The New York City Municipal Archives contain hundreds of thousands of documents, photos, videos and other items that detail the rich history of our five boroughs.
Like a family photo album, the images in the archives tell a story of our past so we can understand better how we grew and evolved as a society over time. For Queens, the most visually stunning images show how the borough rapidly developed during the early- to mid-20th century from a largely rural setting into a city within a city.
We’re grateful to the New York City Municipal Archives for, once again, sharing with us some great photos of Queens’ growing spurt, which we now share with you…
Astoria Park has become one of Queens’ greatest urban oases, and this June 1927 photo shows the greenspace at a relatively young age — replete with open fields and young trees on the grow. The Hell Gate Bridge in the background is an unmistakable site in Astoria, and continues to serve freight and commuter rail lines today.
From the photographer’s vantage point, we believe this photo was taken not too far from the spot where the Astoria Park pool was built. The pool was one of 11 bathing spots citywide developed by master builder and City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses in the late 1930s.
A traffic jam on Northern Boulevard? That’s nothing new to Queens drivers, but we tend to forget that gridlock has been a constant on the roadway since the age of the automobile dawned in the Roaring Twenties. Look at the rows of cars and station wagons lining both sides of the boulevard near Main Street in this photo taken back on May 22, 1927 — 93 years ago.
Long Island City has become one of the fastest-growing regions of New York City over the past decade, with new apartment and residential towers soaring into the sky. The greatest hub of such development in the neighborhood is near Bridge Plaza, or Queens Plaza, close to the Queensboro Bridge.
This photo, taken on Jan. 10, 1931, shows Bridge Plaza being constructed. Note the network of elevated train lines overshadowing the site; these lines carry the 7 line between Flushing and Manhattan, as well as the N and W lines that link Astoria and Long Island City to Midtown Manhattan.
This aerial shot taken between 1939 and 1940 shows the widened Woodhaven Boulevard and the then-new Eliot Avenue — built to help bring visitors to the World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. There’s quite a bit to unpack from this image taken from above Middle Village and Rego Park.
In the background, the roadway running from left to right is Queens Boulevard, including the viaduct that runs under both Woodhaven Boulevard and the Long Island Expressway. Where is the expressway? That wouldn’t be built for another 15 years or so after this photo was taken.
The Queens Center mall, which is today located at the corner of Queens and Woodhaven Boulevard, wouldn’t be built for another three decades. The barren site in the photo was, for many decades, the home of Fairyland amusement park.
As a further point of reference, Resurrection Ascension School/Church can be seen in the bottom left of the photo at the corner of Eliot Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.
The relatively new Whitestone Bridge connecting northeast Queens with the Bronx is shown in this April 1940, looking northbound. Built in part to ease congestion on other East River crossings, the span had, at one point in time, a pedestrian pathway, as seen on the left side.
The sign warns walkers to “be careful” and to “grasp rails inside black mark,” words of warning as pedestrians confronted strong headwinds while crossing. Bicycles were prohibited from using the pathway, more than likely due to the winds.
For many years, the wooden Union Course bridge stood on the Woodhaven/Ozone Park border as a means to carry pedestrians safely across the electrified Long Island Rail Road line above the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard. The bridge would be torn down soon after the tracks were moved underground.
The cross is named for the old Union Course, a colonial horse racetrack that is considered to be one of the first major racing venues in the United States.
Oh no! Another traffic jam. This image taken on July 28, 1940, shows a line of cars standing still along the eastbound lanes of Queens Boulevard near 67th Street in Woodside. They’re approaching the prominent bridge that carries the Long Island Rail Road Main Line over the boulevard.
In the right of the photo, you can see the former Elmhurst Gas Tanks standing in the background. The tanks — which later became a traffic landmark after the Long Island Expressway was built near them — would come down at the end of the 20th century, and the site was redeveloped as a public park.
Finally, here’s a work in progress in Long Island City taken in January 1931. The foreground and left side shows the construction of traffic lanes on the upper level of the Queensboro Bridge as well as a viaduct leading to 21st Street.
You can see train tracks on the right side of the bridge, which then carried subway trains connecting Manhattan and Queens. These tracks were removed once new subway tunnels were created nearby.
The bridge, of course, was renamed for former Mayor Ed Koch back in 2010.
Our thanks, again, to the NYC Municipal Archives for their help with this story. For more images like these, visit https://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet.
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If you have any remembrances or old photographs of “Our Neighborhood: The Way It Was” that you would like to share with our readers, please write to the Old Timer, c/o Ridgewood Times, 38-15 Bell Blvd., Bayside, NY 11361, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any print photographs mailed to us will be carefully returned to you upon request.