Tuesday, August 17, 2010

90th Street in East Elmhurst

Josip Brletic recently commented on my East Elmhurst 11369 post asking about the stone columns that are on either side of 90th Street, just north of 30th Avenue toward Astoria Boulevard. He asked if there is any historical significance to these columns. I had not noticed these columns before, but took a ride over there on my bike to check them out. I don’t yet know the entire story, but this block has really piqued my interest. Josip, thanks for your question!!


The top picture, of the east column, was taken by my wife on our recent visit.  The bottom picture is from  Google street view, and shows the west column.

In the Google photo, the column has a planter on top, but (as you can see from the top photo) when I visited (July 2010) there were no planters and the columns are pretty plain. The columns have also seem to have been painted over, probably to cover graffiti. There are no such markers at the north (Astoria Boulevard) end of the block, but that end has been redeveloped, so if markers were originally there they could have easily been removed by now.

These columns (and the block) had been noted before (scroll down towards the bottom, past his discussion of the Fair Theatre) by Kevin Walsh of Forgotten New York, always a great source of information about any area in the city.


The second interesting thing about this block is that all of the houses on the block are clearly of the same design, and all were definitely built at the same time as part of the same development. A few of the houses have been remodeled, but it’s easy to see their common origins. Here are some photos of a few of the houses.

Below is a screen shot from the NYC OASIS website and you can easily see that the lot size of these stand-alone single-family houses differs from those in the surrounding blocks, which are all row houses. OASIS also tells us that all of the houses on this block were built in 1934.

Astoria Boulevard was improved and widened to handle truck traffic from the Triborough Bridge.  Robert Moses took over construction of the Triborough in 1934. Further research would be needed to identify any definitive connection (if there is any) between this block on 90th Street and the nearby work on Astoria Boulevard.


Another interesting thing about this block is that it was recognized by the Queens Historical Society’s Queensmark program. This program was designed to honor and recognize structures and sites that have an outstanding cultural, historical, or architectural significance. The program started in 1996, and has continued on and off since then, honoring sites around the borough. In 1999, the un-remodeled houses on this block were honored and plaques noting the honor were mounted on the front of the homes. I was unable to find any information about the specifics of the award using internet searches, but an email to the Queens Historical Society yielded the following information:

"We were told by one of the residents that these structures were built as summer homes in the 1920s. While we cannot verify this information, members of the Queensmark Committee thought they were attractive. They were Queensmarked as part of our Corona and East Elmhurst celebration that was held at the Queens Hall of Science about ten years ago. The residents were very supportive. The homes were Queensmarked because of their appearance (i.e., architectural significance) rather than their history which unfortunately we know little about.
"We use a similar process as the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) in choosing Queensmark (a program that is run by the Queens Historical Society) by choosing sites of historical, cultural, or architectural significance. While a Queensmark acknowledges the merit of a structure, it unfortunately does not protect it from demolition. The Queensmark program was created to help raise awareness of important structures and to hopefully catch the attention of the LPC and eventually have it considered for NYC Landmark status.
A 1999 article in the New York Times about the Queensmark winners of that year gave the following brief mention to the block and its homes:

"25-25 THROUGH 25-61 AND 25-28 THROUGH 25-60 90TH STREET -- This row of Tudor style homes with tile roofs was built in the 1920s to cater to a middle class looking for a uniform, almost suburban ambiance.
Note the Queensmark references to the 1920s, versus the data from the city that indicates 1934. Again, further research might be needed to get a more accurate date for the construction of the homes.  Below is a photo of one of the Queensmark plaques, which are mounted on the facades of many of the homes on this block.


Finally, another interesting tidbit about this block is that the northern end (at Astoria Boulevard) was the location of the last one room schoolhouse in Queens, and is the current location of One Room Schoolhouse Park, and is also mentioned in Forgotten New York. Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, the schoolhouse was torn down in 1934, the same year that the houses were built and that Moses took over the Triborough -- a busy time in the neighborhood!

The schoolhouse opened in 1879 and served the Frogtown community, which was located by the swamp on the other side of Astoria Boulevard. The swamp was no doubt the remains of the Jackson Mill Pond. The map below shows an overlay of the “old” grid from 1909 and a current street layout. You can see the boundaries of Jackson Mill Pond and how it relates to the current street grid. The New York Public Library has a nifty site that has overlaid old and new maps, where you can play with relative transparency of each. The link to this particular map is here.