The neighborhoods of Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood and Glendale are virtual mysteries to most people – even to many from Queens – and the funny thing is lots of natives like it that way.
Between the numerous railroad lines that fed industry from years past (and ferry commuters from Long Island today) and the numerous cemeteries that sprawled throughout western Queens after Manhattan forbade new graveyards in 1851, there are only a few roads that go through the region, making for a series of isolated neighborhoods – hamlets in one of the world’s great cities.
Here’s a little insight into the quadrant of Queens roughly bounded by the Long Island Expressway, the Brooklyn border, Forest Park and Woodhaven Boulevard.
Maspeth – bad water, good place
It was Maspeth (then called Maspat) that was the first European settlement on Long Island after the Dutch purchased what is now Queens County in 1635. Dutch and English colonists had been settling in the lowlands along the Newtown Creek as early as 1638, harnessing the Newtown Creek and its tributaries for both tidal energy and transportation.
The land immediately around the creek and its tributaries, including Maspeth Creek, were low, marshy and largely brackish. The name of the Mespeatches, the Long Island tribe who lived in the area, roughly translates into “meets at the bad water place.”
In 1642, the Dutch West India Company issued the “Newtown Patent,” which opened up about 13,000 acres of western Queens for settlement, and 28 English colonists, mostly Quakers, settled the town of Maspeth
Unfortunately, the earlier residents attacked and destroyed the settlement the following year. It may have been too close to their own lodgings, recorded as being just east of what is now Zion Cemetery, roughly in the triangle formed by Maurice Avenue, 65th Place and the Long Island Expressway.
When the next colonists returned years later, they settled further north and east, in what is now Elmhurst. Although peace was established, between fear of Indians and conflicts between the Dutch and English permanent settlement of Maspeth didn’t take place until the late 1720s.
The next century or so saw Maspeth rise as an industrial center from the town dock at the head of the creek (near where 58th Street, Maurice and Maspeth Avenues converge today). In the mid 1800s such prominent industrialists as Cord Meyer (filtering carbon) and Peter Cooper (glue) had factories there.
In a house not far away, future New York Governor DeWitt Clinton (who married Mary Franklin of Maspeth) conceived of the Erie Canal. On the highest ground, once a popular weekend destination, Mt. Olivet Cemetery was planned in 1850. The famous, such as cosmetics founder Helena Rubenstein Courielli – and 16 unknown victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire – are buried there.
Today, Maspeth is a solid middle class community with stable property values and many two and three-family homes. Asking prices for housing average about $450,000 and recent sales are up.
Grand Avenue is its major artery, bisected by the Long Island Expressway, though its spiritual heart is Memorial Square, at 69th Street, where true to its claim as “Home of Heroes” local heroes are honored – including 19 members of local fire units, Squad 288 and HAZMAT 1who died on 9/11.
They have an active Chamber of Commerce and numerous houses of worship, civic and fraternal groups. The community is active, especially in issues of education, and reducing commercial traffic through their neighborhood.
Dining choices include Irish pub fare at O’Neil’s or Connelly’s Corner, American standard at Fame Diner/Restaurant or Clinton Diner – one of the last genuine truck-stops.
Ethnic food shops include the original Ivarone Brothers Italian store on Grand Avenue or Polish at J&G Deli on Flushing Avenue, Syrena deli or Okruszek bakery on 61st Street.
This neighborhood, roughly bounded by Eliot Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard, St. John’s and Lutheran Cemeteries, got its name because, in the early 1800s, it was the halfway point of a turnpike between Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Jamaica.
The neighborhood zip code is 11379, although in the 1970s “South Elmhurst,” between the Long Island Expressway and Eliot Avenue, was included in it.
In 1816, when the turnpike – the current Metropolitan Avenue – opened, much of the area was also swampy land, as in the case of Juniper Valley Park, the former Juniper swamp that was filled in 1915.
The Manhattan cemetery ban also molded Middle Village, with the opening of Lutheran cemetery in 1852 and St. John’s, a Catholic cemetery, in 1880. Lutheran became an all-faith cemetery and holds a mass memorial to the victims of the General Slocum steamboat disaster, the worst loss of life in the city until 9/11.
St. John’s remains Catholic; in addition to holding such notable mobsters as Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino and John Gotti, it is also the resting place of strongman Charles Atlas, artist Robert Mapplethorpe and several members of Congress.
Trolley lines, hotels and restaurants sprang up to tend to the needs of cemetery visitors, and though trolley routes and other thoroughfares, such as Dry Harbor Road, Eliot and Cooper Avenues have commercial strips, the undoubted main street of Middle Village is Metropolitan Avenue.
Just as the earlier English settlers were largely replaced by Germans after the Civil War, Middle Village became a largely Italian neighborhood in the late 20th century.
Today, Poles and Latinos are the recent arrivals and are making their mark on local tastes with such notable spots as the European Deli adding to the variety of Italian stalwarts such as Carlo’s (or Rosa’s) Pizza, Catalano Brothers bakery or Colombo’s Fruits and Vegetables, all on Metropolitan Avenue.
Juniper Valley Park is the 55-acre recreational heart of Middle Village, from its controversial dog run, to ball and soccer fields, to its bocce courts, where the New York City championship is played annually. Metropolitan Oval, with its soccer field, is the other neighborhood sports Mecca.
The Juniper Valley Civic Association is extremely active and vocal on local interests including flooding; the park; traffic congestion and preserving the areas of the neighborhood that have a developed character.
The housing stock is mixed bag, with one, two and three-family homes, many blocks of row houses and a scattering of condos and coops. The average asking price is roughly $519,000. Selling prices have dropped in recent months, with the result that houses are selling there.
Ridgewood is border neighborhood
On the high ground south of Maspeth, Ridgewood hugs the Brooklyn border. In fact, during the 19th century, when elite Brooklyn was the fourth largest city in the U.S., Ridgewood claimed a Brooklyn address.
The once hotly-contested Brooklyn-Queens border moved over time, and until the 1970s both Ridgewood and Glendale to the east were served by Brooklyn’s Bushwick Post Office. By then, Bushwick’s star had fallen and the neighborhoods sought and got a Queens zip code – 11385.
The block-by-block development of the area spread in a grid across the border and diagonal to it. That border had been settled by marking a huge boulder, called “Arbitration Rock.”
As the old border actually cut through houses, it was adjusted to the zig-zag of today. The old rock, once buried, now sits near the border, by the Vander Ende-Onderdonk House on Flushing Avenue, the oldest Dutch Colonial home and one of the oldest buildings in the city.
The housing stock includes large numbers of brick row houses, with the high stoops, tall windows and doors typical of the more famous brownstones of Brooklyn – featuring a rounded turret style.
Row houses, either brick or frame, or small apartment buildings, comprise the bulk of the housing stock. The median asking price for homes nears $470,000 currently – an appreciable drop that has accelerated the pace of recent sales.
Another local Ridgewood landmark is St. Matthias Roman Catholic Church, convent and school at 58-15 Catalpa Avenue. Begun in 1909, the parish expanded so much a new church was built with the school occupying the original. It was dedicated in 1926 along with its five bells ranging in weight from 3,000 to 700 pounds. They were funded by parishioners and cost a small fortune for the day – $5,600.
Ridgewood has been a mostly-Italian neighborhood – they having displaced the Germans (who displaced the English generations before) and are now making way for eastern Europeans, including many Poles.
The neighborhood has numerous thoroughfares with shopping strips such as Forest Avenue, Fresh Pond Road and Myrtle and Metropolitan Avenues, but if there is a central hub it is at the Ridgewood Veteran’s Triangle at the intersection of Putnam, Cypress and Myrtle Avenues.
The monument to Ridgewood residents who died in World War I was a gift of the Gold Star Mothers (an organization of the mothers of war dead) dedicated on Memorial Day in 1923.
It features several bronze tablets sculpted by Anton Schaaf (1869-1943) on an 11-foot granite pillar designed by architects Helmle and Corbett. The trio collaborated on the Glendale War Memorial.
Glendale is a hidden gem
Arguably, the most isolated of Queens neighborhoods surrounded by land, Glendale is surrounded by a half-dozen cemeteries, a golf course, park and two railroad branches.
It stretches eastwards from the railroad freight line that snakes its way through Queens to the Hell Gate Bridge, to Forest Park at Woodhaven Boulevard. Middle Village is to the north, cemeteries and Forest Park lie to the south.
Glendale is traversed by Myrtle, Cooper and Central Avenues, 80th and Cypress Hills Streets, with scattered commercial strips throughout.
Because of all the cemeteries and the Montauk line of the Long Island Railroad, there’s almost no way out of Glendale north and south.
Once a German enclave, Glendale is home to one of the last German restaurants in all of Queens, Zum Stammtisch, near the War Monument at the intersection of Myrtle and Cooper Avenues.
The local cemeteries’ most famous occupant is no doubt magician Harry Houdini, who rests in a family plot in Machpelah Cemetery. Although there is a marker for his wife, who was a Catholic, she’s buried in Westchester – because it was a Jewish cemetery at the time.
The tiny plots of land zoned for manufacture along the railroad and between the cemeteries also host the last manufacturer of artist’s brushes in the United States – the FM Brush Company – founded in 1929 by Fred Mink and operated by his grandson, Fred Mink III, and other family members.
Glendale’s housing stock ranges from brick or frame single family homes including Dutch Colonials, to semi- and attached frame and brick homes, to small apartments, with a smattering of high-rise, condo and coop housing.
Asking prices run over $500,000 – more than the Queens average – and have been trending upwards.
The neighborhood is compartmentalized into pockets of housing types and transitions from the urban density of Ridgewood to quiet blocks reminiscent of eastern Queens.
It’s this particular diversity that makes these neighborhoods real finds – if you can find them.
THE QUEENSCOURIER/Photos by Victor G. Mimoni
Glendale is threaded through with small commercial strips.
Dutch Colonial homes are found in Glendale.
The last artist-brush manufacturer is also hidden away in Glendale – the FM Brush Company.
The railroad and cemeteries make Glendale the most isolated, landlocked neighborhood in Queens.