Addisleigh Park’s newly designated historic landmark status acknowledges its place among the greats of New York City. Addisleigh is where the iconic African Americans of the 1940s and ’50s — Lena Horne, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, W.E.B. DuBois — lived alongside the newly minted black middle class of civil servants, teachers and entrepreneurs.
Where they could live the American dream of homeownership, where they were otherwise shunned politically, socially and personally — while this landmark status is much to celebrate, the complexity of life in the larger community for which Addisleigh Park is a part of remains filled with struggles and challenges which are largely ignored.
Addisleigh Park’s manicured lawns of Tudor homes are nestled in southeast Queens, which includes the neighborhoods of St. Albans, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, Jamaica and Cambria Heights. Maybe those names do not ring a bell, but surely their stories are known. It is in these neighborhoods that gun violence has been on the rise during a time of recession and crime abatement — where a boy was shot on his way home from school one morning, a bodega owner was killed in his store and two teenagers lost their lives in the early morning hours while attending a party. And it is where the attention of the police was yet again examined when a young man lost his life in a hail of bullets on the morning of his wedding to undercover officers.
And while those stories may sound familiar, many believe they are more likely tied to low-income housing projects or urban-blighted neighborhoods and not the idyllic images a landmark status gives to a neighborhood. Moreover, many may be surprised to know that the same mix of middle-class workers still reside within this community or that Laurelton is one of New York’s most-affluent neighborhoods and also looking into landmark status for many of its homes and churches.
Those of us who live in southeast Queens know Addisleigh Park. If you live to its east, you pass it while commuting weekday mornings to Manhattan from your seat on the bus or more likely the dollar van because the bus was too crowded or did not show up. Auto commuters driving either north or south on Addisleigh Park’s main thoroughfare, Linden Boulevard, will have great views of those eloquent homes, as they are most likely stuck in traffic. The influx of people and expansion of homes in the area contributed to more people on its roads, more stress on its water systems and less parking.
And while stuck on Linden, you will pass the St. Albans Veterans Hospital. This will give you time to reflect on the plight of the veterans who have served our country valiantly and are still fighting for a full-service hospital on its grounds against proposed retail and housing expansion. Of course, the retail and housing expansion would mean an even higher influx of people and more time on the road for future contemplation.
Addisleigh Park is an integral part of the area that would definitely mean shopping on world-famous Jamaica Avenue, known for its spectacular bargains and whose numbers of shoppers have swelled as more people from more places search for ways to stretch their limited budgets. But you would also know to stay away during peak after-school hours when idle teens engage in mischief and tomfoolery around its stores. These teens have limited options, as many of the programs which served them after school have been cut.
Addisleigh Park is a stone’s throw from Roy Wilkins Park, one of the local city parks which boasts an indoor pool, and only five minutes away is PS 30, which is being shut down by the city Department of Education for overall poor performance and low student proficiently rates. It is one of many schools in southeast Queens in which residents are protesting the changes.
Brick City, a housing complex to Addisleigh Park’s west, is one of the many nearby neighborhoods that complain about the increase in crime, including prostitution. Residents throughout the area complain that crimes are taking place in many of the foreclosed homes which plague the area and are sites for squatters, drugs and all sorts of illegal behavior. Area residents also complain about the inability to move about freely in their neighborhoods, as criminals have become more brazen and sexual solicitation affects children in the early morning hours as they make their way to school.
And yet the largest complaint within the borders of southeast Queens is the double-digit unemployment rate which is double that of the national average in many areas. African-American males here are less likely to gain employment and more likely to leave the workforce completely. A racino is being built to Addisleigh Park’s south at the Aqueduct Race Track site and the local branch of the NAACP continues to fight for assurances that there will be jobs for people in the area.
So here in southeast Queens we applaud this designation and know it has been a long time coming. We are happy that this neighborhood received the recognition it rightly deserved. But we are sad that the complexity of living in an area blessed with a richness in history, people and community is also plagued by poverty, unemployment, increasing crime and scarcity that has gone largely ignored and unexamined.