1937: Kew Gardens Hills
In The Center Of It All
By Lee Landor
The Main Street Cinema of 1940.
Dozens of local community newspapers prepared the residents of central Queens for another new community in 1937 – one of modern homes, unique design and moderate cost, according to an article published in August that year.
Abraham, Leon and Morton Wolosoff, with the Gutterman family and several others, were praised in the 1930s for choosing the perfect location to develop Kew Gardens Hills: the center of Queens between Flushing Meadows Park and the Grand Central Parkway, only 15 minutes from upper Manhattan, with easy access to the Bronx, Brooklyn and Long Island.
The builders developed the two golf courses that made up the majority of the area, the Queens Valley Golf Club House between 72nd Avenue and Union Turnpike and the Arrowbrook Golf Club House between 72nd Avenue and Jewel Avenue.
Located at Main Street and 77th Avenue, Queen of Peace Church, built in 1941, is heavily used to this day.
In anticipation of the 1939 World’s Fair, the Wolosoff brothers built a private residential community south of Vleigh Road in 1938, according to President of the Central Queens Historical Association Jeff Gottlieb, and a garden apartment complex in 1939. By 1940, 1,200 private homes lined the area west of Main Street.
In the builders’ vision, this site – with its clear view of the Manhattan skyline – had “refined surroundings and long vistas of scenic charm,” the article read. It was a place where “beauty would be a lasting benefit and undesirable buildings could never encroach.”
In the 70 years since the founding of Kew Gardens Hills, the neighborhood of quiet streets and large farms transformed into a bustling, mixed community where people reside in single-family homes, two-story garden apartment buildings or one of the several public housing projects.
The Queens County Savings Bank, built in 1949, still stands tall on Main Street and 75th Avenue.
The large area in which this community thrives is bound in the north by Flushing, in the east by 164th Street, in the south by Union Turnpike and by Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in the west.
There is constant activity filling the streets, some of which are lined with restaurants and stores and others of which serve as thoroughfares. On Saturdays, the area surrounding Main Street and Jewel Avenue is quiet, as the mostly Orthodox and Haredi Jewish population remains indoors or in the synagogues. But the neighbors, who come from all around the world, including Afghanistan, China, India, Israel and Korea, maintain the bustle.
Despite the welcomed diversity and unique character of today’s Kew Gardens Hills, it isn’t quite what the developers had initially imagined.
They pictured a place where “the evening tranquility is seldom disturbed except by the wind rustling the leaves, the chirping of a sleepy bird, the sound of crickets or an old frog’s croaking,” according to a July 7, 1949 article.
The first private house built in Kew Gardens Hills in 1938 sits quietly at 141-35 73rd Ave.
But throughout World War II, things began to change: footpaths became wagon roads and, then, smooth highways, and small, private farms were converted into detached and row houses. Shuttles and buses were introduced; schools were opened, along with post offices and movie theaters, and the population grew. The area rapidly caught up to its neighboring communities, Flushing and Forest Hills, where Queens Boulevard’s constant commotion replaced quiet calm.
Today, the 70-year-old neighborhood is busy and vigorous, indicating to its residents that it is really still very young, awaiting change and growth. Though new people are constantly moving into the area and bringing their own tastes and styles with them, they’ve upheld the revered testaments to Kew Gardens Hills’ beginnings that still exist.
Residents of the area today can still visit the Main Street Movie Theater built in 1940, the Queen of Peace Church built in 1941, the 1949 Queens County Savings Bank, now part of the State and National Registers of Historic Places, and the Main Street Post Office (Station “C”) of 1950.
Though not as serene as it once was, Kew Gardens Hills has remained a location desirable to immigrants and commuters. And, throughout the next 70 years, it’s sure to incorporate their customs and continue to age gracefully.