Archives

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.

PAN AMERICAN HOTEL

79-00 Queens Boulevard
1962
Brodsky, Hopf & Adler

In 1962, Adelson Industries announced the purchase of plot of land in Elmhurst to build an ambitious $2 million project: the Pan American Motor Inn. This seven-story luxury motel had 216 rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, a health club and, a dining facility for 250 people. The location was selected as strategic for it was to be the nearest major hotel facility (within two miles) to the planned 1964-65 New York World’s Fair and the New York Mets’ new stadium (within 1.5 miles). The design was in charge of Brodsky, Hopf and Adler, a New York City architectural firm. It received critical praise, including an award from the Queens Chamber of Commerce in 1963.

 

Adelson’s initial plan for the Pan American was for it to be the first of a chain along the Eastern Seaboard, but the motel never achieved superstar status in Queens as they had hoped. After a succession of buyers, it never made a profit. In 2014, the city turned it into a homeless shelter, just like its former competitor down the block, once called the Mets Motel and later the Metro Motel.

OLD ST. JAMES CHURCH

86-02 Broadway
1735, addition built in 1772

Built in 1735 at what became the southwest corner of 51st Avenue and Broadway, St. James Church is the oldest surviving building in Elmhurst, and the City’s second oldest religious building that is still standing. Chartered by King George III, it is a remarkable Colonial-era mission church that still retains its early 18th-century rectangular box-like form, wood shingle siding, round-arched windows, and heavy timber framing. In 1772, the building was lengthened and the main entry moved from the south side to the Broadway façade.

 

Prominent citizens associated with the parish included the Reverend Benjamin Moore, a president of Kings College (later Columbia College), and the Reverend Samuel Seabury, Jr., the first American Episcopal Bishop. It was also a place of worship for British officers and men during the Revolution.

 

In 1848, after a period of growth, the parish built a larger church a block away and Old Saint James Church became a chapel and later a parish hall. It was renovated and altered over the years, until 2004 when it was restored to its late 19th-century appearance. Old St. James Church is a NYC Individual Landmark and listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.

 

REFORMED CHURCH OF NEWTOWN

85-15 Broadway
1832, main building – 1858 Fellowship Hall

The original building for this church was a small, octagonal wooden structure with a high-pitched roof, constructed in 1731. It was in use for almost one hundred years, even serving as an armory for the British during the Revolutionary War. Demolished in 1831, it was replaced by the present Georgian-style sanctuary in 1832, incorporating the cornerstone of the preceding church into the new one’s foundation. The bell tower contains the bell from the original 1731 church building. The Fellowship Hall, built in the Greek revival tradition, was erected in 1858 as a chapel located closer to the street, but in 1906 it was moved back to line up with the church and connected to it by a covered passageway. In 1954, a small wing was added to the rear of the Fellowship Hall to house offices and classrooms. The flat roofed porch on the church and the columned portico on the Fellowship Hall were both added after the original construction, although the exact dates are not known. Adjoining the Church building to the north is a small cemetery filled with simple tombstones dating from the early years of the church’s history. The Reformed Church of Elmhurst is a NYC Individual Landmark and listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.