By Bill Parry
Looking for a unique stocking stuffer for a borough-curious loved one this holiday season? An Elmhurst resident has written “Walking Queens,” a handy guide to 30 of the best neighborhood walking tours in the borough.
“There’s a lot more to Queens than people think,” author Adrienne Onofri said. “When I first started the project, I didn’t know if I’d have enough material for a book and by the time I was finished, about a year later, I was surprised at the amount I had to cut out during the editing process.”
The 254-page paperback explores the diverse communities, historical places and natural treasures of well-known neighborhoods such as Forest Hills, Astoria and Jackson Heights as well as lesser known villages like Warnerville and Meadowmere.
Each chapter features a map with directions for a three- to four-mile walk through each featured neighborhood detailing distinctive architecture, ethnic background, cultural venues and historical landmarks. The history of each is also told with the help of the Queens Historical Society, Queens Library, the Greater Astoria Historical Society and many others.
One of the more fascinating stories detailed in “Walking Queens” is that of the Imperial Hotel in Rockaway Park.
“In 1880 the largest hotel in the world to date was constructed where you are walking. Bankers, railroad tycoons, and even senators invested in a 1,000-room hotel known as the Imperial, which consisted of a main building facing the ocean that stretched all the way from 109th Street to 116th Street and three wings extending north. It even had a private dock for guests arriving by steamer … except they never arrived. Mired in debt and lawsuits, the hotel never opened and was torn down in 1889 after standing empty for years,” she wrote.
Onofri is a journalist by trade, mostly working on travel guides, but she is a licensed New York City tour guide as well and brings that expertise to the project. In 2007 she wrote “Walking Brooklyn,” which was so well received the publisher, Wilderness Press, asked her to do one about Queens.
“I’ve been living in Queens since 1988 when I moved to Astoria,” Onofri said. “I stayed there 20 years. It got really cool right after I moved out when my husband and I moved to a place on the Elmhurst/Jackson Heights border.
She said she wanted her tour guide to help borough residents, especially the new ones, to discover new areas.
“We all have our routes that we travel frequently but rarely travel outside of that path,” Onofrio said. “People hear about places but seldom go there because it’s so spread out and much of it is inaccessible by subway.”
Each chapter begins with directions to the starting point by subway or bus.
“The Long Island Rail Road can be helpful as well, but I tried to focus on cheaper transit choices,” she said.
Onofrio found the common gardens and planned communities of Sunnyside Gardens, Jackson Heights and Forest Hills Gardens very interesting but decided that the walk she took along Shore Road in Douglaston Manor was the most surprising.
“There are so many sights to see there. Of course, many of the homeowners would prefer that the secret wasn’t out there, especially of the Douglaston-Little Neck Walk,” she said.
There is one neighborhood Onofrio wished she had known about before buying in Elmhurst.
“It’s kind of hard to beat Forest Hills Gardens,” she said. “Not only is it charming with all its gorgeous homes, but it’s got the subway and it’s an express subway just minutes from Manhattan. How could you beat that?”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4538.