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Queens Chronicle

‘Abandoned Queens’: Revisiting boro’s ghosts

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Posted: Thursday, October 31, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 1:00 pm, Thu Nov 7, 2019.

Elmhurst native Richard Panchyk has the nose and an eye for Queens’ past; but he also knows how and where to look for it.

Some of the subjects in his new book, “Abandoned Queens,” are a bit off the beaten trail, like the old Flushing Airport site or what he calls the lost neighborhood of Edgemere in the Rockaways.

Others, such as stretches of the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, are in plain sight and in regular use though their history might not be widely remembered; still others can be in plain sight without being noticed, much like locomotive rails showing through streets and sidewalks where trains — not streetcars — used to run, or the last remnants of a planned suburbia decades before Levittown became part of the American lexicon.

“Abandoned places are never static, whether they’ve fallen into disrepair or wait for reuse or are waiting to be demolished,” Panchyk told the Chronicle in a recent interview. “I daresay a lot of people who have grown up in Queens don’t know about the history all around them.”

The paperback, published by Arcadia Publishing and the History Press, has 96 pages of color photographs, all taken by Panchyk save for aerial shots from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The book had its genesis in his 2018 work titled “Hidden History of Queens.”

“My publisher has a series on abandoned places,” he said. “I did have some photos that I took working on ‘Hidden History,’ but I did make some return trips to places like Creedmoor.”

Panchyk says the old Vanderbilt Motor Parkway is not only the longest entry in his book — remnants of William Vanderbilt’s private highway/race course still exist as far east as Suffolk County — but “the earliest example of reuse.” Motorists in Queens still drive beneath its original bridges while the paths are popular with cyclists and walkers.

The Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road hasn’t carried trains since the Kennedy administration, with trees now grown up between and fallen over onto the still-present tracks.

Those traveling along 20th Avenue past trees and a reed-covered marsh may have no idea that they are seeing nature’s relentless effort to reclaim the 1927-vintage Flushing Airport.

He said places like Edgemere, once a thriving community in the Rockaways, is now “hauntingly bizarre,” with street signs sidewalks, roads that have not been cared for in a half century, and even fire hydrants that will never be used.

He said that it is an interesting spot to visit again and again, seeing it over time in the different seasons and as an example of “never static.”

But it also has become a massive dumping ground for everything from construction debris to common household junk.

Rails breaking through pavement, or in some cases incorporated into sidewalks, now are the only remnants of Degnon Terminal which served Long Island City’s booming manufacturing sector beginning in the early 20th century. Back in the 1850s, Samuel Lord of Lord & Taylor fame envisioned country houses on large parcels of land in Newtown Village. Today, a few brick staircases leading to houses they were not built for and a few street names are all that is left.

While places like the Rockaway rail right-of-way are accessible to anyone with a good pair of sneakers, Panchyk cautions readers in his forward that “abandoned places can be treacherous and are thus best enjoyed safely within the pages of this book!”

Such places, he acknowledged, include the myriad abandoned buildings at sites such as Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens Village, and those at Fort Totten and Fort Tilden.

Some, such as Building 25 at Creedmoor, meant bringing his camera no closer than as far as he could lean into an open or missing window. A wheelchair that has not been disturbed by anyone other than urban explorers in decades sits near a window, as does an overturned cart and some personal effects.

“It’s exciting and adventurous, but it’s also daunting and I’d advise a sense of discretion,” Panchyk said

One haunting shot at Creedmoor is an almost completely black photo with a lit EXIT sign in the distance.

“There were a couple of rooms between me and that sign,” he said. “I don’t know if it still had power or if it was just the way some light was hitting it.”

He said, with some disappointment and resignation in his voice that progress is usually the driving force behind “abandoned.”

“In New York, they’re waiting. There is all that real estate pressure, all that demand. And all that land sits there empty ...”

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