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ADDISLEIGH PARK HISTORIC DISTRICT

AFRICAN AMERICAN

Queens

This suburban neighborhood of approximately 650 homes in southeastern Queens, developed in the 1910’s-30’s, was as a formerly race-restricted area that became one of the city’s premier enclaves for African Americans. In the 1930’s and 40’s, restrictive covenants were in place to keep African Americans from buying property in specific neighborhoods. In 1947, this covenant was tested in two court cases in which neighbors sued homeowners who sold to African Americans. Although in both cases the covenants were upheld, in the case of Kemp v. Rubin, the judge acknowledged that there were already 48 African-American families living here, and a number of amicus briefs were filed in support of selling to African Americans. The following year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against racially restrictive housing covenants in the Missouri case of Shelley v. Kraemer. Despite the covenants, starting in the 1930’s, Addisleigh Park’s prominence as an African-American neighborhood grew, attracting African-American luminaries seeking a suburban home, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Robinson, W. E. B. Dubois, James Brown, Lena Horne, Roy Campanella and Count Basie, among others. Addisleigh Park’s fascinating social history and association with the abolition of race-restrictive covenants continue to shape its sense of place.

USTA BILLIE JEAN KING NATIONAL TENNIS CENTER

WOMEN

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens

In 2006, the USTA National Tennis Center was rededicated as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, in honor of King’s remarkable tennis career and her activism for women’s and LGBTQ rights. Between 1961 and 1979, King won 39 Grand Slam titles, including a record 20 Wimbledon titles. Both during the height of her career and after, King fought for equal prize money for women, who were paid considerably less than their male counterparts. In 1973, she formed the Women’s Tennis Association and was its first president. As a result of her advocacy, the U.S. Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money. In 1981, King was publicly outed as a lesbian in a palimony suit and lost all of her endorsement deals, yet she continued to fight against discrimination, and was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987 and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 for her advocacy work. The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is a major attraction in the last weeks of summer, when international crowds flock to Queens for the U.S. Open, one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world.

JULIO RIVERA CORNER

LGBTQ

78th Street & 37th Avenue, Queens

On July 2, 1990, Julio Rivera, a 29-year-old Jackson Heights resident, was attacked by three gang members in the playground of P.S. 69 because of his sexual orientation. He died from his wounds at Elmhurst Hospital, and his death sparked a surge in LGBTQ activism in Queens. While there had been many more hate crimes toward gay people in Queens over the previous few decades, the vigil for Rivera on August 18, 1990, was considered to be Queens’ first successful LGBTQ public demonstration. The vigil, organized by Rivera’s family and friends and a coalition of LGBTQ activists and organizations, led to other advocacy efforts, including the formation of Queens Gays and Lesbians United, the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens, Queens Pride House and the organization of two more demonstrations to pressure then-Mayor David Dinkins to publicly acknowledge Rivera’s death. As a result of that advocacy, Rivera’s death became the first gay hate crime to be tried in New York State. Since 1993, this corner has been included on the route of the Queens Pride Parade, and in 2000, a street sign was installed in honor of Julio Rivera.

NEWTOWN PLAYGROUND AND CEMETERY

92-02 56th Avenue
1935, renovated in 1997

As early as 1730, the land now comprising Newtown Playground was used as a cemetery. The peak of its use was from about 1825 to 1840, after which it gradually lapsed into neglect. From around 1850 onward, it began to be used as a potter’s field. In 1890, it was closed and cleaned-up but by 1897, the old ground was again in poor condition. In 1898, the newly-consolidated City of New York acquired the land and placed it under control of the Department of Parks in 1917, which started development of the playground in 1934 and opened it the following year. The playground underwent renovation work in 1997, redesigning it and updating facilities for contemporary users. Open lawn areas were created over archeologically sensitive areas, and the original cemetery wall was reconstructed with traditional materials. A ring of weeping cherry and beech trees were planted to memorialize the mostly-anonymous townspeople still buried in Newtown Cemetery.

BANK OF AMERICA

89-01 Queens Boulevard
1968, William F. Cann Co.

Formerly the Jamaica Savings Bank, this modernist building is a bold expression of mid-20th century engineering, and one of the most unique and memorable structures at Queens Boulevard. It was built between 1966 and 1968 as part of the bank’s centennial by the William F. Cann Company, who were commissioned to design a small branch that would not be overshadowed by neighboring commercial structures. The Bank Building Corporation, which designed and built hundreds of branch offices in the United States, helped introduce modern aesthetics into the banking mainstream, setting aside the classical sources that long dominated the field. To create this eye-catching formed, called a hyperbolic paraboloid, the architects used reinforced concrete piers, a material known for its remarkable tensile strength and plasticity. The copper-clad roof extends 116 feet, reaching a height of 43 feet above the entrance. This solution had both practical and symbolic advantages; enhancing the structure’s visibility and creating a column-free interior. Today, a branch of Bank of America, this distinctive example of mid- 20th century modern architecture is well preserved and continues to serve its original function. It was designated as an individual landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2005, but the designation was overturned by the New York City Council, responding to owner opposition, political concerns and an antipathy for modern architecture.

QUEENS PLACE MALL (FORMER MACY’S BUILDING)

88-01 Queens Boulevard
1965, Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill

In 1965, Macy’s engaged the prominent architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to design their newest store in Queens, for which they had purchased almost all the real estate in the irregular block bounded by Queens Boulevard, 55th Avenue, 56th Avenue and Justice Avenue. The original design included an elaborate entranceway to the circular building, surrounded by a parking garage, but because they failed to acquire the lot at the corner of Queens and 55th, Macy’s was forced to create street-level entrance doors along the perimeter of the exterior. The property and house in question belonged to Mary Sendek, who bought it with her husband in 1922 and had lived there ever since. She refused to sell it, even after Macy’s offered five times the value of the land. When Mary died in 1980, her estate sold the property and a commercial building now stands on the site.

 

While Macy’s design was innovative for its time and succeeded at introducing the automobile-centered shopping mall of the suburbs to the urban density of Queens, less than a decade after Macy’s Queens Boulevard opened, Queens Center, a larger, more modern and centrally located mall would open just blocks away. In 1996, even Macy’s would relocate to Queens Center, with the former site now housing various stores and a Macy’s furniture gallery.

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF NEWTOWN, MANSE AND PARISH HALL

54-02 Queens Blvd.
1894/1907 Frank A. Collins – 1931 Meyer & Mathiew

In 1891, the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown received a large donation from one of its parishioners with instructions to build a stone church that replicated the First Presbyterian Church of Cherry Valley, New York. The Gothic Revival structure was designed by Queens architect Frank A. Collins, and was completed in 1894. Their old colonial church, built in 1791, was retained as a Sunday School and continued in use until its destruction in 1929.

When the city widened Queens Boulevard in 1924, the church had to be moved 125 feet southwest, losing the original steeple as well as a smaller attached building containing a lecture hall. The current location also has a two-and-a-half story manse, or parsonage, built in 1907 and probably also designed by Collins. The building was originally located on a site across Seabury Street to the west, and was moved to its current position and orientation around the same time as the church.

The two-story Collegiate Gothic parish hall was built in 1931, connected to the church on its south. It features brick walls and slate pitched roof, and was designed by the Brooklyn firm Meyer & Mathieu. The First Presbyterian Church of Newtown is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.

SITE OF THE ELMHURST CARNEGIE LIBRARY

86-01 Broadway
1906 Lord & Hewlett

Between 1886 and 1919, steel manufacturing mogul Andrew Carnegie donated more than $40 million to build over 1,500 new library buildings in communities large and small across America. In New York City, Carnegie libraries were located in the less densely populated areas of The Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens, and were most often freestanding structures within a larger lot. They frequently featured brick walls with limestone ornamentation, and typically had a symmetrical layout, large windows to allow an abundance of light into the reading rooms, and a prominent, decorative entrance.

 

In Queens, the Queensborough Public Library applied in 1901 for five sites, one of which was for Elmhurst. Cord Meyer offered a free site in his new development, but the library trustees lobbied for the purchase of a more central location. Construction finally began in 1904, with architectural firm Lord & Hewlett in charge of the design. It opened to the public in 1906, and served as the Elmhurst Branch of the Queens Borough Public Library until its demolition in 2012.

ST. JAMES EPISCOPAL CHURCH, PARISH HOUSE AND CEMETERY

84-07 Broadway
1848-1975, current building 1976

The new St. James Episcopal Church located in 84-07 Broadway was originally a three- story wood-frame structure with windows made in Germany. It served the community from 1848 until 1975, when it was destroyed by arson. Parishioners were only able to salvage some vestments, altar linens, and brass ornaments from the rubble, but despite the considerable losses, they were able to rebuild the following year.

This site also harbors a cemetery, where some of the original settlers of Elmhurst are buried.

ELK’S LODGE AND HALL

82-10 Queens Boulevard
1923
Ballinger Co.

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks was established in 1868 in New York City, following the increase in popularity of fraternal orders at the time, especially after the end of the Civil War. They founded the Queensboro Lodge No. 878 in 1903, and held meetings at Lodge 828 in Long Island City until 1923, when they erected this Club House.

 

This Italian Renaissance Revival structure was designed by the Ballinger Company, a firm primarily known for its industrial and commercial buildings and notable for its expertise in steel-reinforced concrete design. Inside the five-story building and its annex were a swimming pool, a gym, an Aztec-themed 700-seat theater, 28 guest rooms, a banquet hall, three bars, smoking rooms, and a six-lane bowling alley. The design received critical praise for its exotic interiors, and ability to provide members with a private environment, while hosting non-members on a regular basis.

 

Known for its devotion to charity and to community service, membership at the Queensborough Lodge peaked during the 1960’s with 6,600 members, which included businessmen, professionals, and politicians, among others. By 2000, national and local membership had decreased dramatically, and in order to offset costs incurred by taxes and maintenance, the Elks began to rent out the dining hall for special events and leasing out individual rooms for regular use by social and religious groups. In 2001, Elks officials decided to sell the building to the New Life Christian Fellowship, a Korean church organization. At the same time, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission acted to designate the building as an individual landmark, a move which the building owners supported. The Elks Lodge and Hall is a NYC Individual Landmark and listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.