By Alex Christodoulides
Jeff Gottlieb, president of the Central Queens Historical Society, gave a talk Friday outside the Continental Avenue station in Forest Hills about the effect the arrival of the Independent subway line had on the area when it stretched from Roosevelt Avenue to Union Turnpike/Kew Gardens. At the time the new service debuted, the Independent was the first city-owned subway line, Gottlieb said. The complete seven-year, $33 million construction project to extend the subway line from 50th Street in Manhattan to Kew Gardens was partially financed by $10 million in WPA grants for the last eight stops, he said.In 1936, Forest Hills was an enclave of “all luxury housing,” Gottlieb said. At a nickel per ride, the Independent subway (the modern-day F train) offered a cheaper fare into Manhattan than the Long Island Rail Road's 35-cent fare, Gottlieb said. “The five-cent fare meant that an ordinary person could get into the city to go to work,” he said.The arrival of the subway was a boost to development, Gottlieb said, pointing out that when the No. 7 train was built “there was nothing around it” but the area was developed soon afterward. The borough's population in 1930 was 1,079,129, which grew almost 30 percent over the next decade to 1,297,634, according to Census Department data. Today Queens is home to 2,229,379 residents.”Buildings went up [in Forest Hills] based on the fact that the subway extended out here,” Gottlieb said. “The nature of shops and businesses [on Queens Boulevard and Austin Street] changed,” he said, adding that what is now the Bank of America branch on 71st Avenue had once been a Roy Rogers restaurant.Community Board 6 District Manager Frank Gulluscio agreed. “You can see the energy on Continental Boulevard, Queens Boulevard, but it's not the same energy as 70 years ago,” he said.Susanna Hof, co-owner of Terrace Realty in Forest Hills Gardens with her husband Robert, called the idea of a quiet life in Queens just a short hop from the city “a dream come true.””When the community first formed, the idealistic principle was to have people work in the city and live in a pastoral setting 13 minutes [by subway] from the city. We still see it now: people in Nassau County get tired of the high taxes and they come back,” she said.The train made its initial run starting at 7:02 a.m. (two minutes late) on Dec. 31, 1936, from the new Union Turnpike stop, stopping for the first time at 71st Avenue/Forest Hills, 67th Avenue, 63rd Drive/Rego Park, Woodhaven Boulevard, Grand Avenue/Newtown and Elmhurst Avenue on its way into Manhattan.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.