Wednesday, March 3, 2010

East Elmhurst -- 11369

For a class assignment, I was asked to study one particular zip code.  I chose the zip code just north of where I live in Jackson Heights.  That zip code is 11369, which coincides with East Elmhurst.  I knew nothing about it, except that it is close to where I live.  But the more I looked into it, the more interesting I found it.

A map of the area is shown below.  Generally, the boundaries are as follows:

  • to the south, Northern Boulevard
  • to the west, 85th Street and 87th Street
  • to the north and east, the Grand Central Parkway and Ditmars Boulevard

11369 is largely residential, and has been greatly impacted by facilities that surround it or are located nearby, although they may not be a part of 11369 proper.  For the purpose of this project, however, I am only including the north side of Northern Boulevard.

Geographical Overview of 11369

The highest point in 11369 is an elevation of 100 feet, at the north end of the block bordered by Northern Boulevard, 32nd Avenue, 106th Street, and 107th Street.  This is part of a ridge that overlooks the Grand Central Parkway.  The low point is the shoreline at the foot of the ridge, following the Grand Central Parkway along the eastern edge of 11369.  Excluding the Grand Central Parkway, the lowest area of 11369 is its northwestern section, former location of the Jackson Mill Pond.  As expected, the nicest houses are along the ridge, and the low area in the northwest is where some of the more industrial areas are located.

Jackson’s Mill (previously known as Kip’s Mill and Fish’s Mill) ground corn and wheat from the mid 1600s until the late 1800s.  A dam blocked Jackson Creek near today’s intersection of 94th Street and the Grand Central Parkway, creating the Jackson Mill Pond.  The pond curved around from there to the west and then south, where Ditmars Boulevard and the Grand Central Parkway are now located.  The pond was fed by Jackson Creek, which ran through 11369 and widened into the pond near what is now Astoria Boulevard between 88th and 89th Streets.  The odd-shaped block bordered by Astoria Boulevard, 23rd Avenue, 88th Street, and 89th Street is a remnant of the pond.

Landfill has been used extensively in the features that surround 11369, including portions of the Grand Central Parkway and LaGuardia Airport.  Additionally, both Jackson Creek and Jackson Mill Pond have been filled in.  The only part of 11369 that is in a flood plain is the Grand Central Parkway.

Although ferries served the area after North Beach was built (more information on North Beach is provided later), the earliest access to the area was via two colonial era roads.  Trains Meadow Road nicked 11369 on the western edge, but the first road through 11369 was Bowery Bay Road, which ran to Jackson’s Mill.  Remnants of Bowery Bay Road remain in today’s Jackson Mill Road and Junction Boulevard.  Bits of Jackson Mill Road run at angles to the grid along Junction Boulevard, causing many odd-shaped blocks.

Here are some other deviations from the Queens street grid:

  • Astoria Boulevard, which cuts diagonally through 11369 – Astoria Boulevard is the modern-day version of the Astoria and Flushing Turnpike, built in the 1830s.  For the most part, the Queens grid was added after the 7 train was built through to Flushing in the 1910s.  The combination of Astoria Boulevard and the grid causes many odd-shaped blocks.  Many of the odd bits of leftover land been made into parks and Greenstreets areas.  The entire effect is similar to that of 7th Avenue cutting through Greenwich Village.  Interestingly, many of the buildings facing Astoria Boulevard are aligned with the grid rather than with Astoria Boulevard, even though the roots of Astoria Boulevard pre-date the grid.  I believe this is due to subsequent widening of Astoria Boulevard to handle truck traffic in association with the construction of the Triboro Bridge.
  • Grand Central Parkway and Ditmars Boulevard, which curve around 11369 – These routes parallel each other and cause all adjoining blocks to be shaped oddly.  Although Ditmars Boulevard was in the area as early as 1915, it was originally part of the street grid until meeting the eastern shoreline, where it curved to the southeast roughly along today’s route.
  • Residential development in the eastern section of 11369 – The first residential development in 11369 (other than Jackson’s Mill and some early farms) dates to the early 1900s and is in the eastern corner of 11369, north of Astoria Boulevard.  This development preceded the Queens grid.
  • A few other odd bends and turns in streets -- Junction Boulevard/94th Street has a few bends in it at the southern and northern ends of 11369, following the old Bowery Bay Road.  There is also an bend in 30th Avenue, between 90th Street and 97th Street, where it parallels Astoria Boulevard.

Development and History of 11369

Development in 11369 was in spurts.  As mentioned above, Jackson’s Mill dates from colonial times, and is associated with Bowery Bay Road.

Jackson Avenue, the route of which is approximated by today’s Northern Boulevard, was built as a toll road between Long Island City and Flushing in the 1850s.  Northern Boulevard now serves as the primary shopping district for 11369, with a much more extensive selection of shops than is found on Astoria Boulevard, Junction Boulevard, or 31st Avenue.

The next major development period was initiated by the popularity of the North Beach resort, built by William Steinway and George Ehret (a brewer) in about 1890.  Although not in 11369 (North Beach was situated where LaGuardia airport now sits), North Beach was crucial to 11369’s development.  Built as family entertainment for Steinway’s German workforce, North Beach included rides, beaches, a pier, and a beer hall selling Ehret’s products.  Several ferry lines served North Beach, with service to and from Flushing, Manhattan, Astoria, and the Bronx.  Additionally, trolley service brought passengers from Brooklyn along today’s Junction Boulevard; small remnants of trolley tracks remain.  North Beach remained very popular with European immigrants until about 1910, but had lost its popularity by the time prohibition started in 1920.

By the time of North Beach’s demise, the elevated 7 train from Manhattan to Flushing (also not in 11369) was bringing development to the area to the south, which then spread north into 11369.

In the late 1930s, a cluster of Robert Moses projects initiated another period of growth.  As a result of the 1939 World’s Fair, road improvements were made to speed access to the fair grounds in Flushing Meadows and businesses developed accordingly (like the Fair Theatre and the Fair Food Market Italian-American Grocery along Astoria Boulevard).  Additionally, the construction of the Grand Central Parkway and LaGuardia (originally North Beach) Airport has led to a set of related businesses in the northern section of 11369, such as hotels, rental car facilities, gas stations, and even an aviation-oriented college.

In the 1950s, housing was needed for returning servicemen and others.  This resulted in a series of large apartment buildings, including the Northridge complex between 90th Street and 92nd Street on Northern Boulevard.

There is no large scale manufacturing in 11369, although there are some smaller-scale industrial-type facilities:

  • Auto repair and supply facilities on Northern Boulevard east of Junction Boulevard -- Northern Boulevard was a center for auto-related businesses by the 1920s (most famously, as depicted in “The Great Gatsby”).  Many such businesses are still found there today (including DiBlasi Ford, at the intersection of Northern Boulevard and Astoria Boulevard for over 75 years).
  • Iron works establishments on the side streets north of Northern Boulevard, in the area around 102nd Street and 103rd Street.
  • MTA’s LaGuardia bus depot just outside the northwest corner of 11369, between 85th Street and 87th Street -- this was the former depot for Triboro Coach.
  • Several large car rental facilities in the area north of Astoria Boulevard on the few blocks on either side of Junction Boulevard -- these serve LaGuardia Airport.
  • Vaughn College -- a training ground in all technologies related to aviation from airport management to aviation maintenance to different types of engineering.

Demographics of 11369

Aside from colonial-era residents, the first significant influx in 11369 were working-class and upper-class Germans and other Europeans, drawn by the nearby North Beach resort.

Starting in the 1940s the eastern section of 11369 became a mecca for middle class blacks with good jobs, like police officers and schoolteachers.  Blacks were drawn there because it was more suburban than Harlem and it was one of the few neighborhoods in the New York City area where they could buy homes.  Many well-off and famous blacks lived here during the 1940s and 1950s, including Ella Fitzgerald, Willie Mays, and Harry Belafonte.  (Corona, to the south, was also home to numerous black entertainers.)  Another well-known black resident of 11369 was Malcolm X, whose house on 97th Street was firebombed a week before his assassination in Harlem.

The Northridge apartment complex, opened in the 1950s, had many Jewish residents, but did not admit blacks.  Later, when the civil rights movement opened up other areas to blacks, 11369 ceased to be the draw that it was previously.  Instead, the area has attracted other marginalized groups, including Latinos and other new immigrants.  The storefronts on one block on Northern Boulevard, between 105th Street and 106th Street, epitomize both today’s population and the history of the area:

  1. An Islamic Mosque
  2. A vacant storefront
  3. A Kennedy Fried Chicken serving halal meat
  4. A Mexican taqueria
  5. A storefront Baptist Church dating from 1944
  6. A deli
  7. A tire repair facility

Around 11369, one can find establishments catering to South Americans, Central Americans, English- and French-speaking former Caribbean residents, Arabic-speakers, Koreans, and Chinese.  Often, the businesses reflect a mix of cultures, such as the Spanish pharmacia with a sign in Arabic, the bakery that advertises “Middle Eastern and Spanish Pastries”, the Korean auto repair shop playing Spanish music on its loudspeakers, or the pizza parlor that also sells Mexican tamales, tacos, and Jamaican beef patties.

In 2000, the population of 11369 was 29 percent white, 34 percent black, 7 percent Asian, and 28 percent other.  Approximately 50 percent of the population was Hispanic or Latino, with the largest groups being Dominican and Colombian.  Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Ecuadorians are other significantly-sized groups.  Approximately 49 percent of the 11369 residents were foreign-born, and 8 percent had lived in a different country just 5 years previously.  Median household income for the zip code in 1999 was just under $40,000, similar to or lower than nearby zip codes.

The most prominent civic association in 11369 is Elmcor, a provider of recreational and social services for youth and seniors.  NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community), a city-funded program providing social services to seniors, is active in the Northridge apartment complex.  Other civic groups include VFW halls, the Kiwanis, and area churches.

Streets and Parks in 11369

With a few exceptions, the street names in 11369 follow the Queens pattern of east-west running numbered streets and north-south running numbered avenues.  Deviations from the grid were discussed above.

Virtually all of the streets in the area have undergone name changes.  For example, the streets now known as 86th Street to 96th Street were formerly known as 29th Avenue to 39th Avenue.  The avenues that are now numbered from 32nd Avenue to 23rd Avenue used to have names:  Burnside, Patterson, Grand, Schurz, Sigel, and Mansfield.  The off-grid streets in the eastern section of 11369 are named rather than numbered, although the avenues in that section use the same number-names as their gridded couterparts.

The only super blocks in 11369 are the two blocks bordered by Astoria Boulevard, 23rd Avenue, 88th Street, 91st Street, and 90th Place.  These two blocks, divided north-south by 89th Street, are a remnant of Jackson Creek and Jackson Mill Pond and nearby early development.

There are a number of parks and greenstreets spaces in or near the area:

  • Planeview Park -- Although just outside 11369, Planeview Park is one of the most interesting parks because of its unique site.  It is a triangle of land overlooking LaGuardia Airport at the end of the runway running from the southwest to the northeast.  Depending on air traffic patterns, it is a superb spot from which to watch airplanes land or take off.
  • Overlook Park -- This small park takes advantage of a hill overlooking LaGuardia Airport and the Grand Central Parkway to provide another airport vista.  At this park, however, trees can block part of the view.  It was at this site that Steinway and Ehret originally planned to place the Heine Monument, which now sits in Joyce Kilmer Park near Yankee Stadium.
  • One Room Schoolhouse Park -- This is the former site of the last remaining one-room schoolhouse in Queens, which was open from 1879 to 1925.
  • Other parks include Veteran’s Plaza Park, the East Elmhurst Playground, Barclay Triangle, Playground Ninety, and O’Sullivan Plaza.

As indicated previously, public works such as the 1939 Worlds Fair, the Grand Central Parkway, and the widening of Astoria Boulevard, have had a marked effect on 11369.  A public housing project planned for the area where Northridge is now was blocked by the community in the 1950s.

The predominant residential zoning is R3, which is used throughout 11369.  The highest level of residential zoning is R7, which is used between 88th Street, 92nd Street, Northern Boulevard, and 32nd Avenue.


  1. This is an excellent history of my neighborhood and I appreciated it very much! There are two columns on opposite sides of the street between Astoria blvd. and 30th ave. on 90th st. They are just off of 30th avenue, going north. I was wondering if you knew if they had any historical significance.
    Josip Brletic

  2. On August 17 I made a new post to respond to Josip's question. I was not able to answer him completely, but have obtained some additional details about that block.

  3. Wow, great tidbit of history on that neighborhood.