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Queens Chronicle

“Forgotten Queens” a bridge to boro’s past

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Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:56 am, Thu Jan 2, 2014.

The book “Forgotten Queens” starts with a photograph of a streetcar crossing the Queensboro Bridge in the 1920s and ends with one of a General Motors showroom in the Rockaways in the 1940s.

Robert Singleton of the Greater Astoria Historical Society says that was a very deliberate choice.

“This is a visual narrative of Queens in the early 20th century,” Singleton said. “There is a wonderful heritage in Queens. We feel we can go toe-to-toe with any of the other boroughs in terms of the quality of the housing, the history, and particularly in terms of the people who came here. We want to reconnect people with that age of Queens that was defined by the Queensboro Bridge.”

The book, by Kevin Walsh and the GAHS, contains 127 pages of photographs of how Queens transformed from farmland and scattered communities to the mini-metropolis it is today — and emphasizes the importance of the Queensboro Bridge to that development since it opened in 1909.

Walsh said he first was approached by Arcadia Publishing more than 10 years ago to do a book, but he was unable to access the research material needed. He subsequently began working with the GAHS.

“Figuring a book about Queens in the early 20th century would be a good bet, we proposed that theme, and Arcadia accepted,” he said.

Elevated trains appear in several of he black-and-white photographs, and a westward view of where the Flushing and Astoria elevated lines meet at Queensboro Plaza looks exactly the same as it does today, minus the tower that stood perched atop the Brewster Building from 1911 to the 1960s.

A late 1930s photograph of some construction work offers no indication yet that the site will be the entrance to the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

A photograph typical of the bridge between past and present depicts a streetcar heading south along 94th Street.

And juxtaposed in the distant background looms the American Airlines terminal at LaGuardia Airport, easily identifiable today to anyone traveling north on 94th, or in either direction on the Grand Central Parkway.

Walsh’s favorite story from their research was a picture from Roosevelt Roofing, which in the 1930s was at Roosevelt Avenue and 70th Street and today is on 69th Street in Maspeth.

The only thing missing is the tin man mascot that adorned the roof of the original site and an interim one in Woodside.

“In a comment on Forgotten-ny.com, one of the Roosevelt Roofing principals says he has the tin man and they’re trying to get it placed in the 69th Street location soon,” Walsh said in an email to the Chronicle.

The evolution of the automobile is visible as the decades progress throughout the pages.

So too is the composition and design of just about every type of housing from old shanties to planned communities that are still around. He said the works of developer Gustav Mathews are typical.

“At one point, Mathews’ name was on one-quarter of the building permits in the borough,” Singleton said. “He built those for working people, and even in the Depression, he never had one foreclosure. And if you look at the people, there was a pride there ‘yeah, we’re going through some hardscrabble times, but we’ll weather them — we’re from Queens.’”

Going out into Jamaica, the Rockaways and Flushing, Singleton believes the layout of neighborhood streets and the designs of the homes themselves with their stoops and courtyards played an important role in the borough.

“They made people sit outside and talk to their neighbors,” he said. “We also included pictures from the inside of beauty parlors, barber shops, drug stores, soda fountains — this is where people in their communities met to share news and gossip.”

“Forgotten Queens”

Written by: Kevin Walsh and The Greater Astoria Historical Society

Cover Price: $21.99

Where:Local bookstores, arcadiapublishing.com; astorialic.org

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