December’s trip down memory lane


In 1913, then New York Mayor William Gaynor created a stir when he sarcastically called an elevated line, proposed for the sparsely populated Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Corona communities, as the ‘cornfield line.’

In 1923, the Star-Journal crowed that he would be surprised at the ‘crop’ of single and two family homes as well as apartment buildings that had all but covered those communities in the intervening decade. Single family homes of six or seven rooms went for $9,000 to $11,000 while larger two-family home of brick, frame and stucco construction were priced between $12,000 and $20,000.

In 1923, on Roosevelt Avenue alone, more than 100 stores and upper story apartments were built. The largest apartment building, “The Queensboro,” accounted for 200 of that year’s 1,700 apartments.

Several hundred residents of Queens presented to the Board of Estimate a petition signed by 10,000 people urging the construction of a subway along Queens Boulevard between Long Island City and Jamaica. The communities of Woodside, Winfield, Elmhurst, Nassau Heights, Richmond Hill and Maspeth were represented by sixteen organizations.

On Dec. 14, the head of the Brooklyn Ash Removal Company, Charles Murphy, responded with stony silence when the district attorney’s office questioned him on the company’s failure to address the community’s concerns that the “smoky, smelly fly-infested” Flushing Meadow dump was a public nuisance. Among other things, ash cinders and coal, sawdust, broken crockery, street sweepings, oyster and clam shells, sewer catch basins, old shoes, mattresses, bottles, paper, carpets, straw, pruned shrubs, horse manure and stable refuse were legally dumped there.

The Queens Grand Jury investigation to conditions of the Corona dumps wanted to know why, despite numerous complaints, the Board of Health seemed to be powerless to take action on this problem. Of particular concern was the rumored connection between Murphy and business partner James Gaffney, Kings County Clerk and a chief of the Tammany Hall political machine.

Christopher Clarke, chairman of Flushing United Association took the stand and testified that after five weeks of constant urging, the Board of Health brought up a case against the company not as a public nuisance but as a simple case of pollution from a railroad and factory. His anger was targeted in particular at a health inspector who took the stand during the hearing and made apologies for the company.

On a more positive note, on Dec. 15 the public has its first chance to see renderings for the new Queens Boulevard. Clifford Moore, consulting engineer for Queens borough, likened the highway to the great avenues of the world: Avenue des Champs-Élyées of Paris or the Grand Concourse or Eastern Parkway in New York. Four rows of shade trees (a total of 10,420 saplings), along with special lanes for trolleys, a center limited access road, and two outer service roads would make the highway a state of the art transportation corridor.

Between Van Dam Street and 48th Street, a three track viaduct would carry the elevated train (today the 7 line), while underneath would be a right of way for two trolley lines. Between 48th Street and Union Turnpike, the road was to be 200 feet wide before narrowing to 150 feet between Union Turnpike and Hillside Avenue.

To avoid interruptions from construction, all conduits would be placed under the side service roads.

For further information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at (718) 278-0700. Visit our website at www.astor‌ialic.org for your holiday shopping.

More from Around New York