day, the cheeseburger deluxe, pot roast with vegetables, king crab legs – you name it, it’s on the menu of any diner in Queens worth its salt (and there’s plenty of that to go around, too).
Crossbay, Blue Bay, Mark Twain, Hillside, Scobee, Sage (now Pop), Georgia – the list of diners that pepper this borough just goes on, (kinda like the menus).
You sit down, and immediately have hefty menus thrust in your hand, ice water in a short glass, a paper placemat and a waitress (usually) who has sass, a smile and a green-and-white striped pad in hand, ready to get you going.
The meals are served quick, the portions are monstrous, the price is reasonable and the atmosphere is so Queens. Want dessert? Be sure to go up to the counter to see the pies, cakes, pastries and other creations. From babka to strudel to chocolate éclairs, and everything else, you can find it at any Queens diner.
Grab a stool at the counter or find a booth, and enjoy.
The Park In Our Heart
Youths play soccer near the Fountain of the Planets. Photo By Brian Rafferty
Nearly two times the size of Central Park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park not only plays host to 81 regular season New York Mets games and the U.S. Open tennis championship, but it is also a place where on any given sunny day you can find people involved in a game of soccer, football, baseball, cricket or just about any other sport.
The home of the Queens Museum of Art, the Unisphere, the New York Hall of Science, the Queens Zoo, the Queens Theatre in the Park and the Queens Botanical Gardens, Flushing Meadows Corona Park can seem like a busy place at times, but it still remains quiet and secluded.
On separate occasions, the Park held two World’s Fairs, where many leftovers still line the sky, such as the Unisphere and the New York Pavilion.
The Park continues to expand, even from its World’s Fair exodus, which came and went for the last time in 1965. Theatre renovations continue, the Arthur Ashe Stadium keeps getting better and a new Mets Stadium looks to break ground later this year.
Bird’s Eye View Of NYC
Queens in the Panorama. Photo By Ira Cohen
Within the confines of the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadows Corona Park exists one of the most interesting leftovers from the 1964 World’s Fair.
The Panorama gives visitors an overhead view of what Superman might see flying over New York City on a clear day.
The large-scale three-dimensional map of the entire city showcases the highs and lows; the bridges, passageways and waterfronts are sculpted to near perfection. Refurbished in the 1990s and again after September 11, 2001 changed Manhattan’s skyline, the exhibit can be marvelled at by visitors as they pass through each borough with just a few footsteps.
The complex, yet simple model allows children of all ages to see what many could only imagine if they were soaring above. As you walk the circular path around the model, be sure to check for your house. If it’s not there, don’t worry – it will be. Another renovation and update is scheduled to begin later this year.
Still Thriving, Still Growing
The new food court at Queens Center. Photo By Ira Cohen
Major boulevards and primary highway routes merge into the parking lots of a shopping metropolis that sits in the heart of one of the most diverse communities on Earth, as some of the busiest transportation hubs spill thousands of shoppers at it’s front doors.
Nearly 30 years ago, Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst opened it’s doors to a borough that holds more than 2.2 million people residing in 780,640 households within a range of 43 zip codes. To accommodate that many shoppers is a big feat, but from the first department stores to sit behind the Queens Center Mall’s doors, Abraham & Strauss and Ohrbach’s, to today’s specialty designer shops, it offers convenience and accessibility like never imagined and not to mention keeps us shoppers in motion and spending.
When we enter through the mall’s doors, we aren’t just embarking on a shopping experience; we are learning about our neighbors from Astoria to Jamaica and what makes us a complete community, be it the Nikes we buy from Foot Locker of the tablecloth from Macy’s.
Walking beneath the bright, airy spaces, illuminating skylights and contemporary decor, we’re reminded just how bright and thriving Queens is.
Let’s go shopping.
Queens Midtown Tunnel
Moving Through The Tubes
Digging the Queens Midtown Tunnel.
Keep driving west on the Long Island Expressway, past the Queens Center Mall, past the industrial warehouses and graveyards in Maspeth, and eventually you’ll be taken upwards along a rising roadway and be put face to face with a skyline of billboards. There you’ll soon encounter a toll plaza, after which the road plunges into a yellowy tube that connects Manhattan and Queens – the Midtown Tunnel.
When passing through the four-lane, two-tube tunnel, it’s hard to imagine being 84 feet below ground, millions of gallons of water bearing down on the structure as it glides along.
Opened in 1940, the tunnel was meant to alleviate thick congestion across East River bridges. The idea had floated much earlier, immediately after the Holland Tunnel opened to rave reviews in 1927, but the Great Depression delayed the plans for a decade. It eventually cost just over $52 million to build, a bargain by today’s standards.
Connecting Murray Hill with Long Island City, two communities that are being developed as fast as possible – mostly with the same types – the Midtown Tunnel will likely have a place in the future of New York as an important link for decades to come.
Living & Dying In Queens
Cars speed by on Queens Boulevard.
Queens Boulevard was the thoroughfare designed to move people through Queens, from its beginning in Long Island City through its Southern track to Jamaica, its six lanes in each direction were originally intended to have a train running through the center.
The train ended up above through Sunnyside and underneath toward Jamaica, but what also popped up above ground were beautiful brick apartment buildings, rows of retail and dining, shopping districts and more. Queens Boulevard has for decades been the place to live, shop or both, depending on your neighborhood.
Queens Boulevard is home to a handful of shopping malls, classic movie theaters, Borough Hall and some of the best looking apartment buildings in the borough.
But in recent years, as cars have gotten faster, as populations have aged, as drivers have developed greater tunnel vision, there has been a disturbing increase in the number of pedestrians killed on what has come to be known as “The Boulevard Of Death.”
Future plans for the Boulevard would increase the number of apartment buildings that line the strip, raising concern for many that unless something is done soon, the Boulevard of Death will continue to take its victims.
A Great School Right Here
The Queens College clock tower. Photo By Ira Cohen
Queens College has lived through many phases in its life, from when it was founded in 1937 to when it became the star of the CUNY system in 1961, and it remains one of the borough’s most notable educational facilities.
It was a veritable powder keg in the 1960s, with some of the greatest socially and politically charged people and events passing through its halls. Martin Luther King, James Farmer and other icons of the Civil Rights movement spoke at the school, especially in the wake of the murder of Andrew Goodman, a student who went to Mississippi to help enroll blacks and was hunted down and killed by the Klan.
The college’s institutes for Italian American studies, Jewish Studies and Biology of Natural Systems are renowned and the list of alumni – from corporate leaders such as Carol Hochman and Warren Phillips to U.S. Reps Gary Ackerman and Joe Crowley to performers Jerry Seinfeld and James Caan help propel the college’s notoriety.
It Just ‘Is’ Queens
The ultimate symbol of Queens. Photo By Ira Cohen
Nothing, absolutely nothing else in Queens, deserves to be on this list more than the Unisphere. It is a symbol that sums up all that we are – innovative, strong, international, progressive, historic, durable, permanent.
“Man’s Achievement On A Shrinking Globe In An Expanding Universe,” also known as the Unisphere, was created by industrial designer Peter Muller-Munk for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.
The three rings around the globe represent Telstar, the first communications satellite, and the orbits of Soviet Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and John Glenn, the first American to make the voyage.
But three rings held on by guide wires to a 700,000-pound globe (900,000 if you count its inverted tripod base) have take on so much more significance than the original design intended.
Our Gothic Mistress
The Queensboro Bridge. Photo By Ira Cohen
The Queensboro Bridge may lack the historic elegance of the Brooklyn Bridge or the sheer size of the Triborough Bride, but it has a interesting allure all its own.
More than 200,000 drivers venture each day over the two-level span into the depths of city traffic, either the clogged straightaway of Second Avenue or the mangled mess of streets in Queens Plaza.
Constructed just after the turn of the century, work was slow going but eventually finished after $20 million had been spent. Over the latter half of the century, the government would spent an additional $500 million restoring and updating the bridge, changing lane restrictions and reconfiguring the upper level.
Driving across the bridge, shadows from the interlacing metal dance on the dashboards of cars, often distracting from the panoramic views of Western Queens waterfront stretching up and down the East River. It’s hard to take it all in and keep your eyes on the road at the same time.
The Home Of Miracles
Enjoy a game at Shea while you can. Photo By Ira Cohen
In a few years, this stalwart on the Queens map for the last 42 years will shift into the Queens Past section, as plans that have been unveiled to construct a new home for the New York Mets in the parking lot of Shea include Shea Stadium’s demolition in 2009.
Oh, but the memories: Casey’s Bums, the Beatles in 1965, the 1969 Miracle, the 1973 Amazin’s, the 1986 Mets – Game Six!
Through the years the stadium was transformed from the hanging blue and orange colored panels – a tribute to the Dodgers and Giants of old – to the vibrant electric blue of today.
Shea will forever be linked to names like Seaver, Koosman, Matlack, Gooden, Hernandez, Carter and, yes, Kingman and Espinosa as well.
Let’s not forget, while we’re naming names, that the Jets once called this place home – with people like Broadway Joe and Mark Gastineau rising to stardom.
The concrete ramps, small plastic seats, bitter Bay breezes and giant apple in a top hat are all part of what makes this a classic that will always be home to the fans of our upstart team from Queens.